The NUMISMATIC MUSEUM
Money, Money, Money
What did people use for transactions before coins were invented? What did a 6th century wallet look like? How much did the extremely rare ancient Athenian decadrachm weigh? The Numismatic Museum has the answers.
Founded in 1834, it is one of the oldest museums in Greece and boasts a collection of more than 500,000 exhibits related to the history of money since the 14th c. BC. It also exhibits medals as well as a significant number of Byzantine and medieval coins. Before you jump in though, you may want to take a moment to look at the bigger picture: the beautiful, 19th-c. mansion designed by Ernst Ziller as a residence for his friend Heinrich Schliemann, the man often heralded as the “father of archaeology” for his discoveries at Mycenae and Troy.
The building is fascinating from an architectural standpoint for the Italian Renaissance influences infused into its neoclassical lines, as well as for its impressive mosaics and ceiling and wall paintings, which give each room its own distinct character. It also has a lovely courtyard with a café that often hosts live music nights.
12 Panepistimiou (El. Venizelou)
Syntagma or Panepistimio metro stations
Open Wed-Sun 8:30-15:30
The MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF ATHENS
The Royal Treatment
The time when royals ruled the modern Greek state seems far away to most today, but evidence of their reign can be found in the neoclassical building on Klafthmonos Square, where King Otto and Queen Amalia lived for the seven years it took to build their palace (the present-day Hellenic Parliament).
The museum extends to the adjacent edifice, also from the 19th century, to present a collection of artifacts that range from fine works of art to everyday items. Visitors can wander around the throne room and the living room, where the aristocracy took afternoon tea using monogrammed tea sets, as well as peruse hundreds of historical documents including a copy of the 1844 Greek Constitution.
The undisputed star of the show is the biggest painting ever made of the Greek capital, a grand 260x520cm oil by French artist Jacques Carrey (1674), where the Parthenon can be seen as it was before it was blown up in 1687 during a siege by the Venetian Francesco Morosini. The museum also has an excellent bistro, the Black Duck, which moves outdoors into its lovely garden in the warmer months.
5-7 Paparrigopoulou, Klafthmonos Square
Panepistimio metro station
Open Mon-Wed-Thu-Fri 9:00-16:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-15:00
CENTER OF FOLK ART AND TRADITION
The Ways of Old
The center is dedicated to Angeliki Hatzimichali (1895-1965), an important Greek folklorist who has bequeathed a wealth of information and documentation from her painstaking research all over the country. Hailing from a well-to-do Athenian family, she helped bridge the gap between the elite and the toiling masses by smashing the stereotype that good manners and education are exclusive to the upper classes. She also dedicated a significant part of her research to the Sarakatsani people – transhumant shepherds of northern Greece – spending long periods of time among them as they traveled across mountains and valleys.
The center, housed in what was her home, is a wonderful example of eclectic architecture with Byzantine brushstrokes. The interior boasts some lovely pieces of wood sculpture, vernacular pottery, embroidery and loom weaving from different parts of Greece that were collected by Hatzimichali or donated to the City of Athens, which operates the museum. A guided tour is really the best way to appreciate the exhibits.
Center of Folk Art and Tradition
6 Angelikis Hatzimichali, Plaka
Acropolis or Syntagma metro stations
Tel. (+30) 210.324.3987
Open Tue-Fri 9:00-19:00, Sat-Sun 9:00-14:00
the MUSEUM OF GREEK FOLK MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS
The Sound of Music
The visit starts with an introduction to the diverse musical traditions across Greece via an interactive map at the entrance of the 1842 mansion that once belonged to a government official under King Otto. Touch Crete and you’ll hear the lyra, Macedonia and Thrace for the gaida bagpipe, the islands of Cyclades for the fiddle, Piraeus for the bouzouki and so on.
The museum was founded in 1991 and its exhibits mainly comprise pieces from the collection of music historian and scholar Foivos Anogeianakis (1915-2003) dating from antiquity to modern times. They also include more than 1,200 instruments of all types, from the 18th to the 20th century. Extending across three floors, the museum showcases the ingenuity involved in the construction of many musical instruments – such as a baglama made of a turtle shell or a gourd.
During your visit, you will also learn about the significance of the sounds made by objects such as coins attached to traditional costumes, worry beads, small drinking glasses and the metal triangles used for keeping the tempo in Greek Christmas carols. The gift shop has an amazing collection of Greek music CDs both traditional and modern.
Museum of Greece Folk Musical Instruments
1-3 Diogenous, Plaka
Monastiraki or Syntagma metro stations
Open Tue-Sun 8:00-15:00
The ILIAS LALAOUNIS JEWELRY MUSEUM
All That Glitters
This is the only museum in Greece dedicated to modern jewelry. It was founded in 1993 by Ilias Lalaounis (1920-2013), a pioneer jewelry maker with endless creativity when it came to design and a great head for business (he opened a large network of stores stretching from New York to Hong Kong).
The museum is housed in a refurbished building from the interwar years that once served as Lalaounis’ residence and workshop, on the southern slope of the Acropolis hill; the Parthenon is so close, you feel that you can almost reach out and touch it from the third-floor balcony. This floor hosts a workshop where you can watch jewelry being made, as well as a small exhibition of sculptures by Salvador Dali.
The second floor is all about Lalaounis in the international press, while the main exhibition is on the first floor. A handwoven chain adorned with animal heads (Classical & Hellenistic Collection), a tiara inspired by the Ravenna mosaics in Italy (Byzantine), brooches with wild-rose motifs (Pastoral) and earrings depicting Scandinavian animals (Viking) are among the 4,000-odd pieces on display.
12 Kallisperi & Karyatidon, Acropolis
Acropolis metro station
Open daily 10:00-14:00
The Benaki Toy Museum
The Age of Innocence
Tin trucks, colorful striped tops, skates, tiny dolls in matchbox beds, cloth toys adorned in intricate traditional embroidery, wind-up clowns, model warships, engraved wooden pencil boxes, rattles and soccer tables have all found their place in a lovely belle époque mansion in Paleo Faliro, a southern coastal suburb of Athens. The impressive collection of toys, donated by Maria Argyriadi to the Benaki Museum in 1991 and ranked among the top 10 in Europe, was recently put on display in the institution’s new museum, located in what was once the residence of a ship’s captain from Hydra.
With neogothic architectural references and striking, historically significant displays at the entrance – a doll designed by internationally acclaimed Greek set designer Dionysis Fotopoulos, as well as a wooden rocking horse gifted by Eleftherios Venizelos, one of Greece’s most respected statesmen, to his grandson – the museum is an enticing invitation back to the innocence of childhood.
Arranged in sections, the main exhibition starts with toys from antiquity, covers several forms of puppet theater in Greece and abroad, and showcases the construction of mechanical toys as well as the fashion dolls that were once all the rage in Paris. A special area is dedicated to school supplies and old toy stores. The complete collection comprises more than 20,000 items. Around 3,000 of them are currently on display.
14 Poseidonos & 1 Tritonos, Paleo Faliro
Open Thu-Sun 10:00-18:00
The BENAKI MUSEUM OF ISLAMIC ART
In the Islamic world, it didn’t matter whether an object was intended for day-to-day use, for decorative purposes or for war. Whatever its use, it had to be beautiful: from 7th-c. bottle caps to tableware iridescent with bright colors and floral motifs; from stunning ceramics from the Turkish city of Iznik and wooden doors carved in such detail they resemble lacework, to 19th-c. weapons adorned to signify the strength and wealth of the empire.
The Museum of Islamic Art – which belongs to the Benaki family of museums – also features an entire hall put together piece by piece to resemble the reception room of a 17th-c. Cairo mansion. This would be where the Ottoman kethuda (a deputy) would invite his guests for a coffee or a pipe around a fountain, while listening to a tale from a storyteller.
At the end of your journey in this fascinating world from a bygone era, enjoy a hot beverage at one of the prettiest cafés in the city, looking out at the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and the Athens Observatory.
22 Aghion Asomaton & 12 Dipylou, Thiseio
Thiseio or Monastiraki metro stations
Open Thu-Sat 10:00-18:00, Sun 10:00-16:00
THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF GREECE
A Haunting Experience
Nothing about the exterior of the neoclassical building that houses the Jewish Museum of Greece in downtown Athens prepares you for what lies within, not just in terms of its exhibits but also in terms of its contemporary architecture.
First established in 1977 to display artifacts and documents from World War II, the museum had to wait some 20 years and relocate twice before finding a permanent home for its ever-expanding collection. Today, it plays host to more than 10,000 artifacts, among them textiles, jewelry and photographs, as well as invaluable personal and ritual objects that are organized in thematic categories and help narrate 2,300 years of Jewish history and culture in Greece.
What makes this narrative particularly engaging for the visitor is the way it unfolds vertically; instead of rooms, different levels are arranged around a spiraling staircase. The natural light entering from the glass dome of the staircase’s central shaft lends the museum an almost church-like atmosphere, adding even more drama to the story and leaving you in a contemplative mood.
39 Nikis, Syntagma
Syntagma metro station
Open Mon-Fri 9:00-14:30, Sun 10:00-14:00