The Olympiad and culture

The prospect of holding the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 also engendered great hopes for culture, because the preparations for the Games coincided with a transitional period for the capital’s cultural infrastructure. Athens’s backwardness in this respect had sparked lively discussion in the early 1990s about the need to boost the city. When the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation announced the construction of a Museum of Contemporary Art at the same time as the extension of the Benaki and Cycladic museums, it marked the beginning of a new era. Meanwhile, the formation of the company for the unification of Athens’s archaeological sites (EAXA) raised hopes that the management of the Classical heritage was being put on a sound new basis. Now, six years after Juan Antonio Samaranch pronounced the word «Athens,» the initial impetus has slackened. Athens will greet its visitors in 2004 without a Museum of Contemporary Art – what is left of the Fix factory on Syngrou Avenue cannot be made ready in less than 16 months. Efforts are being made to get the ground floor of the old factory ready to house the «Olympic» production of the National Museum of Contemporary Art. This does not mean that 2004 will not leave a legacy to the city. The refurbishment of major museums (including the National Archaeological Museum and the museums at Kerameikos and Marathon), the enhancement of six of the most important archaeological sites (slopes of the Acropolis, Philopappou, Olympion, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora and Kerameikos), and the restoration of significant architectural monuments (Panathenaic Stadium, Zappeion Mansion and others) are among the Olympic dowry of Athens. New infrastructure includes the New Acropolis Museum (which is unlikely, however, to be complete), the National Gallery’s new sculpture gallery in Goudi, the Museum of Islamic Art in Pireos Street (from the Benaki Museum), Irini Pappas’s theater school in the shell of the old Sanitas factory, also on Pireos, and the extension of the Athens Concert Hall, which may have some surprises in store.

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