The Soul of the Acropolis Museum

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Professor Dimitris Pandermalis, Director and Curator of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, has passed away at the age of 82.

Pandermalis was Professor of Archeology at the Aristotle University and oversaw excavations at the archaeological site of Dion but since 2000 he assumed responsibility for building and then operating the New Acropolis Museum.

The Greek Minister for Culture, Dr Lina Mendoni, echoed the sentiments of many when she paid tribute to Pandermalis, referring to him as a pioneer and acknowledging his great work - his life's vision – in connection with the Acropolis Museum which he “served from the first moment, with all his strength”.

I first met Dimitris Pandermalis in 2003 when the museum was literally still a hole in the ground.  Although the international design contest’s winning design by architects Bernard Tschumi and Michael Fotiades was spectacular in concept and magnificent in design, the actual construction of the building – from excavations of the ancient site in Makriyianni to the completion of the structure - was beset by countless legal challenges, court cases and administrative obstacles.  Despite that, Pandermalis remained steadfast to the cause and to his belief that the museum, which represented the most elegant expression of why the Parthenon Sculptures in the British Museum must be reunited in Athens, must be completed as a “museum of the people".

The archaeologist/builder, as he was dubbed by former Culture Minister Theodoros Pangalos, remained noble and meek throughout, letting his great works speak for themselves.

Screen Shot 2019 11 25 at 12.41.27 pmThe Acropolis Museum finally opened in 2009 to universal acclaim and with its beautifully-curated and magnificent permanent exhibition, Professor Pandermalis had finally delivered what he rightfully had defined as "the classical art museum of the 21st century".  As the father of modern architecture, Le Corbusier, wrote the Parthenon affords us the “complete sensation of a profound harmony” of form and light and the Acropolis Museum has perfected the harmony of sculpture with light.

183068602 101158755487556 3907312888801342988 nAs Dr Mendoni also noted, Professor Pandermalis invested his personality, prestige, passion, philosophy and dedication to the goal of opening and operating a museum of global cultural significance.  And as Professor Nikos Stampolidis, the Acropolis Museum’s director general, has reaffirmed, the memory of the people who depart is kept intact in future generations through their work. And his greatest work and contribution is the creation of the Acropolis Museum.

Pandermalis was also passionate in his advocacy for the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures and from time to time either met or spoke with colleagues from the British Museum.  He was always understated and composed and was the voice of reason.


amal.JPGHe always offered valuable advice and guidance.  In 2014, the famous international lawyer, Amal Clooney, together with Geoffrey Robertson KC and the late Professor Norman Palmer, who were later to deliver a significant legal memorandum of advice the Greek Government, was escorted through the galleries of the museum.  Two years later, President Barack Obama gazed upon the Acropolis and the sculptures of the Parthenon, again with Dimitris Pandermalis by his side.

Obama in front of the Parthenon Sculptures

It was only fitting, therefore, that the international conference on the theme “The Parthenon and Democracy” was held in the newly-named Dimitris Pandermalis Theatre within the Acropolis Museum on 16 September.

Greece has lost an incredible servant.

Although the return of the Parthenon Sculptures was not realised during Dimitris Pandermalis’ lifetime, their inevitable reunification will finally vindicate the Soul of the Acropolis Museum.

George Vardas - Arts and Culture Editor currently in Athens