National Archaeological Museum to be only semi-open for Olympics

In summer, visitors fainted from the heat; in winter, the museum guards shivered around a space heater. These are images of the country’s leading museum, with by far the largest and richest collection of ancient Greek artifacts in the world, images of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens in the 21st century. Just a few months before the crucial month of August, the capital is not in any position to offer the crowds of visitors to the Olympic Games a visit to its greatest attraction after the Acropolis. The National Museum will only be partly open, for the exhibition «Agon» and a partial showing of its unique collections. A planned radical renovation has been downgraded to a cleanup operation and the preservation of the all-too-visible degradation. The problem with the air conditioning has been hastily resolved with alternative «low-intervention» solutions, the strengthening of the foundations has not been completed, and as for access for visitors with disabilities, that remains a dream for the future. Athens is getting gussied up for what should be its finest hour but cannot show off its best museum, the one with the most noteworthy examples of the culture that gave birth to the Olympics and to Western civilization. Preparations for the Olympics and the advent of the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII) provided opportunities for the National Archaeological Museum that appear just once every 50 or 100 years. These opportunities, which would have allowed a full renovation, have been missed. Athens has missed the opportunity to attract the interest of great architects around the world, an opportunity to highlight its hidden treasures. Worst of all, it is not only the museum that has missed out, but we Greeks as well, the administrators of a weighty heritage. We could have shown how we view classical civilization and how we are moving into the future. We have shown ourselves to be lacking, slipshod, mere amateurs, as if we cannot support the weight of the heritage we are so eager to boast about. As for who is responsible, it appears that the political leadership knew about the problems as early as 1997, when Athens won the bid for the 2004 Olympic Games. A deadline was set, but in 1999 the museum was damaged in a powerful earthquake. However, the powers that be took no action, and made no plans nor haste in setting about the renovation process. They did nothing to include the project in the infrastructure projects of CSFIII. Instead, Evangelos Venizelos, who served as culture minister for a number of years, governing in the manner of a feudal lord, wasted tens of billions of drachmas in tragicomic fiestas such as the «Labors of Hercules» circus in Moscow and other somewhat nouveau riche spectacles within the Cultural Olympiad. The former minister did not invest in long-term projects of nationwide scope outside the bounds of his own electoral region; he did not show any confidence in the recommendations of archaeologists who comprise the most capable and knowledgeable experts in the country. It is not enough to define and bewail the situation. Solutions, even partial ones, are required, in the bitter knowledge that an historic opportunity to raise the National Archeological Museum to the heights it deserves has been missed.

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