Originally created 06/27/04

Parthenon's makeover comes up short for Olympics



ATHENS, Greece -- The Parthenon, the icon of Athens' ancient glory, might not be looking its best for the Olympics.

Scaffolding propping up parts of the 2,500-year-old hilltop temple will remain in place during the Aug. 13-29 games. While organizers are close to putting finishing touches on a number of projects, the Parthenon work remains incomplete with the Olympics less than 50 days away.

Hope has also fizzled for an Olympic return of Parthenon sculptures, known as the Elgin Marbles and kept at the British Museum in London. Construction of an alternate site in Athens is barely off the ground.

The project, lasting more than 20 years so far, involves the gradual removal and reassembly of columns from the Parthenon and other marble monuments on the Acropolis Hill, known to Greeks as the "sacred rock".

Scaffolds hold the pieces of the computer-aided jigsaw puzzle in place as the columns are strengthened with rust-free titanium and painstakingly retrieved marble fragments to beat centuries of wear accelerated by earthquakes, air pollution, and millions of curious tourists.

"Many parts of the restoration are nearing completion and most of the supports will be removed (before August)," Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis told The Associated Press. "The appearance of the sacred rock will be much better than it is now."

Promotion of the Parthenon - a temple built to honor the city's goddess protector, Athena - and other sites is seen a vital part of the Olympic experience by the government.

"We have modern stadiums, but it's our ancient treasures that are the real magnet. They keep visitors to Greece coming back," said Fani Palli-Petralia, the government's top Olympic official.

Hadrian's Arch, built in 131 A.D. by a Roman emperor to mark the limits of the city, remains hopelessly cloaked in scaffolding, while efforts to improve the classic marathon route are still seriously delayed.

On Friday, Athens' main National Archaeological Museum opened its doors to the public after a 20-month restoration to redisplay treasures like the golden Mask of Agamemnon, but several parts of the building stayed closed for further work.

To get a glimpse of Athens as it once was, visitors must walk.

A cobbled pedestrian walkway linking the Acropolis to the city's other main archaeological sites - the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Filopappou Hill and the ancient marketplace - has been enjoyed by Athenians the past two years. It replaced roads once used by more than 50,000 cars a day.

Another section of the walkway, adding access to the ancient Kerameikos cemetery, is to open next week.

"This has spared the monuments from a lot of pollution," project official Yiota Goni told the AP. "Athenians have found a new source of recreation. It's changed their social habits."