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Greece’s Acropolis Museum will finally be unveiled on Saturday, an ultra-modern glass building at the foot of the ancient citadel originally intended to be open in time for the 2004 Olympics.
Designed by celebrated Franco-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, it offers panoramic views of the stone citadel and showcases sculptures from the golden age of Athenian democracy in the fifth century BCE.
The three-level building set out over a total area of 25,000 square metres (270,000 square feet) will display more than 350 artefacts and sculptures that were previously held in a small museum atop the Acropolis.
“After several adventures, obstructions and criticism, the new Acropolis Museum is ready: a symbol of modern Greece that pays homage to its ancestors, the duty of a nation to its cultural heritage,” Greek Culture Minister Antonis Samaras told journalists.
The first floor of the museum holds a series of objects including antique ceramics, bas reliefs and sculptures.
The Caryatids, columns sculpted as females holding up the roof of a porch on the southern side of the Erectheum temple, dominate the top of a glass ramp leading up the second floor, on which sculptures from the Temple of Athena and the Propylaea entrance to the Acropolis will be displayed.
The third floor, with natural light streaming in, contains a reconstruction of the Parthenon Marbles. It is based upon several elements that remain in Athens as well as copies of the marbles still housed in the British Museum in London, which are differentiated by their white colour.
Greece has long pursued a campaign for the return of the priceless friezes, removed in 1806 by Lord Elgin when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman Empire and which the British Museum refuses to repatriate.
“For the first time visitors can see all of the friezes together and understand the problem of the dispersion of the pieces between London and Athens,” said museum president Dimitris Pantermalis.
British Museum officials were nevertheless invited to the opening of the new museum and were set to attend, although they insisted there was no change of position on the return of the priceless artefacts.
“The museum is a catalyst for the repatriation of the friezes that were taken away and looted,” said Samaras.
Since 1974 successive Greek governments have tried to get a new museum built, but it was only after Tschumi’s design won a fourth competition in 2001 that construction got under way.
The new museum was intended to open in time for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, but that target date fell by the wayside due to technical and bureaucratic hurdles.
Not the least of them was the discovery of the remains of ancient buildings under the proposed site of the museum on the southern slope of the Acropolis. The problem was resolved by incorporating the ruins into part of the museum’s display.
The museum, built on a budget of 130 million euros (180 million dollars), can welcome up to 10,000 visitors per day.