Museums in Athens

I decided to start at the National Archeological Museum of Athens. I found a decent hostel (Hostel Zorbas) nearby, so I dropped off my bag and headed to the museum.

Unsurprisingly, the National Archeological Museum contains one of the largest collections of Greek art and artifacts in the world. As with the museum in Crete, the collection is overwhelming in size, so I decided to focus on a few things I found interesting.

One of the centerpieces of the collection is the treasure trove from Mycenae excavated by Heinrich Schliemann. The collection contains an impressive amount of gold, including a gold mask Schliemann (erroneously) called the "Mask of Agamemmnon." I really liked these gold objects.

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I did not spend much time in the neolithic exhibitions, but these "violin-shaped" figures are interesting:

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The octopus returns in the Minoan collection.

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The museum has an impressive collection of bronze objects, including several large bronze statues which were found at the bottom of the sea. Here is one of Posiedon throwing a trident (or possibly Zeus hurling a thunderbolt, but I like the idea of a statue of Posiedon being found at sea).

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There is also a large bronze statue of Augustus in the museum, but it was out on loan.

On the upper floor of the museum, I saw largest collection of Greek pots I have ever seen. I particularly like these large vessels from the geometric period.

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The museum also contains an exhibit of objects and art found at Akrotiri on Santorini. I was especially interested to see this, given that I had recently visited the Akrotiri excavation site. Of particular note are the wall frescoes, which were well preserved by the volcanic ash. The "spring fresco" is the only fresco which was found in situ, and it covers three walls of the same room. It depicts the landscape of Thera. I especially like the swallows in flight, which I saw every night I was in Santorini.

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This is the "antelopes fresco":

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On the way out of the museum, I spent several minutes talking to this man who was playing a lyre in one of the Greek sculpture galleries (you can see the lyre in the relief scupture behind him). 

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His primary instrument is trumpet, and he has had a 30-year career both in the Athens opera orchestra and as a jazz musician. He decided to research and play the lyre to "do something different." His lyre was made by a modern luthier and it is played by plucking the strings with a bone-tipped implement. It has seven strings and is tuned to the phrygian mode starting on G. By using harmonics, he can play many other notes in higher octaves. He makes no claims to authenticity, since we know so little about music of the ancient Greeks or how the instruments were played. That being said, he is a very skilled player and I really like the music he makes.

The next stop was the exhibit of preindustrial tools at the Greek Folk Art Museum. Who could pass up a museum dedicated to hand tools? Certainly not I. The collection is contained in a small house in the Plaka section of Athens, right near the Roman Agora. Most of the tools are from the nineteenth and twentieth century, and they are all labeled with their place of origin as well as their use. Photography was difficult, as it was dark and most of the items are under glass, but I did take a few pictures to convey a sense of the place.

Here is a collection of farming implements and a wine press:

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Two of these tools were used by icemakers. The saw was used to cut blocks of ice, and the tongs were used to grab pieces of ice. (The third item is a harpoon, but it is unlike any harpoon I've ever seen.)

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This unusual device is neither an implement of torture nor a pot hanger, but was used to fish a dropped bucket out of a well.

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This is part of a set of tools used by a coppersmith.

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At the end of the exhibit, I spent a while talking to Maria in the small gift shop. She told me about other museums dedicated to tools throughout Greece, among them one dedicated to silk and one dedicated to olives. Unfortunately, they were not located anywhere I was going.

After I left, I took a break to buy a pair of pants, which is the subject of another journal entry.

When I returned, I visted the New Acropolis Museum, which is located right next to the Acropolis, on the side with the Theater of Dionysus. The museum opened in 2009, and while they were digging the foundation (surprise, surprise!), they found the remains of an ancient settlement. You can see it through thick glass windows, both in the ground outside of the museum and in the floors of the museum itself. They hope to one day open the site up to visitors.

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Pictures are not allowed in the museum, so words will have to suffice. The museum collection is entirely composed of objects which were found on the Acropolis. Many of the statues and friezes are from temples which predate those whose ruins lie on the Acropolis today. Several statues were buried until recently, and as a result, some of their paint has been preserved. These are presented along with a painted replica imagining what the statue may have looked like in ancient times. Notably, the museum contains five of the original caryatids from the Erechtheum (a sixth is in the British Museum).

The top floor is dedicated entirely to the Parthenon and is positioned askew from the bottom floors so that its orientation lines up with that of the real Parthenon (visible from the windows). The museum has constructed a framework with columns spaced the same as the Parthenon columns. This allows the friezes, metopes, and pediments (mostly replicas, since the British Museum contains the majority of the originals) to be displayed in the same location as they would have been found on the historic Parthenon. (Some heights have been reduced and other modifications made for ease of viewing.)

You can walk around all four sides of the structure and imagine you are walking around the actual Parthenon, only in a modern, climate-controlled building. It is a fantastic space, and I cannot imagine a better presentation of these pieces. If Athens built this museum to advocate for the return of the Parthenon marbles (I think this is likely true), then they have made their case. So move over, British Museum, the New Acropolis Museum has you beat. It's time to return the Elgin marbles to Greece.


By Ross in Travel on Wed 25 June 2014. Tags: Greece, museums

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