Greece promises fall opening for much delayed Acropolis Museum

Greece's long-awaited new Acropolis Museum will open this fall, cultural officials pledged on Wednesday.

Greece's long-awaited new Acropolis Museum will open this fall, cultural officials pledged on Wednesday.

The opening of the new glass-and-concrete facility at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens has suffered myriad delays over the past few years.

"We will inaugurate the new museum in September," Greek Culture Minister Michalis Liapis told reporters.

Greece has long touted the new museum as a strong argument for the British Museum to return the Parthenon Marbles, the famed sculptures the U.K.'s Lord Elgin removed from the site in the early 19th century.

Over the years, the London museum has repeatedly rejected calls for the Marbles to be returned to Greece, citing — among other reasons — the lack of a proper facility to display the intricate ancient carvings.

Regardless, the design of the Acropolis Museum includes a specific, top-floor gallery awaiting the Marbles upon their repatriation.

"This modern, functional and safe museum will be a strong argument against those who oppose the Marbles' return," Liapis said.

The building of a new, larger museum in the historic and extremely popular tourist area had been a project floating around for decades, but ramped up in recent years, especially after Athens was named host of the 2004 Olympics.

At one point, the new facility was slated to open in time for the 2004 Summer Games but legal disputes and the discovery of new archeological artifacts in the area have contributed to the many postponements during the past four years.

Since last summer, technicians have been engaged in transferring more than 300 ancient sculptures and thousands of other smaller treasures from the old Acropolis museum and temples in the area to the new museum.

The delicate operation is expected to be completed by the end of March, Liapis said.

Designed by U.S. architect Bernard Tschumi in conjunction with Greece's Michael Photiades, the new facility — now estimated to have cost about $190 million US — will have 10 times the exhibition room of its predecessor and showcase many works rarely seen before for lack of display space.

With files from the Associated Press