The Acropolis museum is one of the major archaeological institutions of Greece. It is built atop the Acropolis rock to the east of the Parthenon temple. The museum was built to house the rich archaeological finds that have been unearthed during excavations on top and around the Acropolis which, during its long history was decorated with art from a multitudes of eras.
Central among the exhibited ancient art in the museum is a large collection of Archaic and Classical statues. The illustrious history of the Acropolis is ever present in the masterpieces exhibited throughout the modest halls where statues from the ancient past peek at the viewer from all around. These are the masterpieces of ancient art that became the definitive point of reference for all subsequent art-making in the western world either through the imitation of its ideals --as during the Italian Renaissance-- , or through reaction to it --like much of the 20th century modern art.
The evolution of ancient Greek art as a beacon for the subsequent artists of all ages is clearly outlined in the Acropolis museum where one can observe the morphing of the enigmatic smiles to a severe austere gaze of the kore, and the transformation of stiff geometric forms to fluid anatomical features. These changes can be traced as the visitor moves through the museum where the first rooms are filled with the robust energy of the art that adorned the early temples atop the acropolis.
Athens has suffered the wrath of multiple invaders in ancient times, and those who managed to sack the city often obliterated the symbols of the Athenian culture like the temples and art found at the Acropolis. Natural disasters also took their turn in reshaping the art and architecture of Athens, and thus we can now witness the art spanning a few centuries during which the Greek ideals evolved and transformed to the classical era.
The largest collection of "Kore" statues in the world is exhibited in galleries 3, 4, and 5. These votive female marble statues span a period from the 6th through the 5th century BCE. It is exciting to see how on most of these statues traces of the original colors applied to their surfaces are still preserved to provide us with a glimpse of how colorful the Acropolis rock was meant to be.
The transformation of the art is evident in the subsequent galleries as one witnesses the more dynamic and open compositions of the statues of the early 5th century BCE, and later as one enters the galleries that contain the fragments from the Pheidia's Acropolis.
As one moves through the next galleries of the Acropolis museum the splendor of classical art begins to illuminate the space with radiant idealism emanating through the fluid forms of humanity carved in stone. The values of Classical art are more evident in the frieze fragments from the fifth century Parthenon, the Erectheion, and the temple of wing-less victory (Apterou Nikis) which line up the walls of the eighth gallery.
In the last room of the Acropolis museum one can experience the authentic Caryatides from the Erectheion which have been placed behind glass in a protective atmosphere to prevent their deterioration from the polluted air of modern Athens. The Caryatides which now support the Erectheion porch just outside the museum are exact replicas created in modern times.
Since the museum is built right on the Acropolis the visitor can combine viewing the architecture and the art in one visit, forming thus a complete picture of the ancient Greek monument which represents the foundation of western civilization. A leisurely visit to the museum would occupy no more than an hour or two, and the crowds begin packing its galleries after 10:00 am when most tour busses arrive at the Acropolis.
Purchasing a € 12 (Reduced price is € 6) ticket package allows admission to the Acropolis and its Museum, the Ancient Agora, the Theater of Dionysos, Kerameikos, the Olympeion, and the Roman Agora. All these destinations are within walking distance from each other and can be visited in one day if needed. For a more comfortable itinerary allow two days to visit all these sites.
While the Acropolis museum contains many of the artifacts found at the acropolis excavations, vases and bronzes are exhibited at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. In addition, inscriptions found on site are now housed at the Epigraphical museum (at the ground level of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens).
Many of the masterpieces from the Parthenon are regrettably absent from the museum. The so called "Elgin Marbles" are now in the galleries of the British Museum of London, having been "adopted" by Elgin during a time when Greece was occupied by the Ottoman empire. An enormous amount of discourse has been generated to justify the continuous possession of the marbles by their modern adopters none of which makes much sense to this author. The Parthenon sculptures must be seen in their original context otherwise their meaning is altered.