Priceless antiquities back on show

A collection of priceless Minoan frescoes from the Greek island of Santorini is back on display, along with four rare wood painting fragments, never before exhibited, after the National Archaeological Museum in Athens underwent major repairs, the museum said on Wednesday. The Minoan-era, 16th century BC frescoes, depicting two young pugilists, antelopes and floral motifs, had been inaccessible to the public since 1999, when the museum building was badly damaged in an earthquake. Although the 19th century building underwent extensive renovation ahead of the 2004 Olympics, the entire first floor and the Bronze Collection hall missed the Games deadline in the 14.9-million-euro makeover program, and was to open officially on Wednesday night. In addition to the Santorini frescoes on the first floor, the completion of the work will enable the display of four wood painting fragments from the sixth century BC for the first time. Nearly half of the Bronze Collection’s 1,670 items, covering the full scope of antiquity, are also making an exhibition debut. The collection’s standout exhibit is the «Lady of Kalymnos,» a Hellenistic-era bronze statue of a woman, named after the southeast Aegean island where a fisherman discovered her in 1994. In addition to anti-quake safeguards already worked into the building’s structure in the last two years, and the addition of elevators and an air-conditioning system, museum director Nikolaos Kaltsas said that steps were made to improve the presentation inside the newly reopened halls. Exhibit signs are now provided in both Greek and English, and the museum has shelved a third of its vase collection to gain space. This still leaves 2,400 items dating from the Bronze Age (second millennium BC) to Hellenistic times (fourth-third century BC), Kaltsas told a press conference. The Ministry of Culture has long studied the prospect of further expanding the National Archaeological Museum’s premises. Kaltsas was confident that by next year, the museum, which is among the most prestigious of its kind in the world, will be able to exhibit new collection themes, such as ancient glasswork and jewelry, based on items currently in storage. (AFP)

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