The Acropolis Museum

Now that I’m back in the States and have resumed teaching at the University of Oklahoma, I thought I would write about a few topics that occurred to me over the summer but that I did not have time to write about while abroad.

The first of those topics is the new Acropolis Museum in Athens.  I must admit that I was such a big fan of the old museum — the one built on the Acropolis itself — that I was hesitant to even see the new museum.  I mean, the old one was just really cool!  You could walk around the Acropolis, visit the Parthenon and Erechtheion, and then descend into the rock itself.  In the Old Museum, you entered into set of doors that looked like they concealed a space about the size of a large broom closet, but somehow the museum just kept going and going, like some kind magic space in Harry Potter (I’m thinking of Ron’s family’s tent).  It’s hard to complete with that.

However, the new museum is simply amazing.  It would be a mistake to visit Athens and not see it.  I emphasize this point because two American college students (Californians, to be specific) waiting in line in front of me did exactly that, walking out of line when then they found out that the cost of the museum was not included in the ticket to see the Acropolis itself.  Now, they claimed they were tired from a trip to Mykonos, and I can sympathize with the frustration felt at seeing that every site around the Acropolis requires a separate ticket.  The South Slope, for example, should be included with admission to the Acropolis.  I mean, come on!  The South Slope! Also, I’m fairly certain that half the people visiting the South Slope after exiting the Acropolis Metro station think that they are entering the Acropolis.  Now, as some visitors will know, you can buy a pack of tickets for 12 euros, that will allow you to visit the Acropolis and six other sites, such as the South Slope, the Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and others.  The tickets are valid for a week.  If you are going to see more than Acropolis and the Agora, it’s worth it.  Also, buy the tickets at the Agora, where there is hardly ever a line, and then go to the Acropolis, where there is always a line.  In the summer, this could save you an hour or more of waiting at the Acropolis.  The ticket pack does not, however, include a ticket to the new Acropolis Museum, as the Californians discovered, which caused them to depart Athens without having seen the real maidens from the Caryatid porch, although they presumably saw real maidens with much less clothing while on Mykonos.

Back to the Museum!  There are a number of critical reviews of the museum available on line and in print.  I’ll limit myself to pointing out a few of my favorite things about the new museum and one point of criticism.

Things I loved about the New Acropolis Museum:

1.) Archaeological excavation under the museum.  If you visit the museum in summer, odds are you will have to wait in line for 30 minutes or so.  However, the line forms over a plaza that features clear flooring and open spaces with railings that allow you to see the archaeological excavations under the museum.  According to the museum guidebook, as construction began on the museum, significant archaeological remains, primarily from the late Roman period, but also from earlier periods, were discovered.  Rather than removing the remains, as had been done during construction of the nearby Metro station, architects and archaeologists decided to leave most of them in place and raise the museum above the excavation on pylons, making the excavations visible to visitors and allowing continued investigation of the area.  The result is awesome.  Even if I did’t have to wait in line, I would have spent at least 30 minutes looking at the remains visible in the forecourt plaza.  So, if you are waiting in line, be sure to look at late Roman Athens visible trough the floors, and if there is not a line, be sure to check out this part of the museum (also, it’s free!).

2.) The building and its spatial arrangement.  The building is beautiful — lots of filtered natural light and great views of Athens, as plants of critics will have noted.  The arrangement of material really works with the building.  As mentioned above, I really liked descending into  the Old Museum.  However the ascent into the new museum follows the spatial and chronological arrangement of the acropolis, which is very cool.  Here is what I mean.  The ground floor contains material from the slopes of the acropolis, which is what one would see first as one approached the site itself.  The visitor then ascends chronologically from the archaic acropolis to the Parthenon gallery, which presents the Parthenon freize (molds and originals) as it would have run around the outside of the cella of the Parthenon, something the old museum could only do on the inside of a room.  Oh, and the windows and views on the parthenon gallery give stunning views of the acropolis and other parts of Athens.

3.)  The restaurant.  You can eat on a terrace looking in one direction at a beautiful modern museum, in other directions at Plaka, and then directly at the Acropolis and the Parthenon.  The food is very good, intended to give a sampling of different regional Greek cuisines, and it is reasonably priced.  Definitely eat lunch at the restaurant.  More about it here.

4.) The Museum Guide, available in the museum store.  It’s got lots of great, high-quality pictures of pretty much everything on display.  It tells the history of the site of the museum, of the acropolis, and contains lengthy descriptions of the most important finds.  It’s a steal at 15 euros. 

The one thing I did not like: the no-photographs policy and, more specifically, it’s random enforcement.  In some areas of the museum, like display of the original Caryatids, photographs were allowed, in the presence of a docent, in front of sign stating that photographs were prohibited.  And when I say allowed, I mean that visitors were lining up to take their pictures next to the Caryatids.  In other areas, however, where there were no visible signs prohibiting photographs, docents were sternly warning visitors away from photographing the displays.  This made no sense to me.  Especially since, in the latter case, the finds had already been published.  If there is to be a no-photographs policy, that needs to be made clearer and it needs to be consistently enforced.

But, if you are someone who gets miffed at not being able to take photos in the museum, buy the guide, it’s beautiful, and the photos are probably better than yours would be.

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