OPINION

Archaeological museum woes

In a few months’ time, Athens will be ready to open the New Acropolis Museum, but it would be wonderful if it were also in a position to open a New Archaeology Museum by 2015. It is feasible, and above all desirable. When Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis opened the new gift shop at the National Archaeological Museum the other day – do government ministers anywhere else in the world do this? – it once more became clear how little scope there is for developing a museum that is stifled by the Culture Ministry. It could be the top money earner for tourism in Athens, even more so than the Acropolis, if it functioned like other major museums in the world. It may sound petty, but if a country like Spain or Italy had the treasures of the Athens museum, the gift shop would not have been opened in 2007. The 19th century museum building was ideal for a city of 50,000 people and very few visitors. Its recent renovation for the Athens Olympics highlighted the building’s inherent weaknesses, for although both aesthetically and architecturally pleasing, it remains unbearably provincial. The surrounding gardens are unkempt, a sign of the overall mediocrity that extends from the outside area to the way the building functions. Athens has a duty both to itself and to its ever-increasing number of visitors, of which the Tourism Ministry is so proud, to provide the best archaeological museum in the world. It has the raw material, the works of art, but it does not have the know-how or flexibility. A new building, along with the New Acropolis Museum, the National Opera and the National Library (to be built at Faliron), will help Athens emerge from backstage to center stage.