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Olympic Fever Extends to Athenian Museums June 22, 2004; updated June 29, 2004
by Diana Michelle Fox

Just in time for the Olympic Games, the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens has opened its latest exhibition, entitled Magna Graecia. Athletics and the Olympic Spirit in the Periphery of the Hellenic World. South Italy and Sicily. This exhibition, which runs from June 23 to October 2, 2004, includes various objects chosen to show both how athletics developed in southern Italy and Sicily during antiquity and how athletes in these areas participated in events of mainland Greece, especially the Olympic Games. Greeks in antiquity were dispersed throughout the Mediterranean, and their participation in these Panhellenic games (only open to the Greeks) helped them to feel part of a nation. Especially at the Games at Olympia, friendships were formed between citizens of different city-states, which reinforced a sense of unity.

The most heralded object on display is a mid-fifth century B.C. statue of white marble that was found on the island of Mozia off the coast of western Sicily. The 1.94 meter statue, which depicts a man standing wearing a chiton and sash, is thought to be a charioteer after a victory in a race. Other objects date from the early sixth century B.C. to the second century A.D. and include vases that show athletic scenes, items used by athletes such as weights, javelins, and objects used in body-cleansing, and coins made in Magna Graecia that allude to Olympic victories of tyrants. Also displayed are offerings made by athletes themselves, funerary sculptures, and even a marble model of a stadium from the second century A.D., found in Hadrian's villa at Tivoli.

(Museum of Cycladic Art) [LARGER IMAGE]

The Museum of Cycladic Art also continues its exhibition Cyprus, Thousand Fragments of History. The Thanos N. Zintilis Collection. This exhibit showcases select objects from a private Cypriot collection, many of which are being incorporated into the museum's permanent collection. Objects from the Chalcolithic period to the early Christian era are included, and viewers can see varied items such as ceramics, metalworks, housewares, jewels, and gold.

[image] Necklace (ca. fourth-sixth centuries A.D.) set with precious stones (Museum of Cycladic Art) [LARGER IMAGE]

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens had suffered in a disastrous 1999 earthquake, which forced its temporary closure. Now, 32 out of 40 halls are open (with the other eight following suit in October 2004). Conservators have improved the condition of nearly all items exhibited, and the museum boasts new windows and display cases, newly repainted walls, and even air conditioning. Most museums, archaeological sites, and galleries intend to extend their hours well beyond their regular schedules. The Benaki Museum, for instance, will remain open from 9 A.M. until 9 P.M., and art galleries will not close their doors until midnight. In addition, the Museum of Cycladic Art will offer free entrance for the duration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Despite increased efforts and funds, the Parthenon restoration project still remains incomplete. Hadrian's Arch stands under scaffolding, and the restoration of the original route to Marathon has not yet been accomplished. But visitors to Athens will be able to enjoy the fruits of a project known as the Unification of Archaeological Sites. This project consists of a paved walkway connecting the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Filopappou Hill, and the agora (ancient marketplace). Now open, the first part of the walkway on Dionysou Areopagitou Street offers an unobstructed view to the south of the Acropolis. A new addition to the route will allow access to the Kerameikos, the cemetery of the ancient city's most distinguished figures, beginning next week.

Diana Michelle Fox, a classics major at the University of Chicago, is an intern with ARCHAEOLOGY.

For more about Athens and the 2004 Games, see our July/August cover story, "Does Greece Need the Olympics?"
© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America