Greece's new Acropolis Museum opens

Greece Acropolis Museum
Visitors admire a sculpture at the new Acropolis museum in Athens on opening day, June 21.Thanassis Stavrakis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The new Acropolis Museum opened its gates Sunday to hundreds of visitors eager to explore its vast collection of sculptures and artifacts from ancient Greece.

The museum holds more than 4,000 ancient works, including some of the best surviving classical sculptures that once adorned the Acropolis.

The public opening came a day after a lavish ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, and foreign heads of state and government.

Conspicuously, there were no government officials from Britain, which has repeatedly refused to repatriate dozens of 2,500-year-old sculptures from the Parthenon temple that are held in the British Museum.

About 200 visitors had lined up early before the official opening on Sunday, even though they had all pre-booked their tickets online. The first week — with the exception of a few tickets available for Friday — is already completely sold out through Internet sales.

Chryssa Salamanou, from Athens, was first through the doors onto the museum grounds, along with her husband and child.

"We felt that today, with our child, we had to be the first ones here to admire the masterpieces which finally found such a worthy, such an important home," she said.

Paige Moore, a visitor from Houston, Texas, said she was very excited to see the museum on the first day.

"I've been waiting for the last couple of months to come. And so I timed it just so I could come to this," Moore said.

Once inside, visitors were impressed both by the exhibits and the layout of the ultramodern building, which includes a glass hall designed to showcase all the surviving Parthenon sculptures in their original alignment.

The Greek government hopes that the 130 euro million ($180 million) concrete and glass museum will reinforce the case for the return of the sculptures pried off the Parthenon in the 19th century by British diplomat Lord Elgin and currently displayed in London's British Museum.

The museum's top floor displays the section of the frieze that Elgin's agents left behind, joined to plaster casts of the 90-odd works in London. The display is deliberately set to reinforce the fact that there are missing pieces.

Entry to the museum is set at a nominal charge of 1 euro ($1.40) until the end of the year, when it will increase to ??5. According to the museum's management, a typical visit could take up to three hours, not including possible stops for food and refreshments.