The Ancient Neighbourhood: Built on the remains of an Athenian neighbourhood, the remnants of streets, houses, workshops and baths are clearly visible through the transparent floors and viewing areas at the entrance to the museum. Walking into the museum, the neighbourhood continues below, a reminder of the history that lies beneath one of the world’s most historical cities.
The Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis: Provides an insight into the ancient Athenian daily life, with display cases lining an ascending ramp that mirrors the slope leading to the Acropolis. Keep your eyes down – a collection of ceramic bowls, wine glasses and plates discovered buried in the floor of a house dating to the 3rd Century BC are encased in the museum floor at the gallery’s entrance. Amongst the artefacts from households, what really puts things into perspective are unfinished statues and clay moulds – a touch of reality behind the mythical figurines of ancient times. Votive offerings of ‘loutrophorai’, or vessels that carry bathwater to the nuptial bath, taken from the sanctuary of the Nymphs give a complete overview of the different terracotta painting techniques used in ancient Greece, something pottery buffs will delight in, while the collection of unusual, figurative vases with three-dimensional bodies worked onto the surface are also a hit with visitors. Pieces from the Sanctuary of Dionysus’ temple frieze reveal magnificent workmanship that expertly transformed dense marble into flowing fabrics draped over dancing women. Theatrical masks and a statue of Old Silenus carrying a young Dionysus on his shoulders allows one to go back in time to see what a temple to an enigmatic and flamboyant god would have looked like.
The Archaic Gallery, 1st Floor: The Archaic Gallery paints a vibrant picture of Athens and the Acropolis before the refinement of the Classical era, expressed in the Archaic Parthenon’s pediment that dominates the gallery’s entrance. A stark contrast to the highly-classical figures of the Parthenon, the archaic style is exemplified in the size and scope of its centrepiece - a magnificent sculpture depicting two gargantuan lions devouring a bull. Those archaic sculptors certainly had a talent for depicting animals – seek out the hunting dog if you aren’t convinced. Then, after animals come statues of women – lots of them. Reflective of the worship of a female deity, some 200 ‘Korai’ were discovered on the Acropolis, many with the traces of the original paint that decorated the expertly carved fabric chitons clothing their stylistic (and voluptuous) bodies. Nearby, the pediment of the Ancient Temple - which replaced the old geometric temple (close to the site of the Parthenon) around the time of the abolishment of tyranny in 508/507 BC – tells the story of the Gigantomachy, the war between the gods and rebelling giants. A warlike Athena is shown with her cloak made of snakes, though the real triumph here is the work that went into restoration efforts – the plaster casts that complete the statues are second to none.
The Propylaia, Erectheion and Temple of the Athena Nike, 1st Floor: After the Archaic temple comes one of the crowning jewels of the Acropolis complex and the Museum – the famous Caryatids – female sculptures that acted as columns on the Erectheion temple’s porch. Built on the site of the geometric period temple to Athena Polias (the Ancient Temple) which had been destroyed by the Persians, the Erectheion is known for its irregular design, in part due to the irregular surface of the rock as well as the need to protect the remains of ancient cults, a mark of respect after the Persian-induced destruction to the Acropolis, something the ancient Greeks never forgot. Another special aspect of this display is that rather than being sealed off in a glass, as was the case in the old Acropolis Museum, the Caryatids can finally be enjoyed in the round, an illustration of the museum’s dedication to bringing its exhibits to life. This is evident in the temple of Athena Nike’s frieze exhibit– a scaled arrangement of how the frieze would appear on the temple itself, which most people pass as they enter the Acropolis through the Propylaia without a second glance. A number of reliefs are also on display, taken from the Nike temple’s balustrade, the Sandal-binding Nike being a glorious example of superb relief-carving, with luscious fabrics draped over an even more lusciously carved out body.
5th Century BC. – 5th Century AD, 1st floor: Representing periods in the Acropolis’ history from the Hellenistic period, the Roman period, and the advent of Christianity, classical art lovers will admire the face of the cult statue of Artemis Brauronia by Praxiteles, one of the most celebrated attic sculptors of the 4th Century BC. In fact, faces are the real winner in this section, with a collection of portrait busts allowing visitors to gaze into the intricately carved faces of historical figures such as a young Alexander the Great, as well as Lucius Verrus, Agrippina the Younger, Emperor Caracalla, his wife Plautillia and a rather handsome portrait of a Barbarian from the 3rd quarter of the 2nd Century AD exhibited in the Roman period – who knew savages could look so refined? This section also contains the museum’s most curious exhibits - a haunting marble face of a woman dating to the 5th/4th Century BC, with black lines running from her expressive inlaid eyes, she seems to be crying, while a marble sphere dating to the 3rd/2nd BC carved with magic symbols and icons suggests we are looking at something that was just as much a mystery to the ancients as it is to those looking upon it today.
The Parthenon Gallery, 3rd floor: The Parthenon Gallery is where visitors can truly appreciate the museum design and its intentions. Built with the precise geometry and dimensions of the Parthenon, one can admire the inner frieze, the outer metopes and the crowning pediments while looking towards the Parthenon itself, perched atop the Acropolis hill. Finally, it feels like the pieces have found a home worthy of their stature, and a walk around this exhibition hall evokes the magnificence of the mighty structure. Nevertheless, the spectacular exhibition space invokes mixed feelings. Many of the displayed pieces are replicas of fragments housed mainly in the British Museum, though the conspicuous gaps in the gallery make the frieze found behind the west pediment appear all the more miraculous – bar one missing piece, this section is made up entirely of fragments belonging to the museum. The shame in the situation is unavoidable, particularly when most of the breathtaking pediment sculptures - especially on the west pediment - are plaster casts. However, the cast makers’ excellent work, is also apparent in the expert reconstruction of the floral akroterion that once crowned the Parthenon’s east pediment. Indeed, regardless of the debate, the work that has gone into the museum is unquestionable, something eloquently expressed in the bewitched faces of its visitors - history really does come alive here.
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Open 08:00-20:00, Mon 08:00-16:00, Fri 08:00-22:00.