Athenians take advantage of International Museum Day to visit city’s latest addition

It may be the first time that so many people have visited a museum that has no exhibits. The New Acropolis Museum had a kind of dress rehearsal on Sunday, with all its exhibits still in storage and only the impressive shell of the building open to visitors and their comments. Partly because it was a day of leisure, partly because of the sunshine, and partly because of the publicity provided by the media, for International Museum Day, crowds flocked to the museum on Sunday. Everybody wanted to be the first to see the museum that has prompted so much discussion, debate, protests, meetings and articles, both for and against. Babies, toddlers, young and old arrived feeling curious, and left enthusiastic. The glass floor that leads to the main entrance allowed them to see the ancient neighborhood that was unearthed during construction of the museum. Some chose to bypass it, others seemed to balance on the cement beams supporting the glass. Some children played hopscotch while others clung to their parents’ hands for fear of being swallowed up. After the initial shock, and these first impressions, music greeted the visitors. A small stage out front sported young musicians who broke the ice for the many Greeks and few foreigners visiting the museum. Inside people were awestruck, not by the exhibits, which are still in their crates, but by the building itself – by its size and the sense that Athenians have some great contemporary architecture to be proud of. The visit spurred us to imagine what the museum will be like when it is completed. A screen in a corner showed images of the transfer of the antiquities from the old museum on the Acropolis. The reception area had already run out of leaflets in Greek, such was the demand by Athenians. Back in the forecourt, discussion began about the apartment buildings on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, the subject of so much debate as to whether they should be demolished so as to have a clear view of the Acropolis citadel from the museum. Opinion here is as divided as elsewhere. Athenians like going out and are happy to mix pleasure and instruction. The New Acropolis Museum provides both.