During a future trip to Athens allow yourself to be transported back in time by the must-see artefacts of the Acropolis Museum. A defining attraction since 2009, the Acropolis Museum is synonymous with both modern and ancient Athens. Inside you’ll discover a wide variety of interesting statues, carvings, and other artefacts. Be sure not to miss the following visitor highlights:
1. The Acropolis Museum Building:
The Acropolis Museum is an architectural wonder in its own right, boasting a modern design that compliments and accentuates its classical surroundings. For example, the lower levels are perfectly aligned with the archaeological ruins below. The top level, on the other hand, sits askew and mimics the orientation of the Parthenon. As such, the museum is the perfect embodiment of art mimicking/imitating art.
Keep and eye out for scale models dotted throughout the museum (including one made entirely out of Lego). These models will help you visualise the former grandeur of the site the museum sits on.
2. Gallery of the Slopes:
This gallery’s transparent floors reveal a maze of excavated sanctuaries and settlements that once stood at the foot of the Acropolis Museum. Additionally, it displays various items and artefacts that were found during archaeological digs. These provide insights into the everyday lives of ancient Athenians. After this fitting introduction start climbing towards the first level of the museum via a set of stairs designed to emulate the approach to Acropolis Hill.
3. Archaic Gallery:
At first glance the Archaic Gallery resembles a sea of columns. It’s also flooded with natural light for extra brightness. It houses sculpture from 700 to 480 BC, arranged so as to convey the rise of the Athenian city-state and its great achievements in democracy, literature, and art.
The female kore and the male kouros statues are particularly interesting. They are perfectly symmetrical yet rigid (almost Egyptian in their styling). You may also notice that these early artefacts lack the realistic qualities of later classical sculptures that most people associate with ancient Greece.
The Archaic Gallery is a veritable forest of must-see statues – mostly votive offerings to the goddess Athena. These include stunning examples of kore maidens from the 6th century (statues of young women sumptuously draped in beautiful clothing and elaborate braids). The maidens typically carry birds, wreaths, or pomegranates. Most of the kore maidens were recovered from a pit dug up at the Acropolis, where they had been buried by the Athenians after the Battle of Salamis.
One of the rare male statues at the museum is a 570 BC depiction of a man carrying a calf. The Acropolis Museum also displays bronze artefacts and figurines from temples predating the Parthenon. Most of these were destroyed when the Persians overran Greece. They include wonderful pediment sculptures such as Heracles slaying the Lernaean Hydra, as well as a lioness in the act of devouring a bull.
Similarly, the floor houses a giant floral akrotiri- a decorative element that once graced the south ridge of the pediment over the Parthenon.
4. Caryatid Ladies:
These are, by far, some of the most mesmerising artefacts on display at the museum. They form 5 of the original 6 columns that were used to support the south porch roof of the Erechtheion. The 6th was removed by Lord Elgin in 1801.
Modelled after noble women, the Caryatid Ladies are maiden statues. They complete the Ionic design of the Erechtheion. As such, they are beautiful both in form and function. When planning your visit to the Acropolis Museum, ensure that you spend some time with these statues. The columns can be viewed and photographed from all angles.
5. Parthenon Procession:
Out of all the must-see artefacts at the Acropolis Museum, the Parthenon Procession is quite possibly the cherry on top. Located on the 3rd level of the museum, it’s dedicated to the most famous building on Acropolis Hill – the Parthenon.
Take a stroll around the gallery to follow in the footsteps of the Great Panathenaia procession – a festival that honoured Athena every 4 years. The procession is played out at eye-level across a dramatic 525 foot (160 meters) long frieze.
Only 11 of the original 114 blocks comprising the procession remain; 1 is at the Louvre, 80 at the British Museum, and other fragments are scattered amongst various European museums. However, the Acropolis Museum has completed the story using cast copies.
Additionally, at either end of the gallery you will see reconstructions of the east and west pediments of the Parthenon. They depict Athena’s birth as well as the dispute between Poseidon and Athena over Attica.
Although sparse, nearby models will aid your imagination and help fill in missing details. You will also get to see the remains of the original 92 metopes – the marble panels found on the outer walls of the Parthenon. Each of these panels depicts a scene from various legendary battles.
6. The Foyer Gallery:
The Foyer Gallery houses finds from the Acropolis’ slopes. It has an ascending glass floor that emulates a climb up to the sacred hill. Similarly, it allows glimpses over the ruins below. Chief among the foyer gallery exhibits are votive offerings and painted vases from the sanctuaries where ancient Athenians worshipped their gods, as well as more-recent objects found within the excavated settlement (including two clay statues of the goddess Nike at the entrance).
Visit the Acropolis Museum:
Though the collection does cover the Roman and Archaic periods, most of its emphasis is on the Classical Period, particularity around the 5th century BC. This is because the Classical era is commonly considered to be the apotheosis of ancient Greece’s artistic achievements.
Rather than just presenting the treasures, however, the Acropolis Museum goes an extra step and reveals (literally so) layers of history in the form of sunken ruins. The Acropolis towers visibly above while the museum showcases its masterpieces within their right context.
If you decide to do a guided tour of the museum, you will be taken through the collection as described in the sections above. While following the group, be sure to watch out for the original Caryatids, the exhibits of the Parthenon Gallery, and unobstructed 360-degree views over the surrounding city and the ancient temple.