Marbles in exile

The New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Part 1

On 6 February 1833 the 17-year-old Otto von Wittelsbach arrived on board a British frigate in Nafplion, the first capital of modern Greece. The Catholic monarch would spend decades in the country. Then following a coup in 1862 he left Greece as he arrived, on board a British warship. He was buried wearing traditional Greek uniform as a symbol of loyalty to his adopted homeland. It is still acknowledged that the self-image and effects of German philosophy, cultural theory and art history at the end of the 18th century were unimaginable without the example of classical Greece. The research and description of modern as well as a re-evaluated ancient Athens in the wake of Philhellenism could blossom only after the Greek War Of Liberation, i.e. after liberation from the Turks. The question was what specific archaeological and urban architectural practice followed from the principles of German Philhellenism. The “Athens text” which determined the city’s image for several generations of Europeans has been formed over centuries. Plans for construction of a New Acropolis Museum, which in the end required decades, were announced by premier Karamanlis in September 1976. Restitution – returning the Elgin Marbles kept in the British Museum and ‘reunification’ of the reliefs and statues which used to be next to each other – was on the museum’s agenda from the very beginning. Another issue is whether a (cultural) administration can take on such a risk as was undertaken in this case. The effectiveness of the radical demand for restitution with the construction of the museum was mistakenly overestimated, and the future of the building and the now established museum, given the logic of the present situation, will inevitably be influenced in a complex way by the short-term political defeat. (to be continued in the next issue)