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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc

A Brief History of the Acropolis Museum in Athens

What is the Acropolis Museum?

The Acropolis Museum is an archaeological museum opened in 2009 that displays many of the treasures discovered on and around the Acropolis.

Acropolis Museum Exterior

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Acropolis Museum History

In contrast to the National Archaeological Museum, which contains precious finds from all over Greece, this museum is dedicated to a single site, the Acropolis of Athens. (For this reason, it’s a good idea to visit the museum before or after a visit to the Acropolis Hill.) The permanent collection includes treasures from the monuments there, including the iconic Parthenon, the mysterious Erechtheion and the marble gateway called the Propylaea, as well as the surrounding slopes.

With over 4,000 items on show, a visit to this modern marvel can be overwhelming. Obvious highlights include both the famous Parthenon frieze (the sculptures that ran along the upper rectangular part of the structure) and the Caryatids, the beautiful female figures sculpted in marble that were a feature of the Erechtheion temple. However, when you view these highlights at close quarters, you’ll find something not quite right about them. Parts of the frieze seem whiter than others and the Caryatids appear to be missing a sister.

Well, to understand why, we must go back more than 200 years to the early 19th century, when Scottish nobleman Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin (the notorious Lord Elgin), appropriated a number of antiquities from the Acropolis, including one Caryatid and a large part of the Parthenon’s marbles, and shipped them to Britain.

Elgin’s collection ended up in the British Museum in London, where they’re still on show today. This has long been the source of heated debate between Greece and the United Kingdom, with the Greeks seeking the restitution of the stolen marbles and the British denying these requests, mainly on legal grounds. The Acropolis Museum plays a key role in the ongoing argument between the two countries.

Acropolis Museum exhibits

In the 20th century, the UK claimed that the Parthenon marbles were better protected, exhibited and preserved at the British Museum, as Athens lacked state-of-the-art facilities suitable for safeguarding such a priceless collection. When the Acropolis Museum first opened its doors in 2009, the British argument appeared to be weakened and the new museum’s curators ensured that the restitution claims would become part of their remit.

For this reason, they chose to display in a strikingly different colour replicas of the parts of the frieze that are now in London, and to leave an empty place amongst the Caryatids to highlight the fact that, sadly, one is missing. In a sense, the curators are implying that the display will be complete only when Elgin’s marbles return to their rightful home.

Other highlights include the beautiful marble Peplos Kore sculpture from the 6th century BC, the many solemn free-standing Archaic statues called korai (or maidens), as well as the 15-minute video that can be viewed on the top floor, detailing the history of the Parthenon from antiquity to the present day.

The building itself is also impressive, constructed on top of an ancient site, which is visible as you enter the museum and is open to the public. The extensive use of glass brings you even closer to the archaeological process and makes a visit to this carefully considered space a truly unique experience.

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