Three hundred marble sculptures that have survived on the Acropolis in Athens through 2,500 years of war, weather and looting, will soon be moved to a new museum, Greek officials said Tuesday.
The sculptures, weighing up to 2.5 tons each, were carved in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C. to decorate the Parthenon and other temples. Most are currently exhibited in a small museum on the Acropolis.
A new glass and concrete museum, purpose-built to house all the Acropolis finds at the foot of the hill, will open in early 2008, Culture Minister George Voulgarakis said.
A huge operation will start in September to move the marble works to the new museum, which is scheduled to open next year, the officials said.
"It will be a very difficult undertaking," said Voulgarakis. "This has never been done before. (But) I think everything will go well."
Three cranes, standing up to 50 meters (165 feet) tall, will relay the sculptures from the old museum on the Acropolis to the new, €129 million (US$174 million) building — a distance of some 400 meters (yards).
The operation will cost €2.5 million (US$3.4 million) and is scheduled to be finished by the end of this year, Voulgarakis said.
"It will depend on the weather too," he said. "Our main concern was to ensure the works' safe transportation and that minimal damage is caused to the monuments. The cost is not a concern."
Among the works to be moved will be four Caryatids from the Erechtheion temple — decorative statues that held up a small porch — and sections of the Parthenon pediment and 162-meter (530-feet) frieze.
The sculptures will be stored in foam-packed metal boxes, while the cranes are designed to absorb shocks that could damage the precious works.
The move will be insured — although that could be complicated.
"These works are beyond price," Voulgarakis said. "Nobody can set a precise value to one of the Caryatids."
Initially scheduled for completion before the 2004 Athens Olympics, construction of the new, 20,000-sq. meter (215,000-sq. foot) museum was delayed by long-running legal fights and new archaeological discoveries at the site.
The two-story building will be capped by a glass hall containing the Parthenon sculptures. The glass walls will allow visitors a direct view of the ancient temple.
Blank spaces will be left for sculptures removed from the Parthenon two centuries ago by British diplomat Lord Elgin, which are now in the British Museum in London. Greece has campaigned long and unsuccessfully for their return.
The 14,000-sq. meter (150,000-sq. foot) new exhibition area will contain more than 4,000 works — 10 times the amount currently on display in the old museum. Most have never been exhibited before.
"Many more of the Parthenon's sculptures will be on view in the new display, including many that are now in storage, or fragments that have been reassembled in the 1980s and 1990s," said archaeologist Alexandros Mantis.
The new museum was designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi in collaboration with Greece's Michael Photiades. It will incorporate, under a glass cover, building remains from a 3rd-7th century Athenian neighborhood discovered in the 1990s during preliminary work on the site.
The old Acropolis museum will close to visitors in July to facilitate the move, Voulgarakis said.
This is, of course, another delay ... the museum was (re)(re)scheduled to open in Fall of 2007.