‘The real life of Athens is here’ – look beyond the Acropolis for the hidden gems of the city

The Acropolis Museum’s underground lab, the ancient Hadrian aqueduct and an arts festival in an old factory offer a more personal view of the Greek capital

It’s the most exclusive lost property office in the world. Deep underground, in a thrumming, humidified laboratory, a world-historical statue is being reunited with its ancient marble foot. Of all the rooms at the Acropolis Museum in Athens, this is the most pulse-quickening, which is saying something considering that the building houses treasures of antiquity including friezes from the Parthenon.

Prof Nikolaos Stampolidis, director-general of the museum, is playing the role of an archaeological Prince Charming: he must decide if the deftly chiselled toes are a match for the sculpture of a kouros, or naked youth on display as part of the permanent collection until conservationists began to suspect that the foot bone connected to the leg bone might be the wrong one. Perhaps the foot in the lab, which was found elsewhere at the Acropolis, will be a perfect fit. If museum staff are right, these jigsaw pieces, separated for millennia, have been within just a few square metres of one another.

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