OPINION

No excuses for unfinished museum

Athens sought and won the right to host the Olympic Games on the basis of the inarguable premise that it was here in Greece that the Olympic idea was born, and where it was also later revived. The crowds of visitors and even greater television audiences would have the opportunity to see the birthplace of Western civilization and perhaps get another perspective on the Olympic ideal. They would see the Acropolis, the Parthenon, and the treasures of the National Archaeological Museum, by far the richest Greek collection in the world. Unfortunately, inexcusable delays and lack of planning on the part of the outgoing political leadership have weakened Athens’s strongest card – its cultural heritage. The repository of ancient Greek art, the National Archaeological Museum, will not be completely ready in time for the Olympic Games. Half of its halls are likely to remain closed. The museum’s renovation, which became imperative after the 1999 earthquake, will not be finished due to repeated mistakes, hesitation, a lack of proper strategy and design and, above all, the lack of political will. Imagine the Olympic Games in Paris with only part of the Louvre open, or in Madrid without the Prado, New York without the Metropolitan or St Petersburg without the Hermitage. Above all, responsibility lies with former Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos, who was also responsible for all the Olympic venue construction. The various requirements of the museum – from renovation, air conditioning and foundation reinforcement, to a general tidying up and modernization of the museum’s halls – were well-known even before the Games were bestowed upon Greece. Venizelos himself gave the assurance that the museum’s extension would be helped by including the project in the Third Community Support Framework. None of that was to materialize. Everything was left half-finished. Just months before the Games, after repeated cuts to the original plans and after the museum has been closed for two-and-a-half years, the work teams are struggling to install a «moderate» air-conditioning system, to carry out painting and restoration work and to complete by August just a part of the museum and open some of the collections. Athens will have a completed baseball stadium and a half-completed National Archaeological Museum. Fortunately, the Acropolis will be in place.