The New Acropolis Museum

The monuments of the Acropolis have withstood the ravages of past centuries, both of ancient times and those of the Middle Ages. Until the 17th century, foreign travellers visiting the monuments depicted the classical buildings as being intact. This remained the case until the middle of the same century, when the Propylaia was blown up while being used as a gunpowder store. Thirty years later, the Ottoman occupiers dismantled the neighbouring Temple of Athena Nike to use its materials to strengthen the fortification of the Acropolis. The most fatal year, however, for the Acropolis, was 1687, when many of the building’s architectural members were blown into the air and fell in heaps around the Hill of the Acropolis, caused by a bomb from the Venetian forces. Foreign visitors to the Acropolis would search through the rubble and take fragments of the fallen sculptures as their souvenirs. It was in the 19th century that Lord Elgin removed intact architectural sculptures from the frieze, the metopes and the pediments of the building.

In 1833, the Turkish garrison withdrew from the Acropolis. Immediately after the founding of the Greek State, discussions about the construction of an Acropolis Museum on the Hill of the Acropolis began. In 1863, it was decided that the Museum be constructed on a site to the southeast of the Parthenon and foundations were laid on 30 December 1865.

The building program for the Museum had provided that its height not surpasses the height of the stylobate of the Parthenon. With only 800 square meters of floor space, the building was rapidly shown to be inadequate to accommodate the findings from the large excavations on the Acropolis that began in 1886. A second museum was announced in 1888, the so-called Little Museum. Final changes occurred in 1946-1947 with the second Museum being demolished and the original being sizably extended.

By the 1970s, the Museum could not cope satisfactorily with the large numbers of visitors passing through its doors. The inadequacy of the space frequently caused problems and downgraded the sense that the exhibition of the masterpieces from the Rock sought to achieve.
The Acropolis Museum was firstly conceived by Constantinos Karamanlis in September 1976. He also selected the site, upon which the Museum was finally built, decades later. With his penetrating vision, C. Karamanlis defined the need and established the means for a new Museum equipped with all technical facilities for the conservation of the invaluable Greek artifacts, where eventually the Parthenon sculptures will be reunited.

For these reasons, architectural competitions were conducted in 1976 and 1979, but without success. In 1989, Melina Mercouri, who as Minister of Culture inextricably identified her policies with the claim for the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the British Museum, initiated an international architectural competition. The results of this competition were annulled following the discovery of a large urban settlement on the Makriyianni site dating from Archaic to Early Christian Athens. This discovery now needed to be integrated into the New Museum that was to be built on this site.

In the year 2000, the Organization for the Construction of the New Acropolis Museum announced an invitation to a new tender, which was realized in accord with the Directives of the European Union. It is this Tender that has come to fruition with the awarding of the design tender to Bernard Tschumi with Michael Photiadis and their associates and the completion of construction in 2007.

Today, the new Acropolis Museum has a total area of 25,000 square meters, with exhibition space of over 14,000 square meters, ten times more than that of the old museum on the Hill of the Acropolis. The new Museum offers all the amenities expected in an international museum of the 21st century.

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