A day at Athens’s new Acropolis Museum

At 9.30 a.m. on a Thursday, visitors walked through the colossal entrance of the new Acropolis Museum, which officially opened on June 20, in the mood to explore. «Many people have been eagerly awaiting this moment,» said 25-year-old Luis Berlanga, an Erasmus student from Seville, Spain. «The Greeks have done a great job designing the building. The ceilings are high, the space is open and you don’t feel crowded.» Descending the stairs to the entrance of the new museum, there were no tourist stampedes or massive lines. It was just as it looked on television when the global spotlight shone on the museum’s elegant and exclusive grand opening. Before entering the museum, people gathered to look at the glass-covered excavation site. «I like that you can see the excavations,» said 29-year-old Sajida Manir, from the UK. «It reminds you that what you’re seeing is authentic. You truly appreciate the effort and work that has gone into the restorations.» First impressions Upon entering the museum, the steady flow of people was separated into six orderly lines then quickly received by museum attendants. After checking in with my e-ticket, I turned the corner and found multitudes of people, young and old, Greek and international visitors, divided into two groups, quietly observing the artifacts against the giant white walls that stretched upward toward the transparent flooring of the third level. The museum is large and spacious and its modern, minimalist architecture in contrast with the distinctive style of the ancient Greek art and sculpture on display is a superb sight. There were several people actually standing in the middle of the ground level, ignoring the artifacts and taking pictures of the feet of the people above them. «This is a very good opportunity for Greece to exhibit the artifacts for the world to see the beauty of both ancient Greek design and modern Greek design,» said 45-year-old Andreas Maheras, a resident of Athens. The Caryatids Moving up to the first floor, the sculptures have been strategically placed to give visitors a panoramic view of the artifacts. The weathered beige and white marbles stand out against the grayish-blue walls, and reflect the natural light streaming in from the skylights and spotless windows. «I love the natural light and the way the exhibits are arranged,» said Mercedes Vahi, a 22-year-old Erasmus student from Seville. «They aren’t just pushed up against the wall. You can see almost every artifact from all angles.» Among the many sculptures on the first floor are the Caryatids from the Erechtheion, which, for the first time, can be viewed from all angles. Upon close observation, you can make out the differences in hairstyle and clothing details incorporated by the sculptor. «They were one of my favorite exhibits in the museum,» says Flora Theodorou, an Athens resident. «We haven’t seen them in a long time. It was amazing to see the movement that the sculptor captured in their clothing. In this exhibit, they are alive.» The five marble female figures stand in a rectangular pattern, with a space reserved for the sixth, which remains in the British Museum. Despite the absence, the Caryatids seem to be a favorite among the museum visitors, as they are constantly surrounded by people taking photographs. Missing Marbles By the time you reach the third and top floor of the museum, it is hard to ignore the issue of the missing Parthenon Marbles. You notice that the marbles on display are different shades of white, beige and gray. As explained by a museum attendant, the weathered-looking gray marbles are the originals, the beige are temporarily on display while the originals are being restored, and the bright white ones are reproductions of the originals kept in the British Museum. There is an overwhelming amount of white marble replicas. «It’s obvious that something is missing,» Maheras said. «The reunification of the Marbles, in Greece, is the No 1 priority for this museum to be complete.» Mr and Mrs Sowter, aged 62 and 60, from Derby, England, said it was a shame to see the void on the museum’s third floor. «I’ve seen the Marbles in England and they belong here,» Mr Sowter said. «They’ve made excuses in the past that Greece could not properly house them but, standing here now, it’s obvious that they can.» «Yeireisai tous [They should be returned],» Mr Sowter concluded in Greek. Although young Mr Berlanga believes that the Marbles should be returned, he also says that Greece is focusing on the wrong part. «Why focus so much on what is missing, when you can celebrate all that you have?» By noon, the outdoor cafe-restaurant that faces the Parthenon is filled with people of all ages from around the globe sipping iced coffees while others linger on the terrace, waiting for a table. The museum gift shop is swarming with customers. The once seemingly calm entrance way is congested as the brightly colored specks on the Acropolis hill trickle down the slope and anxiously await entrance to the new museum. Regardless of whether they are celebrating the opening, or mourning the missing Marbles, uo to 10,000 visitors per day have entered the museum to make up their own minds about this new addition to Athens’s cultural landscape.