When I first heard of the Acropolis, I was enchanted. When I first visited, I was less so.
Hot, heavy-legged and hammered with a headache from a student inspired hangover, I’d picked the worst time to climb this capital city hill: in the middle of the day, punished for my foolishness by the modern Greek god of sun.
How gratifying it was, then, to travel in a far more civilised way, guided by the Greek Gods of Afea (a bespoke luxury tour company) to the modern, 21st century Acropolis Museum.
The Acropolis Museum is one of a small number I’ve seen recently that seem to have reinvented the concept of museums themselves. Instead of merely housing artefacts and (if you’re lucky) providing dusty placards in one language or another, modern museums proffer an experience all of their own.
The Art Gallery of Alberta, the Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg and, though it’s been around a little longer, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, all focus on the visitor’s journey and make the architecture as much a feature of the place as the material contained within.
At the Acropolis Museum, the Parthenon itself gets a 21st century makeover, housed by a crown of jagged grey and glass. Sharp angles, space and flawless concrete recreate this former temple through the walls and floors of the museum, and the full length and breadth windows yield a greater panoramic view than you’d find at street level.
Plus, this way, there’s air conditioning too.
Inside, you’ll see a lot of marble. And it doesn’t take long, if you speak with an English accent, before someone tells you they want their marbles back.
The Elgin Marbles, as they’ve come to be known, describe some of the sculptures and architectural remnants that used to adorn the Parthenon back in ancient times. They were built over 2000 years ago and survived fire, famine and flood (probably, it sounds poetic) until Lord Elgin (ambassador to the Ottoman Court, also poetic, actually true ) arrived in Athens just over 200 years ago.
They’ve lived in the British Museum ever since.
And for longer than the last period of euro-shambles, Greece has wanted them back.
They came from Greece, they return to Greece, they say, which seems as straightforward enough point.
Until someone else argues that had they stayed in Athens, they’d have been destroyed by now. That the remnants of the Parthenon lie scattered across the rest of Europe, yet no one cries for their return.
Plus, and I suspect this reason haunts more than a few government officials, who could stomach the paperwork.
It’s a discussion with no winners but plenty of passion, like a border dispute, though thankfully without the bloodshed.
Aphrodite poses and Zeus struts; Poseidon raises his trident and citizens recline in flowing stone robes.
There’s a lot to take in, even with the cool AC (my favourite is discovering that these marbles weren’t always light honey-white: a display case of pigments reveal the rainbow loving tendencies of the worshippers of ancient gods.)
In short, this visit to the Acropolis stands in stark contrast to my first trip to this hallowed land.
And yet, with so much more to learn, I’m keen to come back, to spend more time here, gently, slowly, carefully, trying to retrace those threads to the past so that I can identify each face, understand each sweep of snowy stone.
And much as I love the past, I’ll sidestep the tangles of the present.
For me, I think it’s best if I watch the Elgin Marble debate unravel from afar.
I travelled to the Acropolis Museum with Afea Luxury who arrange bespoke luxury tours through Greece. As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. Even when it comes to marbles ;-)
THE ACROPOLIS MUSEUM: FURTHER READING
The British Museum: What are “the Elgin marbles?”