Athens is transformed into a true center for the arts during the summer of the Olympic Games

Never before has there been such a collection of fine art exhibits in Athens as those on show this summer. The Olympic city will be hosting two centuries of artistic achievement, apart from the unique displays at the newly re-opened National Archaeological Museum. Sculpture, painting, photography and an originally conceived tribute to fashion are just some of the offerings. Last month the National Archaeological Museum re-opened its doors to a large number of its unique exhibits after 20 months of hard work plagued by delays, legal wrangling and agonizing as to whether it would be ready on time. The neoclassical facade’s wonderful porphyry shade has been attracting glances from passers-by on Patission Street for some time now. Everything looks brand new, spick and span, from the reception hall with its Ionian columns to the ornate decorations on the architraves. Yet there have been no real radical changes, since many of the museum’s halls will be closed during the Olympics and a planned extension is still on the drawing board. What has given the museum a breath of fresh air, however, has been the work done by restorers and archaeologists. Around 8,500 artifacts have been cleaned of five decades of dust and grime. Archaeologists have re-arranged the exhibits in 32 halls of the 40 which are to eventually open. So we won’t be seeing the Bronze Age exhibits, of which the greater part has been closed since 1979, until October, nor the Egyptian collection. The upper floor will also open later. The northern wing now has a new emergency exit, an wheelchair access ramp and an elevator down to the museum cafe and restrooms. Modern display cases in a shade of gray-khakhi deck the halls, and there are new plinths for the sculptures, some of which incorporate the latest technology, such as one that goes up and down at the touch of a button. Another innovation – the museum is now finally air conditioned, putting an end to those sweltering trudges around the exhibits. The Mycenaean gold draws visitors’ attention as they enter the forecourt. On the left are the Neolithic exhibits, along with 70 gold pendants obtained from two expropriations. In the hall to the right is Cycladic culture in all its majesty, dominated by a large female figure in a display case beside two famous Cycladic musicians, a harpist and a piper. The fresh breeze also flows through the sculpture hall, where small and large statues and tombstones are presented clearly with signs giving detailed explanations of their origins. Here there are also objects being exhibited for the first time, according to the Museum Director Nikos Kaltsas. The Syracuse Aphrodite is here, along with three sculptures from Cyprus, and a slim kore statue prominent in the display case. Also new is a small collection of marble masks related to the New Comedy and a bust of Menander, considered the main representative of the genre. On July 15, the museum, officially reopened by Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis on June 24, will be celebrating the opening of the «Agon» exhibit of 200 artifacts from 16 Greek museums and 18 others abroad. By that time the refurbishment of the garden in front of the museum is expected to be completed by the Athens Municipality. Stunning Charioteer «Magna Graecia: Athletics and the Olympic Spirit in the Periphery of the Hellenic World – Southern Italy and Sicily,» is a must. It shows the growth of sport during classical antiquity in the western part of the Hellenic world (Lower Italy and Sicily), and the participation of athletes from these areas in Panhellenic competitions in the «motherland,» above all in Olympia. Thirty-two museums responded to the appeal from Nikolaos Stambolidis, sending exhibits dating from the early sixth century BC to the second century AD. Pride of place goes to the 2,470-year-old Charioteer of Motya, in Parian marble, 1.81 meters tall, which is sure to steal the show.