This digital graphic provided by the Hellenic Nobel Museum on Nov. 8th shows the completed facade of the Nobel museum, which is now under construction in the suburb of Halandri, in northern Athens.
updated 11/9/2006 12:55:34 PM ET 2006-11-09T17:55:34

The Greek capital hardly springs immediately to mind as the home for a shrine to the 19th century Swedish industrialist and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel.

But letters from Victor Hugo, Russian oil field maps and explosives factory share certificates will be among the items going on display next year in Athens in a new museum dedicated to Nobel, the museum’s founder announced this week.

Greek historian Giorgos Marcou’s family donated the funds for the project, and bought documents and other materials from all five continents, hauled them to Greece, and conceived and built the facility to house them.

Marcou’s interest was piqued in the late 1970s in Italy when his research revealed that two of Nobel’s friends shared the surname Marcou. His family even donated the land for the museum, which he said was full of “mosquitoes and lettuce” before the groundbreaking in the northern suburb of Halandri.

Nobel, who was born in Stockholm in 1833 and died in San Remo, Italy, in 1896, professed a lifelong interest in ancient Greece. His explosives and engineering systems were employed in digging the Corinth Canal in the late 19th century, and he named his invention of dynamite after the Greek word “dynamis,” meaning power.

Still, the Greek connection is far from obvious and, to some, controversial. Marcou acknowledged that many Greeks initially opposed a Greek site, but such sentiments were overridden by his zealous pursuit of a near-lifelong dream — backed by a dedicated family fortune.

The Museum of the Hellenic Nobel Collection will present more than 3,500 artifacts related to the famous Swede. These include letters, photographs, drawings, patents, and other documents and objects culled from over 200 private collections in some 62 countries. The three-floor facility will include permanent and rotating exhibitions, a reading library, an amphitheater, archives and other facilities.

By 1998, Greek stewardship of the long-scattered Nobel Collection was secure. “We tried to save them from ruin,” Marcou said at a news conference.

Marcou said the collection is “of great international, scientific, educational and cultural value” and gives some insight into its complex subject. Nobel made his fortune in arms, explosives, oil exploration and production of synthetic rubber and silk, but was also a noted recluse and internationalist who endowed the Nobel Prizes through his 1895 will, partly as a way to ensure he would be remembered as something other than a weapons manufacturer.

The famous prizes — now worth over $1.4 million — are awarded each fall for advances in chemistry, physics, medicine or physiology, literature, economics and peace. The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, and the others in Stockholm, Sweden, at ceremonies each December.

Two Greeks — Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis — have been Nobel laureates, both for literature.

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