Greece's share of Parthenon marbles to be transported to New Acropolis Museum using series of cranes

After it was determined that other means of removal might pose risk to the sculptures, being lifted by air appeared the safest option


The Parthenon Marbles which remain in Athens are to be transported down to the New Acropolis Museum through the air, using a relay of three cranes. Greek conservators have determined that this will be the safest method of transporting the 2,500-year-old sculptures, arguably the most important from the ancient world. It is expected that this delicate operation will take place this summer.

The New Parthenon Museum is in Makriyianni, 300 metres south-east of the original museum, measured horizontally. The vertical distance is considerable, with the new museum being set 75 metres below the Acropolis, in the city. Theoretically, the sculptures could be moved by truck, along a kilometre route. However, the vibrations might pose a risk to the antiquities.

The main alternative strategy considered was to build a temporary rail route down to the museum. A small section of an existing rail wagon system built for restoration materials could have been used at the top of the Acropolis. Then an existing crane would have moved the sculptures to a spot where a new rail route would have been constructed, with a consistent 10% incline down to the new museum.

This proposal presented several problems. The present rail wagon system is narrow, which would have made it awkward for the larger sculptures. Using the existing crane would have disrupted restoration work on the Acropolis. Finally, construction of a new rail route would have required archaeological investigations along a strip on the southern slope of the Acropolis, to ensure that no damage was caused.

It has now been decided to opt for the “three-crane” solution, proposed by civil engineer Kostas Zambas, who has been involved with restoration of the Acropolis for over 30 years. This will involve the temporary erection of massive cranes.

The first crane will swivel its load through 180 degrees, moving the sculptures around 100 metres horizontally, and then lowering them by about 25 metres. The crate will then be picked up by a second crane, which will repeat the process, and finally a third crane will take over.

Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, president of the New Acropolis Museum, points out that modern cranes can operate at very low speeds, and this is the smoothest and hence “safest” way of moving the sculptures. Installation of the cranes will require relatively little ground space, and two proposed bases have already been excavated to ensure that archaeological remains will not be disturbed.

Roughly half the Marbles are still in Athens, and have been removed from the Parthenon for conservation reasons and kept in the old museum, which is adjacent to the temple. In Athens there are 26 full frieze blocks (plus 46 fragments) and 39 high-relief metopes which will have to be moved to the New Acropolis Museum, plus pedimental statues and a quantity of other antiquities. Most of the remaining Marbles are at the British Museum (BM) in London.

Last month, BM director Neil MacGregor made conciliatory remarks about a possible loan. He told Bloomberg News: “There is no reason why any object in the British Museum—if it is fit to travel—shouldn’t spend three months, six months, somewhere else. The difficulty at the moment which would stand in the way of that is that the Greek government has formally, and recently, refused to acknowledge that the [BM] trustees are the owners of the objects.”

This comment suggests that if legal claims are dropped then the BM might be willing to consider the short-term loan of pieces, particularly individual sculptures which have been divided between London and Athens.

It has just emerged that senior Greek and British cultural officials will meet in London on 4 May to discuss the Marbles dispute.

The €130m New Acropolis Museum building is finally nearing completion, and should be finished this summer. However, it will take longer to complete the fit-out, and the museum is now expected to open in spring 2008. The long-delayed project was started in 1976, and in 2001 a third design competition was won by Bernard Tschumi.

The Greek authorities hoped to open the museum in time for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but there were further delays, partly because of archaeological excavations on the site. The question now is whether the New Acropolis Museum will be open by the time of the next Olympics, to be held in Beijing in August 2008.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Greeks will transport their Parthenon marbles by air'