The Acropolis Museum, next to one of the most important historical sites in the world, holds a stunning collection of artifacts from ancient Greece. Thousands of statues and sculptures, temple carvings and household goods are displayed on three levels of the modern glass-and-marble building, which opened in 2009.
If you visit the museum before walking up the sacred hill, the Acropolis, to the temple ruins, you’ll have a better chance of imagining what it must have been like 2500 years ago. Picture the procession up the Panathenaic Way, with musicians blowing flutes, men carrying sacrificial animals, and maidens with vessels of wine and the holy shawl they draped over the figure of the goddess Athena. It was the last day of the Panathenaia festival, full of dances and contests. Or imagine attending a first-night performance of a play by Sophocles in the theater on the south slope, above the temple dedicated to Dionysus, god of wine and dance. That’s a premiere I’d like to have seen.
The three most important temples on the Acropolis were the Parthenon, Erechtheion, and Temple of Nike, all dedicated to Athena and built between 450 and 330 BCE. Objects from the temples and elsewhere on the Acropolis are in the museum, where part of the flooring is clear glass, so visitors can look down into the archeological site where some of the artifacts were found. There are several galleries:
Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis has two parts. Settlement displays evidence from as far back as 3000 BCE, the end of the Neolithic period, to the 6th century CE–cooking pots, jewelry and perfume containers, children’s toys, and tableware, mostly made of clay. Sanctuary shows the various places on the hill where gods, goddesses and heroes were worshiped and honored.
The Archaic Gallery has three sections. “Archaic” covers the 7th century BCE to 480 BCE. This is when the Greek city-state and eventually democracy developed. In this open space, filled with natural light, you can stroll around figures on pedestals among high columns. One section, the Hekatompedon, refers to the earliest building on the Acropolis, a pre-Parthenon temple. It has several intriguing carvings: a lioness with a bushy mane, tearing a calf apart; Heracles wrestling with a man-monster figure; and a triple-bodied monster, each figure holding a symbol of an element (water, fire, and air). The Ancient Temple has sculptures showing a battle between gods and giants. The Votives exhibits carved animals and figures, offerings to Athena that reflected the person’s social and financial status.
The Parthenon Gallery has four parts. Metopes holds carvings of legendary battles, symbolizing the victories of Athenians over the Persians. Pediments features more Athena myths, and Friezes celebrates the Panathenaia, the 12-day festival honoring the goddess. The great procession is depicted in carvings that were once on the Parthenon. The original frieze was 160 meters long, depicting humans, animals, chariots, and the twelve gods of Mt. Olympus. Only parts of the frieze are in this museum; the rest are scattered among other European museums.
Propylaia, Athena Nike, and Erechtheion. The Erechthion was the most sacred temple on the Acropolis, dedicated mostly, of course, to Athena. It was the site of the Sacred Tokens, marks made by Poseidon’s trident and the olive tree, the precious gift the goddess gave the city. The Temple of Athena Nike was famous for its south porch, which had a roof supported by six Caryatids, or statues of maidens. One of those Caryatids was taken to England in 1816, along with other marble sculptures, by Lord Elgin, and the Elgin Marbles, or Parthenon Marbles, have been under fierce debate for years. They’re in the British Museum now, and Greece wants them back. Those in the Acropolis Museum are reproductions.
5th Century BCE to 5th Century CE. There are three parts here, each with impressive carvings and votives of various periods . The Sanctuary of Artemis Brauronia holds the head of a colossal statue carved in 330 BCE. She was the protector of expectant mothers and childbirth.
The museum has videos, presentations by archeologists in Greek and English, a reading area, free wi-fi access and a gift shop.Visitors can even watch conservators using laser technology to clean the sculptures.
There’s a café on the ground floor selling coffee, sandwiches and ice cream. From the restaurant on the second floor you can enjoy a snack and see panoramic views of the Acropolis or, on Friday evenings, dine on traditional Greek dishes such as rooster with noodles and sea bass in a salt crust. (Reservations: Phone +30 210 9000915 during open hours.)
The Acropolis Museum is 300 meters southeast of the Acropolis hill, on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, about two kilometers from Athens’ main square, Syntagma. The museum provides no public parking, and street parking is limited, so it’s best to get there by bus, trolley or metro. They run frequently. The ticket booth and a snack bar are just below the museum entrance. Admission is 5 euros. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m, Friday until 10 p.m., and closed Mondays and some holidays. Phone: +30 210 9000900
Written by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com