The Museums of Athens.
Athens, and Greece in general, is rich in museums of varied types. The king of the collection is the National Archaeological Museum , but many smaller museums give it some worthy competition. One of the most renowned private collections is the Goulandris' collection of Cycladic Art, which forms the core of the Museum of Cycladic Art, well worth an afternoon's browsing. If you've had your fill of flowing draperies and Corinthian column capitals, the sleek minimalist lines of Cycladic art will be particularly refreshing.
Archaeological Museum, undoubtedly one of the finest
in the world, housing thousands of exhibits spanning more than a
millennium of artistic activity throughout the Aegean and the
Don't miss the magnificent Deathmask of Agamemnon (room 4) unearthed by the maverick German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in digs which brought to light the ancient Homeric city of Mycenae. From the time he was a small child, Schliemann lived with the desire to find the forgotten world of Homer's Iliad. His dream finally came true and the enormous booty he discovered is now a living testament of his achievement. He excavated six unlooted graves and found the bodies of 19 people, a collection of bronze swords and about 30 pounds of gold objects. Most of these objects are here in the Archaeological Museum in Athens. The greatest of all the treasures is the famous so-called 'Death Mask of Agamemnon.' It was found covering the face of a skeleton in one of the shaft graves. Schliemann was convinced that he'd found the man he was looking for. It is clear nowadays that this was not in fact Agamemnon. It dates back to the 16th century BC, at least 600 or 700 years before the Trojan War. If the truth of the discovery is not so romantic as Schliemann hoped, the story behind it still is, and the mask itself is astonishingly powerful, even awe-inspiring, and all the more remarkable for its venerable age, over 3,500 years old.
Perhaps the single most impressive piece is a larger-than-life bronze statue, the Poseidon of Artemision (room 15). His eyes, now missing from their sockets, would have been made of ivory. In his right hand he held a trident. The figure is over life-size, proud, powerful, dominating and consummately noble. When this extraordinary statue was first discovered, salvaged from the sea off Cape Artemision in Northern Euboea in the 1930's, it was immediately identified as Zeus. Only the king of the gods could possibly merit a statue as majestic as this. Nowadays it's generally considered to represent Poseidon, god of the sea. Some say that it dates from around 450 BC; others that it was made even earlier as an offering to the local sanctuary of Poseidon in 479 BC.
Next on the list of the museum's masterpieces are the Santorini/Thera Frescoes (room 48, 1st floor). (Santorini and Thera are alternative names for the same island.) Discovered in the 1970's on Santorini, these frescoes depict life on the island in the 16th century BC (that's over 3,500 years ago!). The fresh brightness of the colors is amazing, not in the least faded or changed by time. Times haven't changed much either. The scenes represented are as real today as they were then. There are pictures of two boys fighting, of a fisherman showing off the day's catch, of young women chatting, some of the local wildlife and so on. Some parts of the frescoes have been reconstructed.
Furthermore the Museum displays finds from all parts of the ancient Greek world which date from Neolithic times to the last years of the Roman Empire.
Art of the Pre-historic Period up to 1100 B.C. This includes four Pre-historic collections from Thessaly (mainly ceramics and clay figurines), the Cyclades Islands (mainly marble figurines and vases), Thera or Santorini (mainly frescoes) and the Mycenaean period (treasures from royal tombs; cups from the Vafio beehive tomb, stelae from graves, frescoes, arms, miniatures, etc.).
Art from the Historic Period Sculpture and ceramics make up the main branch of the art of this period but there is also a variety of miniature arts, coins and goldsmith’s work. Next to the originals of works, mainly of the classical period, are copies from the Hellenistic and Roman times.
Ceramics There is pottery of the Protogeometric and Geometric periods (mostly Attic vases), Orientalising pottery (mainly Protoattic and Cycladic vases), Corinthian and Attic vases of the Black Figured style (a special category among these is formed by the Panathenean amphorae) and Red Figured white Attic vases.
a) Statues: Daedalic sculptures, series of archaic Kouri (the most complete set is exhibited in the Acropolis Museum), bronze statues of male figures of the classical period, statues of female figures of classical times (in bronze and marble) and Hellenistic as well as Roman sculptures (male and female figures). b) Portraits of the classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. c) Reliefs: Architectural reliefs from the ornamentation of buildings, reliefs or stelae from graves (Attic, island and from various parts of Greece), votive reliefs. d) SarcophagiMetalwork and Miniatures
The main core of the collection is formed by the Karapanos collection of small bronze objects. There are figurines, armor, tripods, mirrors and articles used for decorating such objects (griffins, miniature idols etc.)
The finest and most rare specimens are contained in the Heleni Stathatos collection of necklaces, earrings, diadems, buckles, funeral wreaths, etc.
The National Museum also houses:
The Epigraphic Collection (Tel: 821.76.37)
The Numismatic Collection (Tel: 821.77.69)
c) The Thera (Santorini Island) Collection (Tel: 821.77.17)
In the same building of the National Archaeological Museum there is an exhibition where copies and castings taken from objects in museums throughout Greece are sold. (Tel. 822.17.64).
The museum is housed in an impressive neo-classical building dating from the reign of the first king of united Greece, Bavarian-born Otto I, who ascended the throne in l833. Summer hours are 8:00am to 6:00pm, Tuesday through Saturday and l0:00am to 6:00pm on Sundays and holidays. The museum is closed on Mondays. Tel: 210.8217717
The best of the rest: The Acropolis Museum: Until a few years ago, the undisputed stars of the show were a beautiful set of 2,500 year old maidens with enigmatic expressions and dubious smiles known as the korai - nowadays they must take second billing to an even more famous team—the Caryatids who, due to the damage being caused to the Acropolis marbles by noxious fumes from Athens' more than three million cars, have had to surrender their positions outside. For centuries, they stood guard around the Erechtheion. Now they hold court here amid other portable fragments and artifacts taken from the area of the Acropolis including what Lord Elgin left behind of the Parthenon Frieze. Also very interesting are the scale models of the various structures on and around the Acropolis as they once were.
The Byzantine & Christian
Museum: When you have reached saturation point with
classical questions, turn over a fascinating page of Greek
history with a visit to this delightful museum housed in the
Italianate townhouse of one of King Otto's eccentric cronies, the
American-born Duchesse de Plaisance. Ground floor rooms are
cleverly arranged like Byzantine-style churches and beside the
expected plethora of icons there are interesting bas-reliefs and
sculptures such as the Orpheus taken from a 6th century tomb. The
highlight of this collection, however, is a l4C burial shroud
elaborately embroidered with an image of the mourning over the
In conclusion the exhibits cover the early Christian, the Byzantine and the post-Byzantine periods and are divided into the following collections:
A rich collection of sculptures from various churches, mostly architectural elements but also some rare, large marble icons showing the Virgin Mary in relief. Outstanding among these sculptures are the complex showing Orpheus, the marble balustrades with carvings of animals in combat, the marble plaque from Thessaloniki showing the three Apostles (this is an altar screen) and others. A rich collection of icons (portable, individual paintings and sections of altar screen decoration). Some of the best specimens of the Byzantine icons exhibited are those of Panagia Glykofilousa from Bithynia, done in mosaic form, the rare wood-carved relief of Saint George from Kastoria, the icon of the Archangel Michael and the well known icon of the Crucifixion from Thessaloniki. Among icons belonging to the post-Byzantine Cretan School of Art, those of particular note are the ones showing the Panagia Kardiotissa, Agia Ekaterini and the Hospitality of Abraham. There is also a charming collection of icons painted by popular 18th century artists, several miniatures, liturgical rotuli, priests’ robes and ornaments as well as a remarkable gold-embroidered epitaph from Thessaloniki. —A number of frescoes, salvaged from demolished churches in Attica and the islands have also been set up in the Museum. There is a collection of fabrics and inscriptions from Coptic churches and, in the courtyard, stands a phiale which is a reproduction of a fountain represented in one of the mosaics at Dafni. One of the halls in the Museum has been converted into a small Basilica with nave and two aisles and another into a cruciform church with dome while a third hall has been converted into a post-Byzantine church. Located at 22 Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, the museum is open for visitors from 7:30am to 7:30pm daily except Mondays. Tel: 210.7211027
The Benaki Museum: This
fascinating little museum takes its name from Andonis Benaki to
whom the initial collection once belonged and in whose former
home it is now housed. The eclectic tastes of this old gentleman
are reflected in the range of the exhibits which span centuries
and cultural borders to include such treasures as Chinese
porcelains, medieval Turkish household utensils and Byzantine
icons. The highlight of your visit, however, might very well be
the display of Greek national costumes which includes toilettes
once worn by Queen Amalia and a bonnet of the innkeeper's
daughter who inspired Byron to write The Maid of Athens. The
museum is located very near to the elegant Kolonaki shopping
district at the corner of Vassilissis Sophias and Koumbari Street
Tel. 210.3611617and can easily be reached on foot from Athens'
principal square, Syntagma. Other items exhibited are: Works
of Greek art from pre-historic times up to the modern era. The
collection of gold ornaments is of particular interest and so are
the two portraits from Fayoum, silver ecclesiastical vessels,
Byzantine miniatures, Byzantine and post-Byzantine icons by
painters such as Damaskinos and Poulakis.Works of Greek popular
art with certain specimens of similar art from other countries,
historic relics, historic archives, drawings of landscapes by
foreign artists of the Romantic School, paintings of scenes and
personalities in Greece’s more recent history (aquarelles,
lithographies, etc.). There are also some fine Greek embroideries
and woodcarvings as well as Moslem and Coptic fabrics. A
collection of art miniatures from the region of the Eastern
Mediterranean and the East (Asia Minor, Moslem and Chinese
ceramics, etc.) The entire reception room in the Museum is
decorated in the carved wood paneling style of Kozani.
A visit here can also be combined with a trip to the top of panoramic Mount Likavitos or the Byzantine Museum, both of which are nearby. Closed on Tuesdays, the museum is otherwise open daily from 8:30am to 2:30pm.
THE BENAKI MUSEUM - The new building at 138 Pireos Street:
The Cycladic Museum: 4 Neofytou Douka Street, Tel: 210 7228321.
The National Gallery and Alexandros Soutsos museum:
National Museum of Contemporary Art: Vas. Sophias & Kokkali 1. Tel. 210 9242111
Numismatic Museum: 12 El. Venizelou (Panepistimiou St.) tel. 210 3643774
National Historical museum: at the old Parliamemt building, 13 Stadiou St., tel: 210 3226370
Goulandris Museum of Natural History: 13 Levidou St. Kifissia. Tel 210 8015 870.
Museum of Greel Folk Art: 17 Kydathineon St., Plaka. Tel. 210 3229 031
Lalaounis Jewelry Museum: 12 Karyatidon & Kalisperi St, Acropolis. Tel. 210 9221044.