Ancient treasures begin move from Acropolis to antiquities museum

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The movement of hundreds of ancient masterpieces from the Acropolis hillside to an ultra-modern museum at the foot of the Athens citadel has begun.

Three giant cranes successfully transferred yesterday the first of the antiquities, a 2.3-ton block of sculpted marble depicting an ancient religious procession held in honour of the goddess Athena, from the northern end of the Parthenon to its new home.

Michalis Liapis, the Culture Minister, called the 90-minute operation – the first of many in coming weeks – a "historic event of global significance".

The painstaking task of shifting the iconic sculpture from the northern end of the Parthenon, where it has stood for the last 2,400 years, to the Acropolis Museum 400 metres away, took over 90 minutes.

Windy weather had caused some concern amongst Greek officials as the cranes, although earthquake-proof, are susceptible to strong winds.

Over the coming months, 4,500 artefacts, mostly from the 6th and 5th centuries BC, will be packed.

The transfer of the ancient sculptures and friezes, which have been insured for €400m (£290m), is expected to be completed in January and will be displayed in the €129m Acropolis Museum, which opens to the public in late 2008.

Meanwhile, the British Museum has consistently refused requests by Greece to repatriate the Parthenon sculptures (Elgin Marbles), arguing that it lacked a suitable venue in which to display them together.