Behold the Raking Geison: The New Acropolis Museum and Its Context-Free Archaeologies

By Plantzos, Dimitris | Antiquity, June 2011 | Go to article overview

Behold the Raking Geison: The New Acropolis Museum and Its Context-Free Archaeologies


Plantzos, Dimitris, Antiquity


Acropolismus

The opening of the new Acropolis Museum in June 2009 was one of the most important museological events of our century so far. Nick James paid it a visit (Antiquity 83:1144-51) and we have pleasure in offering three more reactions from different viewpoints.

New for old

In December 1834 Athens became the capital city of the newly founded Hellenic Kingdom. King Otto, the Bavarian prince whose political and cultural initiative shaped much of what modem Greece is today, sought to design the new city inspired by the heavily idealised model of Classical Hellas (see Bastea 2000). The emerging capital was from the outset conceived as a heterotopia of Hellenism, a Foucauldian 'other space' devoted to Western Classicism in view of the Classical ruins it preserved. The Acropolis became, naturally, the focal point of this effort. At the same time, however, and as Greek nationalist strategies were beginning to unfold, Classical antiquity became a disputed topos, a cultural identity of sorts contested between Greece on the one hand and the 'Western world' on the other (see Yalouri 2001: 77-100). Archaeological sites thus became disputed spaces, claimed by various interested parties of national or supra-national authority wishing to impose their own views on how they should be managed--and to what ends (Loukaki 2008). The Acropolis was duly cleansed from any non-Classical antiquities and began to be constructed as an authentic Classical space, a national project still in progress. As Artemis Leontis has argued in her discussion of Greece as a heterotopic 'culture of ruins', the Acropolis of Athens, now repossessed by architectural renovation and scholarly interest, functions 'as a symbol not of Greece's ancient glory but of its modern predicament' (Leontis 1995: 40-66; see also McNeal 1991; Hamilakis 2007: 85-99).

When we ascend to modern Greece's 'sacred rock' today, we are faced with a vibrant landscape of modernity at work (Figure 1): cranes and scaffolds, architects, engineers and marble cutters, all striving to return the ruins to an imagined 'authentic state'--pre-Morosini (when, in 1687, Venetian artillery saw that the Parthenon be turned into a pile of ruins), though definitely post-Elgin (when, in 1801, the notorious Scot removed what he could from the standing monuments in order to make his own investment in Greece's Classical past). More to the point, we are faced with a simulacrum of a ruin, since a significant percentage of what now stands on the Acropolis is newly cut in order to support the old remains (Figure 2). This is of course carried out according to international standards and state-of-the-art technology (cf. YSMA 2010), but it is nevertheless quite obvious that what is being produced on the Acropolis is a site restored to an idealised state of being, one only suitable to current tastes and ideologies. These ruins are indeed restored, enhanced and promoted as Greece's 'mast recognizable modern signature' (Leontis 1995: 66) and the new Acropolis Museum seems to have been designed as a further step in that direction. As weather and pollution threatened the condition of any sculptures still remaining on the Acropolis, their transfer to a secluded space became imperative and soon enough it was decided to move them, along with any other artefacts excavated on the Acropolis since the nineteenth century, to a museum off-site, a grander building that would replace the old museum, by then drastically running out of space. This accentuates the holographic properties of the site in its present state: a make-believe time (an idealised Classical age) and a make-believe place (a hitherto unseen Acropolis) with make-believe remains (since parts of the buildings are rebuilt and all sculptures are now moved elsewhere). A triumph of archaeology, certainly; as the champion of aesthetics on the one hand and politics on the other, since the Acropolis is still enlisted in the service of the nation's international relations and economic strategies, not to mention the agonising efforts to establish Athens as a world-celebrated tourist destination.

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