ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Engineers moved an ancient Caryatid statue from the old Acropolis museum on Saturday and transported it to a new museum at the foot of the hill.
The three-hour operation, using three cranes, was the most sensitive transfer so far in a massive move of Acropolis antiquities to the new museum due to open to the public next year.
«The work is going well and is on time,» Culture Minister Michalis Liapis said. «The transfer of the other Caryatid statues will take place over the new few days.
Six Caryatids _ stone columns sculpted in the shape of women _ supported the Erechtheion Temple on the Acropolis and five of them were replaced in 1979 with replica casts to prevent further erosion from atmospheric pollution. The sixth is in the British Museum in London and is part of the Elgin Marbles collection, which Greece has long demanded.
Four of the five originals that remain in Greece were moved in 1979 into the old Acropolis museum, which is closed to the public, and the fifth is being restored.
Greece hopes the new Acropolis Museum will boost its campaign for the return of the Elgin Marbles collection, removed some 200 years ago by British diplomat Lord Elgin when the country was still part of the Ottoman Empire.
«All the statues we move are fragile and require the utmost attention,» supervising engineer Costas Zambas said. «The Caryatids had the additional strain of being exposed to the atmosphere for so many years and were not buried in the ground. So you could say they received some additional care.
Zambas said the Caryatid undergoing restoration remains «in pieces.» It will also eventually be transferred to the new museum.
Before Saturday's move, the air content in the sealed display holding the Caryatids had been altered for the statues to adapt to the conditions at the new museum.
A total of 4,500 antiquities, mostly marble sculptures dating to the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., will be shifted into the new Acropolis Museum 400 meters (yards) away. The most valued artifacts were transferred from a tiny museum on the Acropolis, which was closed in June.
The antiquities are insured for ¤400 million (US$586 million) and have been wrapped in padded harnesses and packed into styrofoam-filled boxes made of plywood and metal.
On Saturday, technicians took about an hour to unpack a metal contained used to carry the Caryatid, removing bolts and pulling out styrofoam-and-plywood packing before the statue finally emerged.