Greece may demolish landmarks for Acropolis view

ATHENS, July 13 (Reuters Life!) - Greek activists vowed to stage protests and take legal action to stop the demolition of two historic buildings in order to clear the view from the new Acropolis museum.

The new museum which opens its gates in 2008 after years of delays, is expected to spur on renewed efforts to bring home the Parthenon marbles from the British Museum in London.

The Greek museum is meant to visually connect with the Acropolis but two landmark buildings now appear to be in the way and the national archaeological council (KAS), the main guardian of Greece’s cultural heritage, has approved their demolition.

“We will do anything to stop the demolition and probably take our case to the Council of State (one of Greece’s top courts),” said Kostas Stamatopoulos, vice president of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The Society, neighbors, artists and academics have appealed to KAS to protect the two buildings. One is hailed as a prime example of art deco architecture in Athens, designed by a famous, award-winning architect, and boasts carved statues and mosaics on its facade.

The other nearby building marked for demolition on the expensive pedestrian street which surrounds about half of the Acropolis, belongs to music composer Vangelis Papathanasiou, of Chariots of Fire fame.

The culture ministry, in whose hands the fate of the buildings now hangs, said the minister had not yet made a decision on their demolition.

“The two buildings, although of great importance, hinder the desired unity between the monument and its new museum,” a culture ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

KAS decided that the building should be demolished as it blocks the view from the windows of the new Acropolis museum, which is now a more important cultural monument.

Stamatopoulos said the decision was unexpected because retaining the buildings was part of the terms of the architectural competition that started in 1991 for the design of the new Acropolis museum.

“These buildings have been declared historic monuments since the 1970s,” he said, vowing street protests and a media campaign.

Legal battles and missed deadlines had plagued the Acropolis museum - a large glass structure perched on thick concrete columns - but finally the project is nearing completion and will be ready in early 2008 to receive up to 10,000 visitors a day.

The museum was built specifically for the Parthenon sculptures, known in Britain as the Elgin marbles after the British diplomat who took them to England around 1800. Greece has campaigned for decades for their return.