The International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures is an association of various national committees with the shared goal of "The reunification of all the surviving Parthenon Sculptures in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens"
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Legality of Elgin's Firman called into question

Elgin's right to the Parthenon Sculptures has long been justified by a translation of the Firman (permit) that he was supplied with by the Ottoman authorities. New Research though suggests that this may not be the case.

August 29, 2008
Legality of Earl of Elgin’s acquisition challenged by scholar
Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent

The new Acropolis Museum may prove to be the most lavishly appointed white elephant in history. Nothing will change the view of the British Government that the intended centrepiece, the magnificently sculpted Elgin Marbles, must remain permanently in the British Museum.

Not that the museum will be empty. There will be 4,000 exhibits including the remaining Parthenon sculptures. But the crown jewels, the 247ft of the original 524ft frieze, 15 of 92 metopes and 17 figures from the pediments, all dating to the 5th century BC, will remain 1,500 miles away in London.

Britain has long argued that when the Earl of Elgin took the Marbles between 1801 and 1805, he was acting legally and that, had he not done so, they would have suffered further deterioration. The Parthenon was already a ruin. Also, fearing their destruction in the conflict between the Greeks and the Turks, Elgin got permission from the Turks, whose empire then ruled Greece, to remove the antiquities.

But the British Museum’s ownership of the sculptures has been called into question by a challenge to the validity of a crucial 19th-century legal document. A specialist in Ottoman law says that without the signature and seal of the Sultan as supreme head of the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin had no legal right to remove the ancient sculptures from the Acropolis.

Professor Vassilis Dimitriadis, of the University of Crete, says that the document of 1801 — an Italian translation of an Ottoman firman or licence which the British Museum acquired two years ago as the only legal evidence of ownership — is invalidated by vital missing elements.

The British Museum argues that the translated document is from a lost original firman in which the Sultan’s acting grand vizier was authorised to permit Elgin to acquire the sculptures.

Professor Dimitriadis claims that the original was not a firman because only the Sultan could issue one by Ottoman law, that it lacks the Sultan’s emblem (a tougras), and an invocation to God (da’vet tahmid).

Read the original article in The Times.

One of the most beautiful exhibition spaces in modern architecture

During earlier stages of its construction, many criticised the New Acropolis Museum for a variety of reasons. Now that the building is nearing completion however, almost every person who has visited it is awed by the space that has been created & its potential for unifying the Parthenon Sculptures within the context of the Parthenon.

August 28, 2008
Athens welcomes the ghost of Phidias to new rooftop gallery
Marcus Binney, Architecture Correspondent

The new rooftop gallery built to display the Parthenon marbles is one of the most beautiful exhibition spaces in modern architecture.

Just as the Parthenon itself enjoys a 360-degree panorama of sparkling sea and green hills, the new ¤130 million gallery has a continuous view over the rooftops of Athens, interrupted only by the Acropolis itself. Sunlight fills the gallery through floor-to-ceiling glass, and the windows have such slender supports you might be standing in the open air enjoying blue skies and the crystal light which is the wonder of Attica.

The Parthenon friezes now being installed consist of original stones belonging to the museum and casts of the 50-odd blocks removed by Lord Elgin in the 19th century. The friezes are being set at eye level, arranged precisely as they were on the Parthenon, so the effect is akin to viewing them from a scaffold such as the original sculptors might have used.

From outside the new museum gives away little of its amazing interior. It is a sleek Modernist dark-glass box that appeals for its clean lines, smooth surfaces and clever geometry. A flaw is the attractiveness of the many ledges to pigeons which are already staining the lower façades.

The Swiss-French architect Bernard Tschumi who designed the museum overcame the problem of constructing it in an area rich in archaeological remains by elevating it on 100 slender concrete columns, carefully placed to avoid damage to the remains.

The interior of the museum is a thrilling progression from dark to light. The black marble floor of the entrance hall creates an immediate sense of cool. As you turn the first corner you enter a lofty atrium with a rising floor suggestive of the ascent of the Acropolis itself. Glass panels beneath your feet provide dramatic views of the remains up to 30ft below.

Shafts of light above the grand steps create the illusion that you are staring at a series of giant fluted Doric columns like those of the Parthenon itself.

The smooth 30ft columns of the Archaic Sculpture Gallery on the first floor provide an immensely airy space in which the early Acropolis statues surviving from a Persian assault of 480BC can be admired in the round. The rows of columns are not parallel with the walls and in places there are perspectives as dramatic as in an Egyptian hypostyle temple. Statues are being tested in different positions with the help of a large model on which miniatures of the prize pieces can be moved around like chessmen.

By contrast the top-floor gallery for the Parthenon marbles is a perfectly ordered rectangle, precisely reflecting the measurements of the temple itself and set on exactly the same east-west alignment. Tellingly the recesses in which the friezes are being set vary greatly in depth. This reflects the fact that after Lord Elgin removed the friezes he had a large section cut off the back of each block to make it easier to transport. By contrast the blocks removed more recently from the Parthenon to avoid continuing erosion are the full blocks. Though the friezes will run continuously, entrances have been made at the points where sections were completely destroyed in an explosion of 1687.

The Parthenon friezes were set inside the colonnades of the temple. The new museum will also display the superb sculpture from the outside of the temple with the statues of gods, horses and chariots from the end pediments displayed so the fully carved backs can be seen as well as the fronts.

Other famous sculptures from the Acropolis going on display include the famous female caryatids from the Erechtheion and friezes from the Temple of Athena Nike.

A big test of the gallery will be impact of noise from guided tours. The open-plan, marble floors and concrete walls could intensify noise, but Tshumi has studied the acoustic as carefully as in an opera house, providing “portholes” in the atrium walls which act as sound sponges and an absorbent coating on the ceilings.

A second challenge will come at the end of November when the museum is scheduled to open and visitors will be able to decide whether the Greeks have trumped the superb interpretative displays of the British Museum.

Read the original article in The Times.

The New Acropolis Museum needs the Parthenon Sculptures to be complete

As the New Acropolis Museum nears completion, pressure is growing on the British museum to return the Parthenon Sculptures so that they can be displayed within the purpose designed Parthenon Gallery on top of the building.

Acropolis now
Wednesday, 27th August 2008
Henry Sands says Athens’s new museum is missing its Marbles

We have come to understand that missing sections from museum displays of ancient sculpture are the inevitable result of parts breaking off and becoming lost to the world. But at the New Acropolis Museum in Athens we know exactly where to find the stones that would fill those accusatory gaps.

The empty spaces act as a poignant reminder to the viewer that the collection is not complete — and that it will remain incomplete as long as the Elgin Marbles sit in the Duveen Room of the British Museum, their home since 1816. Now that there is a place to show them off, there is new sense of optimism among the Greeks that they may finally be reunited with the Marbles they believe to be rightfully theirs.

It is more than 200 years since Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, removed sections of the marble frieze. Many believe it to have been one of the greatest acts of vandalism of all time. Could he have imagined what a contentious issue it would be between Greece and Britain two centuries later?

A couple of years ago, the British archaeologist Dorothy King dismissed the Greek government’s call for the return of the marbles: ‘I think they should start looking after what they have. Most of the Parthenon sculpture in Athens isn’t on display and hasn’t been cared for.’

It’s an accusation that is hard to sustain now that the new museum is complete. Situated at the base of the Acropolis, it boasts an exact replica of the Parthenon Gallery, where the remaining marbles are now displayed. Every effort, even down to lighting controls that simulate outside light, has been made to show the marbles as they once were.

It is an impressive sight amid many. No matter how many times I had seen the Athens landscape in university lectures, nothing had prepared me for the real thing. The power and prominence of the Parthenon is unparalleled.

On my first morning in Athens, to avoid the hordes and the heat, I got to the entrance of the Acropolis for its 8 o’clock opening. Arriving then not only meant that the temperature was just about bearable, but also put me three minutes ahead of the first coach-load of tourists. First I had to find my way around two blonde Russian women who had hiked up the remarkably steep path in four-inch stilettos and leopard-print cocktail dresses. They took it in turn to lie on their fronts and pose as the other took photos with a disposable camera. Even the magnificence of the Parthenon could not prevent my becoming mildly distracted.

And how magnificent it is. Despite extensive scaffolding to assist restoration work, you cannot fail to be moved by the power of the place, especially when you recall that contemporary Britons were just about mastering mud huts. A British girl behind said to her boyfriend, ‘I don’t think we’d be able to build this now.’ 
‘I know,’ he said. ‘But then again I don’t think the Greeks could either.’

Whether or not prompted by the Olympic Games — some of the facilities for which have already fallen into disuse — Athens has enjoyed something of a renaissance over the last four years. It has culminated in the New Acropolis Museum. From the outside the museum resembles nothing else in Athens or indeed Greece. The building was designed by the Swiss-born deconstructivist architect Bernard Tschumi, and cost more than $175 million. Based around the idea of fragmentation, it incorporates over 14,000 square metres and is formed from three distinctive rectangles built on top of each other and surrounded in dark glass. It is very ‘un-Athenian’, though its modern simplicity works perfectly to focus the viewer’s attention on the exhibits inside.

The museum is the creation of Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, who has been involved in the project since discussions first began 30 years ago. Although the top floor is certainly the most significant aspect of the museum, the first two set the viewer up perfectly for the third floor finale. They boast an extensive collection of archaic and classical sculptures many of which were created by the sculpture masters Phidias and Alkamenos and which would certainly be the centrepiece of most other museums.

When the museum opens later this year, and the rest of the world sees the facilities the Athenians have built, there will be significant pressure on the British Museum to return the Marbles. Now that we can no longer assert that the Greeks don’t know how to look after them, it will be hard to dismiss the thought that the Parthenon Marbles have a far greater impact when viewed at the base of the Acropolis than in the less resonant surroundings of the British Museum.

Read the original article in The Spectator.

Bernard Tschumi on the New Acropolis Museum

The New Acropolis Museum's architect Bernard Tschumi believes that the ParthenonSculptures will return once people see the suitability of the space that has been designed for them.

Bernard Tschumi Q&A exclusive
Architecture
8 August 2008

After nearly 30 years of planning, and eight years since the international competition was launched for the project, the New Acropolis Museum in Athens is ready: the collections are carefully being moved in as we speak, and the official opening is expected with much anticipation towards the end of the year.

Proudly headed by architect Bernard Tschumi, the new museum project team also comprises local architect Michael Photiadis and the museum’s director Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, who showed us around the new bright and airy building, where we had the chance to meet Swiss-born Tschumi, and discuss his concept, the design, Athens and the Parthenon sculptures.

Describe the building – how does it work?

The building has two layers; one leads to the excavations. It is quite unusual that you actually have to save and show the finds, so the whole building is on stilts. The ground floor is really structured so as to reveal the excavations, which is why you have all the glass, including the glass ramp leading to the galleries.

The second layer has all the sculptures and the artefacts related to the Acropolis. This part of the building, its geometry, follows the street’s geometry and pattern. But the top room, the glass enclosure, is really all about the Parthenon – it is absolutely parallel to it. This is why the building makes this strange shift on the top floor, and why the corners seem to stick out over the street.

The whole shape comes out of the conditions of the brief and our solution. We started from that shape and everything proceeded from there. We made it as minimal as possible, in terms of form as well as material, as we did not want to compete with the Parthenon. There were people who advocated that the New Museum should be in the style of the Parthenon; I always say that I did not want to imitate Phidias, but to think like Pythagoras. In other words, think of mathematics and master geometry, and start from a level of abstraction.

What are the main materials used?

The materials are very simple: glass, concrete, and steel. Inside it is marble, glass and concrete. The main structure is reinforced concrete.

What lead you to this choice of material?

The concrete I chose is really soft, so it absorbs the light. The sculptures, the real ones, not the copies, are made of marble, which reflects the light. This combination makes the exhibits stand out, which is why I selected it. This is clear in the top room, but also in the sculpture rooms with the big concrete columns; they bring out the sculptures’ detailing, making them look alive.

Did your main idea, the concept and the shape of the building evolve and change a lot during the design process?

Yes, but surprisingly little. You know, sometimes we are lucky and we get it straight away. Even when they found more excavations, we just continued with the same concept, it just worked; we didn’t even have to revise it.

Certain things of course evolved – and these were mainly the exhibits’ layout within the space. Of course we included the sculptures in the plans from the time of the competition, but now that we are putting them in their place and not on a piece of paper, we notice things that would work better, so some have been moved.

What kind of special technology was needed for the building design?

There are two things, which were technologically important for the building, and they have to do with the location, Athens. One is that this is an earthquake country, and the other is that it can get quite hot. The earthquake part means that we had to devise the building in such a way as to include the latest technology. Instead of making the building as heavy as possible, as was the usual practice until recently, we made the structure as subtle and flexible as possible.

This museum is done with the latest earthquake protection technology, developed in the last 20 years from our experience in Japan and California, called Base Insulation System. The lower part of the building is anchored into the ground, but the upper part is actually separated from it by a sort of cushion, like ball bearings, so that the upper part can move separately from the lower part.

The second technical aspect is the glass skin. There is a gap between the double-glazing of the top floor, so the hot air from the galleries circulates through the glass wall gaps, via the ceiling and ends up in the basement, where it is cooled and brought back up in the galleries. We recycle the air all the time to help keep the temperature stable and cool.

How eco-friendly and sustainable is the building?

Museums are never your perfect, sustainable buildings as there are always difficult and special conditions in the brief for preserving the exhibits. Nevertheless the architects can always help as much as possible towards sustainability through design, and that is exactly what we did by recycling the air. We filter it, cool it and recycle it, so we use the least air conditioning possible. The floor itself is marble, so it is also very cool naturally.

The project is very well known, of course, because of the Acropolis, but it is also one of the few projects built by an international architect in Greece. How do you feel about building in Athens?

I don’t think much about being an international architect in Athens per se, but being able to build the closest new building next to the Parthenon, of course is terribly important to me! You have to be very humble and very arrogant at the same time to go through with something like that. This is one of the masterpieces, probably the masterpiece, of ancient architecture, and building next to it, establishing a dialogue with it is very important.

Even though it has concrete structure, the glass makes it a very discreet building. Was that you intention?

Yes, that is exactly what I wanted. And the skylights – you hardly see them. Everything was planned to be as minimal as possible.

The building reminded me of Greek modernist architecture, like the Karantinos-designed Aristotle University buildings, and Aris Konstantinides’ work. Was the design influenced by particular architectural styles or philosophy?

When you decide to search for clarity, for simplicity and put the emphasis on the purity of materials, like I did here, inevitably you will touch upon some other sensibilities that dealt with the same issues.

And there are moments in 20th-century architecture that have done this. Of course they did it slightly differently, for example the slight shift of the upper floor; nobody in the 1970s would have done that. But the minimalism of it, yes, it happened. And I don’t have a problem with that – we don’t live in a vacuum, buildings and styles evolve over centuries, so I am quite happy with it. It means the building is connected with the history, it has evolved in the same way as the Parthenon evolved from a generation of temples before.

Do you feel your architecture, the way you treat buildings, is changing a lot from one project to the next?

Yes and no. It is not about style. But conceptually, there is a very strong coherence in the way I approach the projects. I will always say that the most important thing is the idea. The building itself is just the translation of the concept. So was La Villette, so was a major auditorium I did in France, buildings I did in the US etc.

I always use the materials rather than the forms in order to give expression to a building. I always say ‘Architecture is the “materialisation” of a concept’. It is always very much about a logic, as well as the simplicity and the clarity of the expression. So if La Villette and this building have something in common, it is the clarity of the concept.

It is never about fancy shapes, and there is a reason for that. In a way this case is the opposite of Bilbao. Bilbao was a city that didn’t have much of a presence, and for its art museum there were no sculptures to start with. While here, with the Parthenon next door, you build in a relationship with what is already here. You react in different ways for different situations, and it is always a case of translating an idea. That is how I see every one of my projects.

And the question on everyone’s lips; what is your position on the return of the Parthenon marbles?

You would rightly assume that I do support their return. In fact I am absolutely convinced that the marbles will come back. Of course they will. Now that the building is finished and everybody will be able to see the quality of light that you get here, and the way they will be displayed here compared to the way they are displayed in the British Museum, their return will make sense straight away.

Read the original article in Wallpaper.

Athens’s new museum is spectacular, even without its star exhibits.

The opening of the Athens's New Acropolis Museum later this year represents a long anticipated major step forward for the reunification campaign.

Acropolis now
Athens’s new museum is spectacular, even without its star exhibits. Kevin Rushby gets a sneak preview
Kevin Rushby, The Guardian, Saturday July 26 2008

Walking through bright sunshine and crowds of tourists in an Athenian street, I glanced down and read the publicity blurb in my hand. The story was there, contained in just a few words: “Museum mission: to house all the surviving antiquities from the Acropolis within a single museum of international stature.” Actually the entire story is distilled into one word: ALL. But they might have added that it has been a 207-year mission to return the so-called Elgin Marbles - the first being cut down from the Parthenon on July 31, 1801.

A little further up the road and both buildings are in sight: to my right, rising from a skirt of trees, is the knobbly hill of the Acropolis, crowned by the Parthenon; to my left, behind some low buildings, is the New Acropolis Museum. The international stature of the Parthenon requires no words, but does this new museum live up to the lofty ambition? And the big question: does it have the requisite stature even when ALL the antiquities are not present - because half of them are in London?

The approach is promising. As we take the steps up to the museum entrance, the ground to our left suddenly falls away to reveal archaeological excavations. This is a part of ancient Athens dating back to the 5th century BC, an area contemporary with the construction of the Parthenon itself. It was this discovery that delayed the project for so long, but the architect, Bernard Tschumi, solved the problem in spectacular style - by setting the building on more than 100 concrete pillars directly over the old city. Not only that but the floor of the museum is largely glass: wherever you walk on the lower and middle levels of the building, you have the sensation of walking through those ancient streets. The illusion is shattered only when you ascend to the upper floor where the marbles themselves are kept.

The marbles, of course, are the raison d’être for this £100m project. Here’s a quick recap of the situation. In 480BC the Persians invaded Greece and sacked the Acropolis, the hill that stands over the city of Athens and houses its sacred sites. A generation later the Athenians, led by Pericles, decided to celebrate their city’s revival in fortunes by rebuilding the Parthenon, the temple to Athena in her virginal state. The sculptor Phideas produced an astonishing stone frieze running for 547ft around the architrave of the building - an artistic achievement of staggering size and quality, a distillation of what the first Greek democracy could produce.

The marble frieze subsequently survived the decline and fall of Hellenic culture, the Roman Empire, the Goths and the Ottoman Turks. It survived everything, in fact, until 1801, when the seventh Earl of Elgin arrived. Armed with some dodgy paperwork, a chestful of baksheesh and several saws, Elgin had about half of the frieze cut off and shipped home, along with a multitude of other carvings and statues. His motivation was clear. “My house in Scotland,” he wrote to his Athenian agent, “. . . offers me the means of placing, in a useful, distinguished, and agreeable way, the various things that you may perhaps be able to procure for me.” Grand designs, indeed. Elgin was a DIY enthusiast, though an overspent one, and after much haggling the marbles were sold to the British Museum for £35,000.

Since then it has been one-way criticism, from Lord Byron to Merlina Mercouri, without result. The hill did have a museum for what remained after plunderers, but with new and significant finds from the whole Acropolis site, that had long ago become too small. In particular there was a number of well-preserved statues from the pre-480BC Acropolis, some showing clear traces of the paint that once adorned them. Finally the Greeks have hit upon a brilliant strategy: build a gigantic home for the marbles and all this extra Acropolis treasure, push it under the noses of the Trojans, sorry British, and wait for their hard hearts and barren minds to be moved.

So as I walked up to the upper floor of the new museum and stepped through the door, the question in my mind was: What if those hearts are not moved? Does the New Acropolis Museum warrant a visit, even without several of its star exhibits?

The first thing you see as you pass through that door is, appropriately, the Parthenon, rising up above the surrounding city and no further away than a hero could heave a discus. Then you notice that the gallery runs around the central core of the building which has risen from the ground floor and is itself precisely the same dimensions as the Parthenon. It is on this core that the marbles are placed. Currently about half are original and half are plaster copies, and this is far from ideal but nevertheless does give, for the first time in two centuries, a chance to see the whole of Phideas’s astonishing artistic achievement.

“The frieze is one narrative,” says Professor Dimitrios Pandermalis, curator of the museum. “It tells the story of the presentation of the most important Athenian feast to honour the goddess of the city, Athena. For the first time all the groups of Athenian society, the common people and officials, are presented in a democratic way on a similar level as the gods.”

Not only that but the visitor, for the first time, can stroll around the entire narrative of the frieze at eye-level, examining the detail. And there is plenty of detail. The British Museum misguidedly restored Elgin’s marbles in the 1930s, scouring away the natural weathered patina and fragments of original paint to reach a white finish, a finish that is unnatural to the stone itself. The Greek marbles retain that patina. Further sculptures in the museum, from the pre-480BC Acropolis, show signs of that original paint, miraculously preserved.

The new museum is undoubtedly going to be a huge tourist attraction. Its breathtaking design, with natural light flooding every corner, is a huge achievement in itself. And with every visitor, I am sure, another voice will be raised to call on London to restore the unity of this astonishing piece of art.

· The lower sculpture galleries of the New Acropolis Museum (newacropolismuseum.gr) are now accessible to the public; the entire building should open officially in mid-October. Aegean Airlines (aegeanair.com) flies daily from Stansted to Athens from around £100 rtn in mid-October. Rooms at Hermes Hotel have full sliding windows on to tiny balconies that look down on a narrow street, or the Acropolis; doubles from €145 through i-escape.com.

Read the original article on the Guardian's website.