Museum opens after Olympic restoration

Athens’s National Archaeological Museum, the world’s most important showcase of Greek antiquities, reopened most of its halls yesterday after undergoing 20 months of restorations for the Olympic Games this summer. Thousands of the precious pieces, from statues to Mycenaean gold vessels, will be on display providing a visual time-line of Greek antiquity. Highlights among the 8,500 pieces include the statues of Horse and Jockey and the Poseidon of Artemision. «Everything has been redone… I think it was worth the wait. You cannot make changes on this scale and keep the museum open,» the museum’s director, Nikolaos Kaltsas, told The Associated Press. The downtown museum was set to be inaugurated later in the day and open to the public today. The entrance fee is 6 euros ($7.20), site officials said. Not all collections will be on display, however, as only 32 of 48 exhibition rooms were reopened yesterday. The remaining areas, damaged in a 1999 earthquake, will open before the end of the year and are to house pottery and bronze collections, Kaltsas said. Athens, struggling to finish Olympic sites and transport networks in time for the August 13-29 Summer Games, is keen to show its ancient heritage to the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to visit the halls. Failure to open even part of the museum would have been a major embarrassment. Starting July 15 and ending in October, the museum will host «Agon» – the Greek word for contest – an exhibition of Olympics-related antiquities. Some of the pieces will be on loan from museums around the world. These include the Louvre in Paris, New York’s Metropolitan and the British Museum in London, which has refused to give up its collection of sculptures from the ancient Parthenon – also known as the Elgin Marbles. Renovations were carried out to repair the quake damage, clean and redisplay thousands of artifacts, and paint and polish the interior of the 113-year-old neoclassical building which had fallen into disrepair. More than 5.5 million euros ($6.6 million) was spent on restoring the ancient objects, Kaltsas said. The museum’s facelift includes an air-conditioning system, a new security system, ultraviolet-screening glass over sensitive objects and a ramp and elevators for the disabled. «All the artifacts were taken off their stands and cleaned… It’s a real accomplishment that all this work was done in the time we had,» Kaltsas said, as museum staff behind him cleaned windows, finished wiring and polished floors. «We’ve all been working flat out here, arriving early in the morning and leaving at night,» he said. «But we’re really into the work and we didn’t really have time to think about being tired.»