Tower Cranes Aid Transfer of Acropolis Antiquities

Fri April 25, 2008 - National Edition
Mary Reed



A section of a sacred marble frieze sculpted by Phidias 2,500 years ago was moved last October from its original home on the Parthenon, perched high on the Acropolis, Athens’s rocky citadel.

It was the first of numerous priceless artifacts transferred to a nearby modernistic concrete and glass museum. The artifacts’ journey involved a relay performed by three tower cranes.

The new museum is a three-story structure due to open at the end of 2008.

Designed by architects Bernard Tschumi and Michael Fotiadis, its prime attraction will be the glass-walled top floor, which will hold a full-sized re-creation of the upper part of the Parthenon — its sculptured frieze displayed as it was originally mounted just under the roofline of the sacred building.

With more than 80 of the sculptures from the frieze still held by the British Museum in London, the missing sections will be represented by plaster casts until the originals return to Greece.

Prime contractor AKTOR S.A., based in Athens, Greece, handled both the construction of the museum and the subsequent transfer of antiquities.

The construction contract was approximately $80 million and the transfer contract was approximately $2 million. The state provided funding, according to Leonidas Pakas, project manager of AKTOR S.A.

“During construction an average of 80 to 100 persons worked on-site, with peaks that reached 200,” Pakas added.

Work began on the museum in January 2005 and was almost complete as of March 2008. The 322,917-sq.-ft. (30,000 sq m) structure will display much more than the old museum, including many items previously unseen by the public.

The original museum, built in the 19th century, will probably house exhibits on excavation work and conservation of the site.

Transferring the Artifacts

Transfer operations began on Oct. l4, 2007, just before 9:30 a.m., with the moving of a section of the frieze from the north side of the Parthenon.

The frieze depicts a religious procession featuring more than 350 human figures and 250 animals. The first piece weighed more than 2 tons (1.8 t), and was in its new home some 1,312 ft. (400 m) away in a little less than two hours.

It was a delicate task that took nearly three months to complete.

The trio of cranes performing the job included two Liebherr models: the first was an EC180 that was 114.8 ft. (35 m) high with a 164-ft. (50 m) boom and 3.5-ton (3.2 t) capacity and the second was an EC280 114.8 ft. (35 m) high with a 229-ft. (70 m) boom and 3.8-ton (3.5 t) capacity. The third crane was a Potain 196.8-ft. (60 m) high with a 198.6-ft. (60 m) boom and 3.3-ton (3 t) capacity.

In all more than 240 sculptures were padded and packed into foam-filled crates in metal boxes for their trip. These included the entire collection exhibited in the old museum and many pieces kept in storerooms on the Acropolis, not exhibited due to lack of space. When winds were stronger than 24 mph or the humidity was too high, no transfers were attempted.

Unexpected Discovery

During preliminary work on the museum the remains of a third century B.C. to seventh century A.D. section of the city were discovered, delaying considerably the commencement of construction work on the site.

Furthermore various minor archaeological operations as well as expropriation procedures of third parties’ property delayed the project for about a year, Pakas noted.

The archaeological remains have been integrated into the museum and can be observed through its glass floors. CQ