New Acropolis Museum and a Surprise

Never mind that the New Acropolis Museum opened in 2009; I suspect it will be called “new” indefinitely.

In case you missed it: We had the Kerameikos site in the morning and the stadium, National Garden, and changing of the comically clad guard in the afternoon. That evening, we explored the New Acropolis Museum.

Out with the Old Acropolis Museum

The previous museum was itty-bitty, situated up beside the Parthenon. People complained it didn’t do justice to the art and artifacts it contained. Having seen the building, I can’t disagree.

The nearly all-glass New Acropolis Museum, with views of the Acropolis through its windows, is beautiful and inviting, inside and out. It is built above the excavation of an early Christian site, and glass floors allow us to look down into the site, which wonderfully and concretely demonstrates how the land we’re walking on in Athens might be sitting on ancient ruins. It’s a bizarre feeling and idea to wrap one’s head around. I think that probably stands out more for young-landers like Americans than old-lander Europeans.

None of us took a picture of that, unfortunately. Some excuses might include the following:

  • it was nighttime and dark, so the exterior pictures might not have been great
  • we were not allowed to photograph certain parts of the museum, and that can be confusing and discouraging

I didn’t say they were good excuses.

Parthenon Friezes

Inside the museum, the top floor contains the friezes that were originally on the cella of the Parthenon. That’s an interior section of the building, so these shouldn’t have been weathered so much as the friezes on the outside. The way they are displayed in the museum mimics the way they were displayed on the Parthenon: around the interior court, facing outward, and in the same order. They make up a continuous scene depicting the Panathenaic procession, when the city presented the statue of Athena with that year’s peplos.

Parthenon Frieze: Leading a Sacrificial Bull - Jen Funk Weber

Leading a sacrificial bull during the Panathenaic Procession. Methinks the bull is wise to the plan for his future.

Slaves riding chariot horses, Panathenaic procession - Jen Funk Weber

Slaves riding chariot horses during the Panathenaic Procession

The designer left blank spaces between the bits in the museum collection to make a statement and, with luck, to have those spaces filled with the parts that belong there.

The Elgin Marbles

Between 1801 and 1803, Lord Elgin of England removed a bunch of friezes from Turkish-occupied Athens and later sold them to the British Museum, where they remain today as the “Elgin Marbles.” Greece wants them back. They’re hoping that visitors to the New Acropolis Museum will help put pressure on England to return them.

My opinion: An argument can be made that Lord Elgin and England helped save and preserve the pieces, and I’m grateful for that, but I think it’s time they go home to Greece. If nothing else, the British Museum should be leasing the artifacts so that Greece benefits financially. I’ve not heard the latter suggested anywhere; I’m making that up, but it seems reasonable to me. Greece should benefit somehow, and dog knows they need the money. Sorry, Lord Elgin, it’s time to lose your marbles.

The majority of the pieces are at the British Museum. The New Acropolis Museum has the next largest collection, and other bits are in six other museums or locations.

Parthenon Metopes

On the outside of the Parthenon, above the columns, were sculpted metopes depicting myths. Originally, 92 plaques decorated the building. Many were destroyed (like when the Turks chose to house munitions here, using the historical monument as a shield, and Venetians bombed it anyway); some are in the British Museum and elsewhere; some are here.

Centauromachy - Jen Funk Weber

Centaur battling a Lapith man

This is a centaur battling a Lapith during the wedding feast of one of Theseus’s friends.

The pediments on the Parthenon exterior also depicted myths. Some original bits remain, but these are miniature replicas. You’ll have to click on the pictures to see them at a decent size. Use your “back” button to return here.

Parthenon pediment replica - Jen Funk Weber

Parthenon pediment. Who or what do you recognize here?

Parthenon pediment replica - Jen Funk Weber

The pediment from the other end of the Parthenon

What characters and stories can you identify here? Tell us in the comments.


The original caryatids from the Erechtehion now live in the museum.

Caryatids from the Erechtheion, New Acropolis Museum - Jen Funk Weber

Caryatids from the Erechtheion, New Acropolis Museum

Caryatid back, New Acropolis Museum - Jen Funk Weber

Caryatid back side. Love the hair.

I like the hair and flowing robes, and that these are actually columns that once held up a building. You go, girls! These caryatids are all similar; I prefer it when they’re all different, as they sometimes are.

My Favorite Display at the New Acropolis Museum

I loved seeing the above artifacts, both the weathered originals and the replicas.

And then I came to a display that I initially thought out of place. Honestly, my gut reaction was not favorable. Bad, judgemental gut!

But then I looked closely, and I changed my mind completely. When Barb, Mike, and I chose our favorites for the day, I chose this:

The Lego Acropolis

Lego Acropolis, Erechtheion side - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Acropolis, Erechtheion side

Lego Acropolis, Odeon side - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Acropolis, Odeon side

The accuracy of this is impressive. All the ruins are there, along with structures that once were but are no longer, like the stoa.

Lego Acropolis Stoa - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Acropolis Stoa

Let’s look at some of the details.

Lego Athena and Poseidon - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Athena and Poseidon

This is outside the Erechtheion. That’s Athena and Poseidon battling for Athens. Poseidon brings forth a spring (the blue thing between them) with his trident, but it turns out to be salty. Athena offers an olive tree (the green thing in front of them and in her hand). Athena wins. Who wants a salty spring?

The display is full of such details, some myth, some history, some modern, some silly.

Lego Odeon of Herodes Atticus concert - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Odeon of Herodes Atticus concert

This is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Concerts are played here still. This Lego version nails the ruins and includes the modern lights used now.

Let’s zoom in.

Lego Elton John - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Elton John

Recognize that famous Lego entertainer, who probably plays that piano?

That’s Lego Elton John. This is historically accurate: He really played at the Odeon.

What do you see here?

Lego Theater of Dionysus, Acropolis - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Theater of Dionysus, Acropolis

That’s the Theater of Dionysus.

Lego Oedipus Rex, Acropolis Museum - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Oedipus Rex, Acropolis Museum

A play is being performed. Someone is lying dead on the stage. Those red circles are blood.

Another character is pointing a sword at his own eye, and he’s got blood on him, too.

Yep, this is Oedipus Rex being performed. Oedipus has killed his father, married his mother, and he’s now putting out his own eyes.

One more . . .

Lego Story of Theseus - Jen Funk Weber

Lego Story of Theseus

I don’t recall what the building is, but I recognize the story being depicted in it. Do you?

That is Theseus carrying the string that helps him find his way out of the labyrinth after he kills the minotaur.

I didn’t take a picture of it, but I’m pretty sure I saw a Star Wars vignette somewhere, too. I’ve never seen Star Wars, so the joke may have gone over my head, but I recognized the characters. Wrong! It was Gandalf from Lord of the Rings! Gandalf, Darth Vader . . . they look a lot alike . . . I mean, the differences are hardly black and white. Ahem. I do know the LOTR story. Anyhoo, I was so excited, jumping from detail to detail that I neglected to get a picture of it. I guess that means you’ll have to go see it for yourself.

Lego Certified Professional, Ryan McNaught, Acropolis Museum

Well done, Ryan!

Super fun display!

Legos and ancient Greek sculptures side-by-side. This stuff—archaeology, art, history, myth—is accessible to all. It all snaps together to build an experience, a concept of history, and some sort of understanding.

Well done, Ryan McNaught, Lego, and New Acropolis Museum.

2 replies »

  1. Oh wow…that Lego stuff wasn’t there when we visited five or six years ago.

    I’m with you on the return of the “marbles”. The British Museum can’t begin to match the display in Athens and, what is more, their argument that the air quality would destroy the marbles is no longer valid…our guide was quite emphatic about that!

  2. The New Meuseum was one of my favorite things on a whirlwind Mediterranian cruise. In the grand scheme oi f things it will remain “New” for the next several thousands years.