One of the highlights of my trip to Greece this past summer was my visit to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. The word “acropolis” refers to the highest point in a city or town. There are other “acropolises” in Greece – Athens’ is the most well-known.
The Acropolis of Athens is a limestone rock with a sheer drop on all sides (except to the West) and for this reason, it made for a great defensive position. It has some distance from the sea but it can still be observed. This was an advantage against pirates and other invaders.
Located on the Acropolis is the Parthenon. The existing building was built under Pericles between 447 and 432 BC.Â Pillaged but not destroyed by the end of the Roman period, the Parthenon went through important changes from the 5th century AD and onwards. The statue ofÂ Athina was taken & carried to Constantinople in 426AD, then the temple was transformed into a church under Justinian, dedicated first to Saint Sophia and then to the Virgin Mother (Panagia Theotokos).
Afterwards, it became the Metropolitan Church of Athens. Paintings covered the walls, a dome was constructed on the marble roof (or to replace it?). The pronaos (inner area of portico) was transformed into an apse and the spaces between the columns of the peristyle were walled-up (at the base at the very least). The eastern pediment was pierced by a small circular window, to allow some light to enter.
At the beginning of the 13th century and under Frankish dominance, the church became Roman and with the name of St. Marie of Athens. The bishop of Cyriac of Ancona was the first to recognize the “temple of Pallas” and to to leave a sketch of it.
With Ottoman (Turkish Rule) came the erection of a minaret on the South-West corner. Until the 17th century, the temple was complete and many drawings and sketches exist, notably byÂ the Marquis de Nointel’s painters.
In 1687, sculptures of the pediments, metopes and the frieze disappeared after an explosion.A provisional store of gun powder blew up after a deserter tipped off the Venetians. The explosion shook the Parthenon on September 26, 1687, overturning 28 columns, destroying the walls of the cella and 3/4 of the sculptured frieze.
Once the city was taken, Morosini wanted to take the “trophies” to Venice, including the western pediment – the best preserved. In trying to take them down, the whole central part (Poseidon and the horses of Athena’s chariot) accidentally (oops, you idiot) fell to the ground and was smashed to pieces.
When the Turks returned, they builtÂ a small domed mosque in the centre of the breach, without a minaret. The monument was again pillaged in 1801-1803 by Lord Elgin, who arrived from Constantnople armed with a firman (decree)Â from the Sultan.
He took dozens of statues, 56 blocks of the frieze and 15 metopes that in 1816 were brought to the British Museum.
The New Acropolis Museum consists of three floors. It’s a rectangular museum that is designed to replicate the Parthenon. Each floor contains artifacts from the temple and many damaged pieces have been repaired or replicated by man.
A recurring theme throughout the museum are the many shadows, empty spaces where missing pieces belong. A hope for their just and long-awaited return is shared by Greeks and non-Greeks alike. It seems that the British government and museum curators are the only ones against this.
In hindsight, I wish I could go back and spend a whole day at this museum. It’s probably a wonderful (quieter time) to visit the New Acropolis Museum now that the tourist season has ebbed.
Another regret I have is not being able to take as many photos as I would have liked. It appears that the rules pertaining to photos have changed. Security folk are everywhere and I was a little perplexed as to why I couldn’t take photos when so many people who visited the Museum were able to when it first opened.
My friend Ivy of Kopiaste visited the Museum soon after it’s opening and she shared some striking photos.
So, why did the rules change on taking photos? The security guard that I asked told me that too many people were taking photos with “flash”…more of a distraction and annoyance. Whatever photos I took here with taken in haste and with no flash.
The end of visit to the Museum was spent at the cafe/restaurant with it’s striking view of the Parthenon. There were line-ups for a table but the seating is quick and the service was world-class.
I urge you to grab a bite at this eatery. Have a light lunch that’s affordable, utilizes Greek ingredients and paired with very good Greek wines by the glass.
My companion for my visit to the Museum was my good friend Maria. I’ve know Maria since 1980 as she used to live in Thessaloniki and we would spend summers together in Halkidiki.
We ordered some Assyrtiko white wine from Santorini and we sampled the following dishes:
A sandwich made with a salami from the island of Lefkada.
Graviera cheese from Crete with melon and thyme and honey.
Next up were quenelles of Kopanisti cheese with watermelon. Kopanisti is a soft chees, it’s salty and it has a hint of a blue cheese flavour.Finally, we had a potato salad with cured Sardines from Mytlini (Lesvos), orange segments and sunflower seeds.
Please do include a stop at the New Acropolis Museum and it’s worth waiting for a table at the restaurant surrounded by so much history. Order, drink some Greek wine, nibble and think about where you’re sitting, the glory that is Greece and the fact that you’re surrounded by centuries of history, culture and civilization. I had to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming.
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