Athens – Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis Museum is currently the highest rated attraction in Athens on TripAdvisor and a huge source of pride for the Greek people. It displays the treasures of the Parthenon, or at least, the ones that Greece has left. It’s a beautifully designed museum and the process to buy tickets was easy to understand and the staff were helpful and welcoming. Tickets are usually €10, but during the winter months they’re just €5, so I felt that was good value.

I can’t fault the design of the museum, which looks glorious throughout. This is the view of the Acropolis and Parthenon from the museum which has tall windows to maximise the viewing opportunities. The museum was also spotlessly clean, there were English translations of everything and despite the high number of people there, the visitor flow was well managed.

There’s a separate floor of exhibits which I’ll post about elsewhere, but this is the main part of the museum in my view, it’s the display of the Parthenon Marbles. They stretch around a long rectangle, just as they would have once been displayed on the exterior of the Parthenon, and are positioned in the order they were once located in.

Unfortunately for the museum they don’t have the complete set of marbles, as around half were taken by Lord Elgin in the early part of the nineteenth century. They’re still on display in the British Museum, and it’s intriguing to see which stones were taken and which weren’t. The museum has inserted in plaster casts of the missing stones, and it’s easy to see what is original and what is a copy. There are some other gaps in the stones, such as when the building was converted into a church and a number were destroyed, but these are clearly marked.

My own view is that the museum was disappointing as I left knowing little more than I did when I went in. The information panels around the museum were, in my view anyway, randomly located and overly complex. There was no flow by date and I came away with more questions than answers because there seemed to be gaps in the factual record.

On the matter of the Elgin Marbles, the museum doesn’t touch on this, other than to condemn their taking. The situation was confused at the time, let alone now, so views will likely always be split on this. Elgin claimed that it took over a decade and hundreds of employees to remove the panels and that the locals must have known what was happening, but it was more complex than this and there was a lot of missing documentation when the House of Commons investigated at the time. There’s no evidence that Elgin had permission to take the marbles, so the Greeks do understandably want them back.

The British Museum has also managed to damage the panels in a botched cleaning process which it transpired they didn’t know about, although this is now a couple of generations ago. For what it’s worth, I prefer the British Museum display of the marbles in terms of the interpretation offered about them and the curation of the stones. Although the Greek museum is clearly a more stunning building. But that’s an aside anyway as it’s nothing to do with me, it’s a matter for the trustees of the British Museum.

One more point for confusion is about taking photographs. I merrily went around taking photographs and no-one said anything to me during my visit. On the way back down I noticed a sign saying no photos and one staff member was stopping people taking photos, but all the other staff didn’t intervene in their areas. I’m guessing that the situation is that the museum don’t mind people taking photos in principle, but they’re trying to avoid people taking them as it creates pinch points and displays at exhibits. But I can understand why some visitors are confused, and there are three reviews on TripAdvisor about how the museum authorities have made visitors cry by being rude to them. Not a good look.

Overall, I’m glad that I went and the marbles are simply sublime and it’s marvellous that so many other treasures from the site are clearly displayed in what is a beautiful building. But curation wise, I’m less convinced about the whole museum. But since it’s the most popular attraction in the city, I think I’m in rather a minority here.