Image: Kritios Boy
Thanassis Stavrakis  /  AP
Technicians of Greek Culture Ministry remove the Kritios Boy, a 480 B.C. statue of a youth from the old Acropolis Museum in Athens on July 12. Kritios boy are among 300 sculptures to be moved to a new museum at the foot of the Acropolis ancient hill.
updated 7/17/2007 6:31:15 PM ET 2007-07-17T22:31:15

Many of Greece’s most valued ancient statues are wearing chains and padded vests, ready for a rare outing.

Culture Ministry officials demonstrated last week how more than 300 statues from the Acropolis are being packed for a move this fall to a new museum being built at the bottom of the hill.

Statues from the Parthenon and other temples, up to 2,600 years old and weighing up to 2.5 tons, are being fitted with padded harnesses and will be lowered by chains and pulleys into styrofoam-filled boxes made of plywood and metal.

Once packed, they will be moved about 300 yards by crane from a cramped museum on the Acropolis to the new glass-and-concrete museum designed by U.S.-based architect Bernard Tschumi.

“This is an operation which requires great care ... We will work long hours and through holidays,” supervising engineer Costas Zambas told The Associated Press.

Among items requiring special attention during the transfer are four Caryatids — stone columns sculpted in the shape of women — as well as older limestone artifacts created before marble became popularly used.

“The Caryatids require special attention ... They are built with good material but have been strained by prolonged exposure to atmospheric pollution and other factors and require great care when being packed and unpacked,” Zambas said.

The old Acropolis museum was closed last month to facilitate the transfer — surprising many Acropolis visitors who are turned away from the site.

Some 165-foot shock-absorbing cranes will be used for the transfer that is due to last about six weeks and will cost an estimated $3.5 million.

“It will take longer if there is bad weather. The operation will stop when there is rain or strong winds,” Zambas said.

The new Acropolis museum is due to open in early 2008, and will include exhibition space for the Parthenon Marbles collection — also known as the Elgin Marbles — which Greece is demanding be returned from the British Museum in London.

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It will also allow the public to view artifacts that have been kept in storage because of lack of space.

Zambas said the new venue would allow visitors to properly appreciate the artworks.

“This move is necessary mainly because these masterpieces must be appreciated from a distance as well as from close up ... The old museum gave the visitor no distance, and it was very crowded in the summer.”

On Thursday, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis visited the packing area, and took off his jacket to help technicians carefully load the Kritios Boy, a marble statue of a youth made around 480 B.C., into a plywood box.

The exercise lasted 15 minutes.

“Great care is being taken at every stage of the transfer ... Many statues are undergoing restoration work before the transfer,” Voulgarakis said, adding that the air content in the sealed display holding the Caryatids was already being altered for the statues to adapt to the conditions at the new museum.

“The new Acropolis museum and all the complex projects associated with it is undoubtedly the most important work that the Culture Ministry is currently undertaking,” he said.

Associated Press writer Nathalie Rendevski Savaricas contributed to this report.

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