The Acropolis museum is a world-class museum that houses some of the most significant and beautiful art from the Acropolis. If you visit only one museum in Greece, the Acropolis Museum would probably be the one.
What to See
The Acropolis Museum is built at the foot of the Acropolis rock to house the rich archaeological finds unearthed during excavations on top and around the Acropolis sanctuary.
Obviously, you should see everything, but we are going to highlight here some of the most significant objects in the Acropolis museum.
Kore Peplophoros, Moschophoros, and Kritios Boy
Among other masterpieces, you will first encounter the joyous Peplophoros Kore, and the elegant Moschophoros statue. Both are examples of Archaic art–the precursor to the Classical period.
The Kritios Boy statue is considered the bridge between Archaic and Classical sculpture. It is more life-like with its slight twist of the head and the torso. His chest seems to swell in the act of inhaling, while his gaze surveys his surroundings intently.
The Caryatid Statues
Perched majestically above the central staircase of the Acropolis museum you can see the authentic Caryatides. They are traditional maiden-shaped columns that held the roof of the Erectheion’s porch.
The Caryatides you see on the Erectheion atop the Acropolis sanctuary are exact replicas created in modern times. The originals are in the museum to protect them from the atmospheric pollution.
The Parthenon Pediment, Metopes, and Frieze
The climax of the stroll through the museum is the exhibition on the third floor. There you can walk around a room shaped exactly in the dimensions and orientation of the Parthenon. Its purpose is to help you experience the artwork as if it were on the temple itself.
The museum is arranged as a chronological cinematic event for the visitors.
At first, when you enter the museum and begin ascending the wide ramp, you are surrounded by artifacts and statues of the earlier centuries. They include the Dark Ages, the Archaic era, and the art of earlier buildings at the Acropolis.
As you turn the corner, even if you don’t have any training in art history, you will undoubtedly witnesses a change in the statues’ “look and feel”.
You will be in a large exhibition hall that hosts the more dynamic and open statues of the early 5th century BCE.
Here you can observe the morphing of the enigmatic smiles to a severe austere gaze of the kore (female statues), and the transformation of stiff geometric forms to fluid anatomical features.
The Acropolis museum has the largest collection of “Kore” statues. These votive female marble statues span a period from the 6th through the 5th century BCE and were dedicated by prominent Athenians in reverence of their gods.
Excitingly, you can still see traces of the original colors applied to the statues. It is a glimpse of how colorful the Acropolis rock was meant to be. The museum emphasizes this with numerous exhibitions and explanatory illustrations next to the statues.
History and Significance
In its long history, the Acropolis was decorated with art and architecture for almost a thousand years.
The museum’s halls are filled with the robust energy of the art that adorned the the Acropolis sanctuary from the early years to the mature Classical era in of the 5th century BCE.
While the ancients worked hard to create beautiful things, marauding invaders, religious zealots, and natural disasters expended their energy in the destruction of the Acropolis.
But its impossible to extinguish a light that burns so bight. The art you see in the Acropolis museum today includes some of the finest examples of ancient Greek civilization.
The values of Classical art, and its intense interest in the “individual”, are evident from the statues of individual citizens of the Archaic period, to the Parthenon sculptures on the third floor.
Even when the statues represent gods, the deliberate naturalism refers to the deep celebration of the individual human being. Never in the history hitherto have Gods looked so much like humans.
These values represent the foundation of western civilization. They inspired countless thinkers and artists in the last couple of thousand years, from the Renaissance to the Neo-Classical art.
Visiting the Acropolis Museum
TIP: Most visitors would combine a visit to the Acropolis and the Acropolis museum at the same time. If you do, plan to visit the museum during the hottest time of your day to be sheltered in the climate controlled halls.
Since the museum is built right next to the Acropolis you can combine viewing the architecture and the art in one visit.
A leisurely visit to the museum would occupy no more than an hour or two, and the crowds begin packing its galleries after 10:00 am when most tour busses arrive at the Acropolis.
All these destinations are within walking distance from each other and can be visited in one (long) day if needed. For a more comfortable itinerary allow two or three days to visit all these sites.
The third floor gallery is oriented NE-SW exactly as the Parthenon temple, so you will be experiencing the statues in the same illumination as if they were on the temple itself.
The best time to visit the Acropolis museum is late in the afternoon when the sun is low on the horizon and illuminates majestically the west pediment of the Parthenon on the third floor.
It would be nice if the museum opened early enough so we could experience the sunrise illuminating the east pediment of the Parthenon!
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The Missing Art
While the Acropolis museum contains many of the artifacts found at the acropolis excavations, vases and bronzes are exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
In addition, inscriptions found on site are now housed at the Epigraphical museum (at the ground level of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens).
Many of the masterpieces from the Parthenon are regrettably absent from the museum. The so called “Elgin Marbles” are now in the British Museum of London, having been “adopted” by Elgin during a time when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman empire.
An enormous amount of discourse has been generated to justify the continuous possession of the marbles by their modern adopters none of which makes much sense.
The Parthenon marbles are not “freestanding” sculptures. They were an internal part of the building. They were sawn off the temple walls.
In our view, the Parthenon sculptures must be seen in their original context otherwise their meaning is altered.
Other Places of Interest Within Walking Distance
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