New Acropolis Museum’s Opening Night: Elgin Argument Intensifies

After much heartache, and a building project which ran five years behind scedule, Saturday saw the doors of Athens’ New Acropolis Museum finally throw open its doors to the public in a triumphant blaze of pomp and ceremony. But Greek officials took the chance to highlight the country’s claim for the ‘stolen’ Elgin Marbles’ – 75 of the original 160 pieces of the magnificent marble friezes which once adorned the city’s famous Parthenon.

London - British Museum - Frieze of the Parthenon (Elgin Marbles)

The night itself was a glittering success, with hundreds of foreign dignitaries and celebrities flooding the museum’s floors to get a first glimpse at its myriad masterpieces from Greece’s golden era. Yet for all the pageantry and glamour, no-one could hide the fact that many of the country’s most prized assets were conspicuous by their absence. A large room in the NAMreplicates exactly the measurements of the Parthenon, with sufficient room to house The Elgin Marbles. The marbles have long been the subject of heated debate between Greece and Britain, whose diplomat Lord Elgin took the treasures in 1811 amid confusion over an Ottoman firman (excavation permit). Ever since its 1821 independence from the Ottomans, Greece has demanded the marbles be returned to Athens – a plea which has so far fallen on deaf British ears. The British Museum, which currently displays the prized pieces in their own grand hall, has long argued the validity of Elgin’s removal. And the NAM’s opening has only resulted in the BM’s offering a loan deal – something the Greeks flatly refuse, as it would effectively legitimise Elgin’s actions. Greek President Karolos Papoulias reignited the debate on Saturday, by claiming: “It’s time to heal the wounds of the monument with the return of the marbles which belong to it.” However his Culture Minister Antonis Samaras was less subtle in his assertions, calling the marbles’ plight an ‘enforced exile.

There’s no doubting the New Acropolis Museum’s credentials as one of the world’s most spectacular museums. Yet can this awesome building provide the pressure the Greeks need to get their marbles back? Only time – and plenty of wrangling, no doubt – will tell.

Image by WVJazzman. All rights reserved.