The National Archeological Museum (NAM), which celebrates its 150th birthday this year, is not only as relevant today as when it first opened, it has stretched beyond the borders of Greece to become a cultural lighthouse for the world. Housing the richest collection of artefacts from Greek antiquity, it’s no surprise that its influence has reached far and wide, with collections currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and in Japan. The NAM is considered a highly respected point of reference for most of the world’s great museums when it comes to ancient Greek civilization.
Dr. Maria Lagogianni, Director of the museum, says that the NAM takes its role as a custodian of Greek heritage seriously. “This museum, the oldest of Greece, is not just a jewel in the area but a cultural lighthouse for Patission Street, the city of Athens, the whole of Greece and the world for that matter,” she says. As if to prove her point, she opens up a blue dossier bursting with letters from museum directors around the globe requesting exhibition loans. She randomly pulls out a letter from the Antikenmuseum Basel of Switzerland that thanks the NAM for raising its visitor attendance by more than 40 percent as a result of a Greek loan, that of the Antikythera Shipwreck – always a bestseller.
Its valuable contribution to culture and the universal values it has upheld for a century and a half have not gone unnoticed by the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) that declared NAM its honored museum for International Museum Day (May 18).
Despite its growth over the years, Lagogianni says they have no interest in moving from their current location to larger grounds. She views the tens of thousands of items in storage as “a way to rejuvenate interest” in the rotating 11,000-strong display. Stockpiled with different items, visitors always have a reason to keep coming back.
150 years of change
The museum’s creation was first announced on April 27, 1866, by the Chief Guard of Antiquities Zissis Sotiriou who referred to the new institution as a new “Museum of all Greeks”. The foundation stone was laid by King George I on October 3, 1866, though it would take another 23 years for the museum to be finished.
In those days, Patission Street was dotted with neoclassical mansions owned by members of Greek high society. The now-derelict buildings tell as much a tale of territorial evolution in the area surrounding the museum as the artefacts within speak of the rise and fall of empires. At the age of 150, the immaculate museum stands as a beacon in the graffiti-covered area, casting a ray of hope not just as a “Museum of all Greeks” but for all the world.
“ The museum’s creation was first announced on April 27, 1866, by the Chief Guard of Antiquities Zissis Sotiriou who referred to the new institution as a new ‘Museum of all Greeks’ ”
EVENTS FOR 150 YEARS
OF THE NATIONAL ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM
• People Among the Splendid Ruins of Athens from the 19th to the 20th century
Runs through to May 8
An impressive collection of vintage photographs presenting aspects of the early urban landscape of Athens and the daily life of its residents. The display, curated by photography historian Haris Giakoumis, includes the first photograph ever taken in Greece in 1839. There are also three-dimensional presentations viewed through two-angled stereoscopes that date back to 1900.
• The Unseen Museum – The Alexandrian Queen
Runs through to May 22
The basalt head of Arsinoe II, Queen of Thrace, Macedonia and Egypt circa 316-270 BC is on display after being plucked from the hundreds of thousands of artefacts lying in the museum’s storerooms. The queen, daughter of Ptolemy, (son of Lagus) lived a turbulent life full of intrigue that is showcased by the display.
• A Dream Among Splendid Ruins –
Strolling through Athens of the Travelers. 17-19th Century
Runs through to July 31.
The imaginary stroll through the olive groves takes visitors on a charming narrative through the monuments of Athens as seen through the eyes of foreigners from the 17th through to the 19th centuries. Athens is depicted through the illustrated travel publications and paintings of travelers that passed through the city while antiquities given up by the Greek earth during these centuries are also on display between the olive trees.
Visitors also get to see early displays as they were crammed in the first exhibition at the Acropolis before the National Archeological Museum was built. Towards the end of the display, guests enter an installation where words representing Greece’s ideals flash across cases of antiquities and the first Egyptian artifacts. Music by French composer L. A. Bourgault-Ducoudray recorded during his visit to Athens in 1874-1875 completes the work.
• Museum Lectures
A series of talks, focused on the museum’s history have been scheduled as part of the anniversary celebrations. Dr. Aphrodite Kouria, art historian, takes the podium for a speech titled “Athens from the ruins: Image and Reality (19th to 17th centuries)” on May 9; Dr. Chrysanthi Tsouli, archaeologist, gives a speech titled “Ancient monuments in Athens through the visual testimonies of the travelers” on May 22; and archaeologist Aglaia Arhontidou describes Athens as viewed through the artists and etchers on May 30. Talks are in Greek and take place at 19.00. Admission is free.
• Sunday Strolls
Every Sunday at noon, archeologists of the museum introduce visitors to wonderful and unknown stories, bringing to life the ruins on display. On May 8, photography historian Hari Giakoumis will lead the walk at 13.00, taking visitors through the photo display at the NAM’s cafe. Admission is free, registrations half an hour in advance are necessary.
The soon-to-be-announced exhibition will be the highlight of the museum’s 150 years. The display will showcase the struggle of human survival and development through unique collections of the museum beginning from the Neolithic period.
• Around the world
Loans from the NAM are currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where the exhibition “Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World” is on show until July 17, while in Japan another 147 artifacts from the Greek museum are on tour in “The Golden Legend” exhibition through to May 29.
“ This museum, the oldest of Greece, is not just a jewel in the area but a cultural lighthouse for Patission Street, the city of Athens, the whole of Greece and the world for that matter ”