Museum upgrade ahead

The country’s leading museum, home to a vast collection of more than 20,000 items and rare treasures does not even have emergency exits. National Archaeological Museum Director Nikos Kaltsas admitted as much at a meeting of the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) on June 5. On the agenda was the study for the repair of the damage sustained by the museum during the 1999 earthquake, and the work to be done from October, when the museum closes, till spring 2004, when it reopens. The lack of emergency exits is a major problem – «Strictly speaking, it shouldn’t have an operating permit,» says museum restoration chief Vassilis Handakas – but it is not the only one. The museum doesn’t even have air conditioning, which makes it unbearably hot in summer. Luckily, these matters will have been resolved by 2004. Radical changes will take place after that date, with the creation of an underground extension of the museum into the square out front on Patission Street. The survey directorate has already ordered a study for the extension, while the survey for repositioning the exhibits has begun. National Technical University engineer Panayiotis Karydis spent months on a survey of the earthquake damage to the museum. KAS approved the study for repairs, which was carried out by the General Directorate for Museum Restoration and the Cultural Buildings Directorate. Karydis recommended joining certain parts of the building, filling in cracks and reinforcing the whole structure. For the air conditioning, which will be installed soon (before the extension is built), underground structures will be constructed along Bouboulinas and Irakleiou streets and parts of the courtyard have to be raised by a meter. There was discussion of the museum’s two arcades. A proposal to enclose them in non-reflective glass, put a lift and ramp for people with mobility problems in one and a proper sales booth for the Archaeological Receipts Fund in the other was received with some caution. There will be elevators in other parts of the building. Though the building suffers from many problems, Karydis said it was basically sound. The study will also cover ways of dealing with the damp and making concealed air ducts. The project is budgeted at 29.3 million euros and its objective is to upgrade the museum by next spring. There is every indication that the work will get done, even if it is at the last minute. It is to be hoped that the extension, which is included in the Third Community Support Framework, will follow.