The Acropolis museum opening ceremony was attended by some 400 guests, including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, and foreign heads of state. Conspicuously, there were no government officials from Britain, which has repeatedly refused to repatriate dozens of 2,500-year-old sculptures from the Parthenon temple that are held in the British Museum.
President Karolos Papoulias said that “The whole world can now see the most important sculptures from the Parthenon together. Some are missing. It is time to heal the wounds on the monument by returning” those.
Large crowds watched the heavily policed opening ceremony from nearby cafes, and families gathered on overlooking balconies.
Crouching 300 yards from the Parthenon’s slender bones like a skewed stack of glass boxes, the $180 million museum provides an airy setting for some of the best surviving works of classical sculpture that once adorned the Acropolis.
By day, printed glass panels filter the harsh sunlight while revealing the ancient citadel in the background. The internal lighting projects the battered statues outward at night, contrasting with the floodlit ruins on the low hill.
“We tried … to be as simple, as clear, as precise as we could be establishing a visual relation between the Parthenon, the museum with the beautiful sculptures and with the archaeological remnants,” said the building’s designer, French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi.
Among the exhibits are small sculptures recently returned from Italy, The Vatican and Germany.
Elgin, a Scotsman, removed about half the surviving sculptures between 1801-04, when Greece was occupied by Ottoman Turks.
The British Museum has repeatedly rejected calls for the return of the sculptures. It says it legally owns the collection it bought from Elgin, who sold it to stave off bankruptcy, and that it is displayed free of charge in an international cultural context. “I think they belong to all of us. We are all global citizens these days,” said British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton.