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Acropolis museum leading way in conserving Greece's cultural heritage

Since its inauguration in June 2009, the New Acropolis Museum, which stands at the foot of the Acropolis, is leading the way in cultural heritage conservation in Greece.

Acropolis museum leading way in conserving Greece's cultural heritage
The Peplos Kore (approx. 530 BC) [Credit Νίκος Δανιηλίδης]
The museum, housing thousands of centuries-old masterpieces unearthed from the sacred hill, has become a major magnet for Greeks and tourists in the past seven years after the country was hit by a financial crisis.

The museum has won many prestigious international awards for the innovative techniques it applied to conservate Greeks' priceless treasures.

The unique collection, which includes some of the most important sculptures of the 6th and 5th century BC, has been put on display on three levels over an area of 14,000 square meters.

The glass facades allow the two million visitors strolling through the galleries each year to admire the exhibits in natural light, while watching on-site excavations and experience everyday life of Athens.

"The museum is very simple in its construction. We present these findings, which have an age of more than 2,000 years, by using digital techniques. We show reconstructions and give our explanations on how these things looked in the 6th century BC," said New Acropolis Museum Director and Professor of Archaeology Dimitris Pantermalis.

Standing in front of the Parthenon sculptures and the copies of the marbles which were taken to England two centuries ago, he talked about the pivotal role the new museum holds in the preservation and promotion of Greece's rich cultural heritage.

Acropolis museum leading way in conserving Greece's cultural heritage
Detail from the cleaning the west frieze of the Parthenon [Credit: © YSMA Archive]
The New Acropolis Museum has an extensive program of conservation. Its 17-member team of experts is using novel methodology and equipment to clean and restore the sculptures to their former glory and often offers its know-how to other museums across Greece.

Professor Pantermalis and senior conservator Kostas Vassiliadis explained how the experts are removing coats of dirt or materials of previous interventions from the surfaces, keeping the patina intact so that the items look as they were in the 19th century.

Some of the work is done in front of visitors at the museum's galleries or behind safety curtains when lasers are used.

Wearing protective goggles, Vassiliadis and conservator Vassiliki Rachioti are using laser beams of infrared and ultraviolet rays to remove thick grime deposits from the surface, restore corrosion of acid rain, damage from historic battles and correct discoloration of the marble in a controlled and safe way.

The white of the marbles is restored without losing details. On average, the sculptures are revealed in their entire splendor within a few weeks.

In addition, the conservators are studying the remains of colors and make reproductions that allow visitors to have a glimpse of the colorful world of ancient Athenians.

"Ancient art is an imitation of nature and nature of course is multi-colored so people at that time did not want white statues, but painted a colorful world. Practically for them art was a recreation of the world," the Professor explained.

According to Vassiliadis, a program started a few years ago in the Acropolis museum has allowed researchers to investigate the color traces and pigments of the archaic sculptures mostly from the exhibition and storage room.

"For this research we use non destructive techniques like XRF (X-ray fluorescence), raman microscopy and imaging techniques and we try to identify the ancient pigments used for coloring the sculptures," Vassiliadis said, standing next to the Chios island Kore (maiden) at the Archaic gallery.

The sculpture was unearthed from a pit on the Acropolis hill in the late 19th century. Centuries of rain washed away all visible traces of color.

Vassiliadis and conservator Ioanna Farmaki are using modern techniques and equipment to identify pigments and reveal details not visible to the naked eye.

The Chios Kore was once colored in cinnabar, azurite and malachite, their analysis showed. What today looks faded green on the sculpture in the past was dark blue or red.

After uncovering the hidden colors, the experts construct copies so that visitors can see the product of the research.

"Such a research will enable visitors to see some results from what we are doing here," Vassiliadis noted.

Author: Maria Spiliopoulou | Source: Xinhua [September 26, 2016]

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