A consultation is underway over the future of the status of five key museums in Greece (“Museums set to go it alone under new law“, ekathimerini.com 17 January 2023). There are concerns that these key museums, including the National Archaeological Museum in Athens and the Herakleion Museum, will be expected to act more independently and be responsible for part of their revenue creation. Some have suggested that the move will prepare the way for some future privatisation and will see a break with the rest of the Archaeological Service.
Museum Visitors and Greece: 2020
The Hellenic Statistical Service released the latest visitor numbers for museums in Greece today (31 March 2021). Although the numbers are only available up to the end of September 2020, they show a drop of 79.5% due to the pandemic. The Archaeological Museum in Herakleion showed a drop of over 90 per cent. The January-September comparison between 2019 and 2020 shows the impact: a fall from 4.7 million visitors to 976,805. (In 2019 there were 5.8 million visitors to museums in Greece.) This is reflected in a decrease of ticket sales of 82 per cent: from 19.2 million Euros in 2019 to 3.4 million Euros in 2020.
The Parthenon marbles: paving “the path for modern democracy”
As part of the bicentenary of the Greek War of Independence draws near, two US members of Congress have passed a resolution calling on the UK Government to return the architectural sculptures from the Parthenon to Greece (“Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs Maloney & Bilirakis Reintroduce Resolution Calling on the U.K. to Return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece“, 18 March 2021).
Congressman Gus Bilirakis said:
“The Parthenon Marbles were made by the citizens of Athens under the direction of renowned artist Phidias to celebrate the pride and majesty of the City of Athens. To not house and view these citizen contributions in the city they were originally intended does a disservice not only to the people of Athens, but also to the civilization that paved the path for modern democracy and freedom.”
The appeal to the original intention of the sculptor is a strong one. These sculptures were an integral part of a building, incidentally now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Athenian Akropolis.
Is now the time for these sculptures to be returned to Athens so that they can be displayed in line of sight of the Parthenon?
Renewed debate over cultural property
The British Prime Minister has stepped into the debate about cultural property currently held in the British Museum by making a statement about what he considers to be the legal status of the Parthenon architectural sculptures (“Greek culture minister challenges British PM’s claims on Parthenon sculptures“, ekatherimini.com 12 March 2021). These sculptures were once an integral part of the Parthenon, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Athenian Acropolis. The proposal is to display them in line of sight with the Parthenon.
Some of the issues relating to cultural property are explored in my Context Matters: Collating the Past (20202) [see here].
Reconstructing buildings: the Stoa of Attalos
Reconstructing archaeological remains can be problematic. How do they influence the visitor’s interpretation of an archaeological site? Do they enhance the visit?
One of the most successful reconstructions is the two-storeyed Stoa of Attalos that forms the eastern side of the Athenian agora. It is some 116 metres in length. It was given to the city of Athens by Attalos II (159–138 BCE) of Pergamon. The reconstruction was undertaken by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from 1953 to 1956. Its colonnade not only provides welcome shade to visitors to the site, but the rooms to the rear of the colonnade house the archaeological finds made during the excavations.
The fragmentary dedicatory inscription that was originally placed on the architrave above the lower set of columns is displayed in front of the Stoa. It identified the donors as ‘King Attalos, son of King Attalos, and Queen Apollonis’. The text was not incorporated on the reconstruction in case new fragments required an adjustment.
A large base made of Hymettian marble was found in front of the stoa. This may be the statue mentioned in the dedicatory inscription on the stoa. Cuttings suggest that it supported a bronze chariot, similar to that placed at the western approach to the Athenian acropolis. It was later rededicated to the emperor Tiberius.
Dedicatory base in front of the Stoa of Attalos © David Gill
Greece: Museum visitors
In 2019 there were 5.89 million visits to museums in Greece, worth over 23 million Euros in receipts. The two museums with the highest number of visitors are the New Akropolis Museum (with 1.7 million visitors in 2019) and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (with 608,000 visitors in 2019). These two museums account for 40 per cent of all public museum visits in the country. Museums in Attiki account for 2.7 million visits, 47 per cent of all public museums visits in the country.
Other areas with high museums visits include Thessaloniki with 591,000 visits (10 per cent of visits), the Dodecanese (including Rhodes) with 381,000 visits (6 per cent of visits), and Crete with 845,000 visits (14 per cent of visits); the site museums of Delphi had 275,000 visits, and Olympia 159,000 visits (together 7 per cent of visits).
The Attalids in Athens
I am looking forward to the next in the seminar series from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens that will be looking at the Stoa of Attalos that forms the eastern edge of the Athenian Agora.
Complex heritage sites like the Athenian Agora and the Akropolis can present a series of narratives. The two-storeyed colonnade or stoa was dedicated by King Attalos II of Pergamon in north-west Anatolia (159–138 BC).
The father of Attalos II, Attalos I (along with Ptolemy III Euergetes), was added to the representation of the ten heroes (The Eponymous Heroes) representing each of the Athenian tribes in 200 BC.
Eumenes II (197–159 BC), the elder son of Attalos I, added a two-storeyed stoa on the southern slope of the Athenian Akropolis adjacent to the theatre of Dionysos. The rear of the stoa consists of a substantial retaining wall. Above and behind the stoa was the road that ran around the Akropolis and into the theatre of Dionysos. The effect of the colonnade would have mirrored the stoa at Pergamon that flanked the theatre on the slope of the royal city’s akropolis.
A major monument celebrating Eumenes II and dated after 178 BC was placed adjacent to the Pinakotheke at the main western entrance to the Athenian Akropolis. It in effect balances the temple of Athena Nike on the other side of the main access ramp. Eumenes was placed in a four-horse chariot. At the end of the 1st century BC the portrait of Eumenes was replaced by that of Agrippa.
The cutting for another Attalid monument, dedicated to Attalos II, can be found immediately to the north-east of the Parthenon. This also supported a monumental chariot; this referenced the chariot of Helios that appears in the most northerly of the metopes on the east side of the Parthenon.
To the east of the Parthenon itself were displayed a series of sculptures, seen by Pausanias (1.25.2), celebrating victories over the giants, the Amazons, the Persians and the Gauls. These had parallels in the sanctuary of Athena on the Pergamon akropolis.
Excavating the Athenian Agora: the temple of Hephaistos
John Camp has given another virtual seminar from the Athenian agora. The subject this time was the temple of Hephaistos that stands on the low hill overlooking the agora. He broke the temple down into its architectural elements from its foundations to the roof. His explanation of the proportions of the Doric order showed how a reconstruction can be made from the smallest of architectural fragments. Camp explained how the internal structure of the temple had been reorientated when the building had been converted into a Christian church. There was a reminder that the modern planting was informed by the excavated ‘plant pots’ around the temple.
The subsequent questions include a discussion of the date as well as the use pf polychromy.
These in situ seminars do so much to explain architectural remains.
Athens: the Library of Hadrian
Visitors to Athens probably focus on the Agora and Akropolis rather than other equally important remains that can be found in the city. One of the most impressive is the Library of the Emperor Hadrian that lies in the district of Monastaraki, to the east of the Agora and immediately to the north of the Roman forum. The access is from the west, just like the Roman forum.
The Library dates to AD 132, following Hadrian’s visit to the city. The entire complex measures approximately 125 m long.
The marble for the columns on the propylon were imported from Asia Minor, and those along the front of the building from Karystos on the island of Euboia. The rest of the western façade was made from Pentelic marble.
Four semi-circular exedra were placed at each end of the north and south walls of the Library.
The library itself, along with adjacent lecture and reading rooms, was located at the eastern end of the complex. The eastern wall was limestone.
The Library was damaged during the Herulian attack on Athens in 267. Perhaps two decades later a new wall was constructed to enclose the area to the north of the Akropolis. This defensive wall incorporated the south wall of the Library; and the Library itself projected north of this new line.
The Quatrefoil Building (or Tetraconch) was constructed in the centre of the Library in the early 5th century AD. This is possibly one of the earliest churches in Athens. The bases for the Hadrianic peristyle, originally consisting of 100 columns made of Phrygian marble, can be seen in the foreground.
The standing columns come from a 7th century church.
Excavating the Athenian Agora: the Stoa Basileios
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens is marking 90 years of excavation in the Athenian agora. John McK Camp II, the director, has given an on-site webinar to explain the early fifth century BC Stoa Basileios on the north side of this public space adjacent to the Panathenaic Way. He runs through various features including ‘the oath stone’, the placing of herms, and the public display of the Athenian constitution. He then expands on the vision to make this part of the agora more accessible to the public. It is a privilege to hear such a distinguished excavator explain his work and thinking in situ.
The webinar is available here.