If you don’t want to ‘waste’ your precious time once in Athens hopping from one museum to another, but you are still interested in getting a first-hand insight into Greece’s rich cultural past, yes, there is hope for you too! All you have to do is visit the main Benaki Museum. It could be described as the synopsis of the Greek museums, exhibiting artifacts from prehistoric times to the 20th century. The most important: every Thursday it is open till mid-night with free entrance!
The Benaki Museum is a cultural institution spread over various buildings in downtown Athens. We have already visited the, unique of its kind in Greece, Museum of Islamic Art. The very first museum opened in 1930 thanks to the generosity of Antonis Benakis, a passionate collector and benefactor from Alexandria, Egypt. It was housed in his family house that is now called ‘main building’ and it boasts of being the first private museum of the country. This marvelous edifice has undergone various renovations and extensions but it retains the atmosphere of an old mansion. As expected it is centrally located, few steps away from the Parliament and the National Gardens.
The Benaki Museums are highly regarded among Athenians, a fact that was reinforced after their decision to take advantage of a grant by Stavros Niarchos Foundation in order to open their doors for free every Thursday for one year (till 5 March 2016). As a result the museums are full of people of all ages. If we want to be honest, the price of the ticket (7 euros) is quite expensive in this day and age.
For details about opening hours, information about the permanent collections and the current exhibitions and events, you can visit the museum’s website.
The main galleries of the ground floor are dedicated to the archaeology, starting from the Bronze Age civilizations including the Cycladic, the Mycenaean and the Minoan to the late Roman times. The Museum has a very rich collection although the lack of space creates the suffocating impression that the exhibits are all stacked next to each other.
Generally speaking, the Museum needs renovation and modernization from museological point of view. The best curated section is the one hosting the collection of religious art. At least, the lighting here is atmospheric! The stunning collection of Byzantine icons attracts the visitors’ attention while the reconstructions of wooden-carved iconostasis are quite impressive too…
In my opinion, the most fascinating part of the museum is the collection of neo-hellenic art and folklore. It is extremely rich and very interesting from an anthropological as well as from an aesthetic perspective. The exhibits are costumes, objects of everyday life, furniture, paintings, maps, music instruments, in one phrase Greece’s recent past closely associated to the glorious old days. It’s really pity that the lighting is inadequate not allowing the visitor to enjoy as much of the details as possible.
At the top-floor there is a bar-restaurant with great views to the Parliament and the National Gardens. You can see the inner courtyard where the Presidential Guards (the famous tsoliades) are trained!
But the visit is not over yet. The roof-top gallery is dedicated to the 1821 Greek War of Independence with various exhibits.