October 14, 2007 / 3:47 PM / 12 years ago

Greece hoists Parthenon sculptures to new home

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece on Sunday began moving the ancient sculptures from the temples of the Athens Acropolis to a new museum, designed specifically to prod the British Museum into returning its own prized collection of Parthenon marbles.

A crane lifts a blue container off the Acropolis during a transfer operation of artefacts from the Acropolis to a new location some 400 meters away in Athens October 14, 2007. Greek officials on Sunday successfully moved the first of the ancient Acropolis' sculptural masterpieces from its hilltop home for the last 2,400 years to a new museum at the foot of the citadel. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

Dozens of bystanders, some in tears, watched as three cranes relayed a massive stone slab from the 2,500-year-old Parthenon. It was carved with four youths leading bulls to sacrifice to the goddess Athena.

“I am trembling, it touches my soul,” said pensioner Pelagia Boulamatsi, 71, unable to hold back tears. “This is an ancient civilization that is the foundation of the world.”

Officials said the move of the 2.5-tonne marble carving, the first in a series of transfers, went smoothly despite stronger than expected winds.

The boxed slab was relayed about 400 meters (yards) down to a new sleek steel and glass museum at the foot of the Acropolis, set to open next year.

“This is the move of the century ... it is the first time in 2,500 years the Parthenon marbles are moved,” Culture Minister Michael Liapis said. “It’s a historic event not just for Greece but the international community.”

The centrepiece of the new museum will be a floor dedicated to the Parthenon’s frieze and metopes. Most of the massive stone carvings are in the British Museum in London and clearly marked replicas will be used in their place in the Acropolis museum.

Those marbles, among the British Museum’s most prized possessions, were hacked from the temple overlooking Athens in the early part of the 19th century by aristocrat Lord Elgin and shipped to London.

IMPETUS FOR RETURN

Greece hopes the sprawling new museum, with its third floor designed to hold the London sculptures, will give impetus to its campaign for the return of the missing Parthenon marbles.

“This museum protects and promotes the monuments in the best possible way and the request naturally re-emerges,” Liapis said, calling again for the British Museum to give up the marbles.

The cranes are relaying the carvings and other objects from a 130-year-old museum on the Acropolis, climbed by millions of tourists every year, to the new museum at its foot.

Considered the best examples of the Golden Age of Athens, the Classical temples on the Acropolis have been ravaged by wars, earthquakes and pollution over the millennia.

The cranes need about two hours to transfer each carefully packed object to its new home and the move, which is insured for 400 million euros (279 million pounds), will take six weeks.

The new museum gives visitors an uninterrupted tour visually connected to the Acropolis but has been plagued by controversy, including protests from locals who objected to its location and architects who do not like its modern style.

“Some people said it should be built in the style of the Acropolis. I said there was no way you could match it,” said its architect Bernard Tschumi. “I’m very happy with its quality.”

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But protests persist and on Sunday dozens gathered to shout slogans against plans to demolish two historic buildings in front of the museum to improve the view from its restaurant.

“You don’t demolish a city’s history to build something new. This is just unacceptable,” said protester Angelos Tsekeris, 45. “It’s a shame, they plan the ugliest intervention at the city’s prettiest spot.”

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