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World’s momentum growing for Parthenon Marbles’ return March 20, 2008

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World’s momentum is growing for the return of the prized Parthenon marbles, taken from the Athens Acropolis some 200 years ago by Britain’s Lord Elgin, as major Museums handed back more ancient objects.

Museums around the world have in recent years started returning ancient artefacts to their countries of origin and have tightened checks on acquisitions to avoid buying objects that were illegally excavated or smuggled abroad.

20-03-08_acropolis_new_museum.jpg  “More and more Museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments promote bilateral and international cooperation (for the return of ancient objects),” Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis told an international conference at the new Acropolis Museum. “So an ideal momentum is being created … for clear solutions on this issue,” he said.

The trend towards returning artefacts was strengthened by the high-profile affair involving former J. Paul Getty Museum curator Marion True and smuggled artefacts that were acquired by the Museum. Italy dropped a legal case against the Getty Museum last year after the institution agreed to return 40 items Rome believed had been stolen and smuggled out of the country, and the Getty has returned several such items to Greece. Both Italy and Greece have charged True with offences linked to trafficking in antiquities. She denies any wrongdoing. New York’s Metropolitan Museum has returned a prized 2,500-year-old vase to Italy, which recently displayed nearly 400 looted ancient objects that have been recovered in the past three years.

20-03-08_parthenon_marbles.jpg  The Parthenon marble friezes and sculptures were removed [stolen] from the Acropolis above Athens by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century, with permission from the Ottoman Empire officials then in power. Lord Elgin acquired his collection between 1801 and 1810. It was bought by the British Museum in 1816. The Museum refuses to return them to Greece on the ground that its statutes do not allow it to do so.

Liapis told the conference “This museum is ready to embrace all important artefacts taken from the sacred rock of the Acropolis and I hope the same goes for the foreign-based Parthenon marbles… so the unity of the sculptures can be restored.”

Britain said for many years that the marbles were better preserved in London than in Athens’ polluted air. Greece has said this argument is now obsolete given the completion of the new Acropolis state-of-the-art Museum, where an empty gallery awaits the Parthenon marbles.


Greek push for return of Parthenon Marbles March 18, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Shows & Conferences, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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Changes in museum policies and an increase in instances of cooperation between different countries for the repatriation of looted artifacts could pave the way for the return of the Parthenon Marbles, Culture Minister Michalis Liapis told an international conference in Athens yesterday.

“More and more museums are adopting tighter ethics codes and governments are promoting cooperation, so the ideal momentum is being created for clear solutions,” Liapis told the UNESCO event at the New Acropolis Museum.

Museum officials and archaeologists gave several examples of repatriated artifacts, such as the Obelisk of Axum, returned to Ethiopia from Rome in 2005. Experts also remarked upon the increase of works being smuggled out of war zones.

Christiane Tytgat, former curator at the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels and director of the Netherlands Institute in Athens, said the Parthenon Marbles, currently in the British Museum, should be sent back too.“I support their return unreservedly… this is where they belong,” Tytgat said.

New Acropolis Museum will open in September March 3, 2008

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A long-delayed new Museum in Athens where Greece hopes to reunite its ancient Acropolis masterpieces with the Parthenon Marbles [so-called Elgin Marbles, currently on display at the British Museum] will open in September, officials said Wednesday.

Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said finishing the glass and concrete building was a “national challenge” and would boost Greece’s campaign to wrest the 5th century B.C. sculptures from the British Museum. “We will inaugurate the new Museum in September,” he said. “This modern, functional and safe Museum will be a strong argument against those who oppose the Marbles’ return.”

The so-called Elgin Marbles – or Parthenon Sculptures – were stolen [illegally removed] from the Parthenon temple by Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin in the 19th century, when Greece was still an unwilling part of the Ottoman empire. The museum in London has repeatedly rejected Greek calls for their return.

Liapis said a delicate operation to transfer hundreds of priceless statues and thousands of smaller pieces from the old museum on top of the Acropolis hill to the new building would be finished by the end of March.

02-03-08_acropolis_museum.jpg  The $190-million Museum was initially scheduled for completion in 2004 but was delayed by legal wrangling and archeological discoveries on the central Athens plot at the foot of the Acropolis.

Museum director Dimitris Pantermalis said the focal point of the exhibition, sculptures from the Parthenon that escaped removal to Britain and other European countries, would soon be placed in its final position in a glass hall at the top of the building. “In a few weeks we will complete the trial installation of copies. which will help us resolve all issues regarding the display, and will then replace them with the originals,” he said.

The Parthenon was built between 447-432 BC in honour of Athena, ancient Athens’ patron goddess, and was decorated with hundreds of sculpted figures of gods and participants in a religious procession. 

Designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Greece’s Michalis Photiadis, the new Acropolis Museum will contain more than 4,000 works, 10 times the number on display in the old museum.

A strong helping hand toward getting Greece back on the Hollywood radar October 22, 2007

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Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson bankroll Greek-themed ‘My Life in Ruins’ and ‘Mamma Mia’

nia_acropolis1.jpg  The crew of the romantic comedy ‘My Life in Ruins’ at the Acropolis.

nia_acropolis2.jpg  In the film Nia Vardalos, plays a tour guide. Here is Nia Vardalos with Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis and Donald Petrie.

Decades after serving as the setting for hit films like “The Guns of Navarone” and “The Big Blue”, Greece has elicited help from Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks to get back on Hollywood’s radar. The Hollywood star, whose wife Rita Wilson is of Greek descent, is helping bankroll two movies which officials here hope will translate into extra tourist arrivals at the country’s archaeological sites and island holiday spots.

nia_acropolis3.jpg  One production stars Nia Vardalos, the Greek-Canadian writer and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, the 2002 romantic comedy that became one of the most successful independent US box office productions of all time. Titled “My Life in Ruins” the new comedy centers on a tour guide played by Vardalos and was given rare permission to shoot in key Greek archaeological sites, including the Acropolis in Athens, Delphi and Ancient Olympia.

The second production is a film version of the hit Broadway musical “Mamma Mia” starring Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep, and was shot on the Aegean islands of Skiathos and Skopelos in August.

The back-to-back Hanks projects are a welcome boon to a Greek state eager for a fresh start after decades of scaring away big-name productions with a combination of nightmarish bureaucracy, poor organization and sheer ineptitude.

“In the 1980s, the word in Hollywood was that Greece was an unwelcoming place to shoot a film,” acknowledged Markos Holevas, director of the Hellenic Film Commission set up in May to facilitate foreign productions in the country. “Now there is a desire to change things… the Greek state has realized the benefits and wants to promote Greece through film… and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were the first to respond to this policy. The message is: Forget the past, let’s make a new start,” Holevas said.

Greece’s picturesque islands, many of them major tourist destinations, have provided the backdrop for scenes in recent films, but have not served as major movie locations. The Ionian island of Cephalonia was in 2001 the site of “Captain’s Corelli’s Mandolin” starring Nicholas Cage, while the Aegean island of Santorini had a scene in “Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life” with Angelina Jolie two years later. Greece also apparently had a chance to host Oliver Stone’s 2004 blockbuster “Alexander” but the government failed to pursue the offer, Holevas said.

The country boasts impressive archaeological sites that have long been in demand for both television commercials and films, but projects have routinely run afoul of strict regulations laid out by Greek archaeologists. And amid price hikes following its adoption of the euro, Greece has had a hard time competing with neighboring Balkan and Eastern European countries which can combine lower production costs with similar landscapes for location shots.

“Foreign productions have a tendency to get ripped off here,” noted producer Christina Aspropotamiti, who worked on an American documentary shot in Athens last year. She said she was stunned when she sought permission to film long-range shots of the Parthenon, the classical temple atop the city’s famed Acropolis citadel. “The local archaeological office asked us for 1,500 euros ($2,120) per square meter (per 10 square feet) of the entire Acropolis site… at those rates it would have made better sense to just buy the place,” she said.

Political sensitivities have also complicated film plans, as in the case of the 1984 production of “Eleni”, an American film starring John Malkovich on the thorny topic of the 1944-1949 Greek Civil War. “The film showed the communists brutalizing the areas they occupied during the Civil War,” said the film’s co-producer Nick Gage, a Greek-American journalist whose biography on his mother’s execution by the Communists was the basis of “Eleni.”

“We had trouble with the film unions, which were communist-dominated at the time,” Gage said. “There was sabotage overnight as we began the shooting in Athens… equipment was broken, you’d find your lights busted.” When the production company decided to relocate to southern Spain, Gage’s home region of Epirus lost millions of dollars, he said. “It was very unfortunate, we spent the equivalent of $450 million in today’s figures that could have been spent in Epirus, one of the poorest areas in Greece. It would have benefited the area considerably,” he added.

When, not if, the Parthenon Marbles return October 21, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Arts Museums, Vote For Return Greek Marbles.
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crane_at_acropolis.jpg  A crane transferring a crate of antiquities from the old to the new Acropolis Museum.

The Acropolis is “missing the Marbles,” was the headline of a story in the Christian Science Monitor by Nicole Itano, in a report on the beginning of a large-scale operation last week to move tons of antiquities from the Acropolis to the new Museum at its foot.

cranes_moving.jpg  At 9 a.m. sharp last Sunday, a 2.3-ton marble sculpture was the first of 4,500 works of art that will be moved over the next three months. The new Museum, however, will be better known for what is missing from it rather than for what it contains. For when it opens to the public next year, the celebrated Parthenon Marbles, also known as the “Elgin Marbles” after the British member of the nobility who made off with them in the 19th century, will still be missing.

Nearly 200 years later, the British Museum still has about half of the extant Parthenon sculptures. Greece hopes that the new Museum will put more pressure on London to return them. The latest battle to have the marbles returned dates back to 1982, when the then Culture Minister, actress Melina Mercouri, speaking at a UN conference, called for their return.

The Christian Science Monitor quoted Anthony Snodgrass, a retired professor of classical archaeology at Cambridge University and Chairman of the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles. “One of the arguments in the past that was always used was, if only Athens had a proper exhibition space for the marbles and if only the Greeks showed themselves able to look after and exhibit the marbles satisfactorily, it would be a different matter,”… “Now everybody will be able to see for themselves what is being perpetuated by keeping the two halves of the marbles apart. And this will be graphically displayed in the new Museum.”

The US-based Swiss architect who designed the Museum, Bernard Tschumi, said the missing marbles were “central to his design.” As for the British Museum, its spokesperson Hannah Boulton, told the newspaper that “the very purpose of the British Museum is to present a unique overview of world civilization, and the Parthenon Marbles are an integral part of that.”

Germany’s Deutsche Welle press review, and Austria’s daily Die Presse both carried extensive reports on the importance of the new Museum. It is clear that Greece is not alone in seeking the return of its cultural treasures. Meanwhile, Jules Dassin, the President and soul of the Melina Mercouri Foundation, which was instrumental in realizing the new Museum, said nothing can stop an idea whose time has come.

Acropolis not too old for Hollywood debut October 14, 2007

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On Saturday, a rare event occured in the history of the 2,500-year-old Acropolis of Athens, and it involves Nia Vardalos, the writer-actress who became the face of Greek culture through her worldwide indie smash “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

Vardalos and her indie romantic comedy “My Life in Ruins” shoot at the ancient Greek temple, marking perhaps the only time a Hollywood production has even been allowed to shoot at the venerable site. “Ruins” has already shot at the Oracle at Delphi and Ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.

“No one has ever been granted permission to shoot at the ancient sites,” Vardalos said, currently in Greece. “This is huge.”

The movie, about a beleaguered Greek tour guide, also stars Richard Dreyfuss, Rachel Dratch, Harland Williams and Greek actor Alexis Georgoulis. Donald Petrie is directing. Filming in Greece started last week.

Getting there, though, was not without its challenges. Securing permission began several years ago, when Vardalos contacted then-Minister of Tourism Fanny Palli-Petralia, who asked her to carry the Olympic torch during the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. Once Vardalos made her case, Palli-Petralia and the Minister of Culture at the time, George Voulgarakis, began the long process of working the request through many levels of government.

“It was a lot of dinners and hand shaking, a lot of requesting permission and really assuring them that we would leave the ruins exactly as we found them,” Vardalos said.

When an election saw the ruling party voted out, the producers thought all their efforts were for naught. But the incoming Ministers of Tourism and Culture picked up the “Ruins” cause, persuading the right people that the shoot would be beneficial for the country and the sites would remain unharmed. They were given the greenlight to shoot at the Acropolis, for one day.

“One of the most important factors was that Nia is beloved in Greece. She is a daughter of Greece and represents a positive representation of what being Greek is,” said Michelle Chydzik, a producer on the film.

Permission to shoot came with strings attached, some obvious, some more cultural. No hanging lights off columns, for example, and no food or drinks on the site. Also, the production had to assure the Greek government that it would not fake any of the sites, even with a fake background or column.

“You can’t call something Delphi if you are not in Delphi,” Chydzik said. “If you are standing at the Temple of the Oracle, you have to say it is the Temple of the Oracle. You can’t cheat it even in the location. You can’t walk 50 feet away and say that that’s the temple.”

The government, having read the script, requested minor changes, including red-flagging a running gag in which two men on a tour bus are always drinking beer. Because drinking alcohol is not permitted on the sites, the scenes were rewritten. And because tourism is perhaps the country’s biggest industry, the government stipulated that no site or road could be closed or access restricted, something almost impossible to imagine happening in Los Angeles.

“There are more visitors coming to the country than the amount of people living there,” Chydzik said. “They won’t do anything to interfere with tourism. They do not want a situation where you show up and you’re told, ‘Sorry, the Acropolis is closed today.'”

So the production has had to deal with European, Canadian and Chinese travellers who fortunately have been very well behaved. “People take pictures, and we have signed some autographs, but there is a really cool quiet that comes over tourists when they come to these sites,” Vardalos said.

For the filmmakers, shooting in Greece was necessary for the sake of authenticity, a feeling Vardalos has been reminded of every day. “You can really feel the vibe, the mysticism, the history, the culture, it’s everywhere,” she said. “We walked through the grounds today, and it occurred to me over and over: We’re not on a set. It’s a field completely strewn with ruins. It’s real. It’s all very real.”

Acropolis move > the transfer of the century October 13, 2007

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Transfer of artifacts begins tomorrow > The transfer of antiquities from the old Acropolis to the new Acropolis Museum is set to begin tomorrow in an operation involving three giant cranes that will be used to transport thousands of artifacts. The museum is expected to be fully open to the public by the end of next year.

acropolis_move1.jpg  Ancient masterpieces moving houses. Some stress, others moan as controversial new Acropolis Museum enters final stretch for phased opening starting next year

It’s amply lit, spacious and brand new. But its greatest asset will be over two-and-a-half millennia old. The glass-and-marble purpose-built Acropolis Museum will tomorrow welcome the first of over 4,000 ancient treasures currently waiting in its cramped precursor on the hilltop in the heart of the city.

acropolis_move2.jpg  Following a successful dress rehearsal in front of dozens of anxious pairs of eyes earlier this week, a team of experts is ready to transfer a 2.5-ton marble sculpture, part of a frieze depicting a religious procession honoring Athena, the divine guardian of the ancient city.

Officials certainly hope they have the gods, as well as the weather, on their side. Save some heavy rain and strong winds or some technical snag, the transplant should be completed in six weeks’ time. Costs will hover at 1.6 million euros ($2.2 million), while the priceless antiquities have been insured for 400 million euros ($566 million). The artifacts will be ferried by a crane relay in what will be a meticulous and delicate process. Three 50-meter-tall cranes have been installed between the ancient temple and the new museum. Archaeologists and engineers will hold their breath as the carefully packed masterpieces will soar over the 5th century BC Theater of Dionysos before landing at their new home, which will open its doors in stages, beginning next year.

The modern structure looks like a big spaceship parked on top of the crammed Makriyianni district. Designed by the US-based Bernard Tschumi, it is one of the rare examples of monumental architecture in Greece. And, like most big architecture, it has not been without controversy. Even before the design emerged, there were doubts about the selected spot. The truth is that the decision to have a museum facing the ancient monument came with a hefty price. The building seems to be struggling for space, squeezed as it is within a sea of ugly concrete apartment buildings spread along the southern foot of the hill, as well as the heritage-listed Weiler Building.

Some blocks of flats were actually razed to make room for the gigantic newcomer, often prompting charges of dubious expropriation procedures from the exiled inhabitants. But no issue stirs greater controversy than the planned demolition of two listed buildings next to the entrance of the new Museum, a 1930s art deco structure and a neoclassic house, the property of Oscar-winning composer Vangelis Papathanassiou. The two buildings block the view to the Parthenon from the lower floors of the new Museum and the government insists that they must come down.

But most architects, with a majority of people apparently on their side, are campaigning to save the buildings. Some officials have suggested they may eventually try to preserve the facades and reconstruct the buildings elsewhere. «Demolishing them is unacceptable,» said Stella Ladi, who rents a flat near the site. «A tourist will visit the Museum and perhaps drink a coffee overlooking the Acropolis once in their lifetime. But the locals walk up Aeropagitou Street and see the houses every day.»

Critics say the Museum is too modern and out of tune with the trademark classical style of its impending collection. «The building doesn’t suit its surroundings. It’s ugly, out of place and extremely anti-ecological,» said Christina Karanatsi, who lives in the neighborhood. She fears that the the extensive glass surface implies a power-hungry building that will have a dire impact on the microclimate of the area.

The renowned architect has rejected criticism, at least the aesthetic side of it. «Some people have said it is disrespectful to the Parthenon not to have Doric columns, but I am not interested in imitating the Parthenon,» Tschumi has said, adding that his aim was for modern architecture to match its perfection in its own way.

Others say it’s a beautiful building, expressing the view that the customarily skeptical public will eventually come to embrace the museum. «Greeks are always like that. They never like anything new. But with time, the design will grow on them. I personally think it’s a great building,» said a worker at the site.

acropolis_move3.jpg  Only a few people have had a chance to check out the interior, but those who have agree it is imposing and aesthetically pleasing. Its 20,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) are spread over three levels. The ground floor hovers above the archaeological remains of the ancient neighborhood unearthed during construction. Extensive use of glass flooring incorporates the finds into the museum structure in a near-dizzying effect. The ground level is set to host temporary exhibitions and artifacts retrieved from the surrounding area. The first floor will host the Archaic and Roman galleries, while a bar and restaurant with a great view of the Acropolis will serve visitors on the mezzanine.

The most hyped hall of the museum however is the Parthenon Gallery, sitting on top of the building. A rectangular glass gallery will showcase the temple’s marbles, replicating their exact size and orientation. Visitors will get to see the items as they originally appeared.

But not all of them will be here. Copies of the friezes will be on display behind a symbolic, transparent veil in the place of those showcased at the British Museum in London. The artifacts, also known as the Parthenon Marbles, were removed in the early 19th century by the Scottish diplomat Lord Elgin when Greece was still under Ottoman occupation. Persistent calls for their repatriation since the early 1980s have fallen on deaf ears. Officials hope that the new Museum will help heighten the pressure on Britain to return the marbles, as one of the central arguments for their keeping them hostage, namely superior exposure, has been put to rest. «We are all obliged to intensify our efforts for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum because only then will we have fulfilled our historic duty,» Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said after the test run.