Akropoli station, which opened last month, is the newest stop on the Athens metro line. Passengers passing by will see beside the platforms replicas of the west and north friezes of the Parthenon, positioned so that the sculptures are moving in the same direction as the trains.
The originals of these reliefs are divided between Greece and Britain, with most of the west frieze in Athens and north frieze in London. Those who alight at Akropoli are greeted in the concourse above with a replica of the east pedimental sculptures of the Birth of Athena, nearly all now in the British Museum. The elegantly-designed metro station has become the latest element in the propaganda battle over the dispersal of the greatest sculptures of the classical era.
Once above ground, the area adjacent to the metro station is an archaeological maze, temporarily roofed, with a view up towards the distant Parthenon. This is the site of the proposed new Acropolis Museum, a project which dates back to 1976. Since then there have been a series of architectural plans, but so far they have failed to materialise (see The Art Newspaper, No. 104, June 2000, p. 38).
Now, however, the Greek government seems determined to push ahead with the project, and Foreign Minister George Papandreou has promised that the museum will be open in time for the 2004 Olympics. Senior Acropolis archaeologist Alexandros Mantis said, “The need for the museum to open by that year is one issue on which the archaeologists and the politicians agree”.
Last month a shortlist of 15 architects for the new museum was agreed, and a decision on the final choice is expected early in the new year.
Some of the delays over the new museum have been due to the discovery of important archaeological remains on the site, as well as the adjacent metro line. Excavations were completed a few months ago, and a sample of the finds are displayed behind glass in the concourse of the new metro station. The more significant finds, some dating back nearly 4,000 years, are currently on show at the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art, in “The City beneath the City” (until December 2001).
Adjacent to the site of the new museum is the old Acropolis Study Centre, where the original 19th-century casts provided by the British Museum are housed. Until last year, the centre was open to visitors, but the building was damaged by the September 1999 earthquake and it has now been closed to the public.
The Art Newspaper was shown inside, and the building is in a run-down condition, with cracks in the walls from the tremor. The casts on the ground floor are dusty, and only poorly captioned, mostly just in Greek. The upper floor rooms which were once open to visitors are now locked. The fact that visitors are denied the opportunity to see these casts undoubtedly weakens the Greek claim for the return of the originals.
The existing Acropolis Museum on the top of the hill is also in a sorry state. The displays are now old, and the magnificent sculptures poorly shown. Many of the sculptures which have been removed from the Parthenon for conservation reasons during the past two decades are in store and not on show, including some of the east and north metopes. Little money has been spent on renewing the museum, presumably because from the 1970s a new museum had been planned.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Battle for the Parthenon marbles goes underground'