Over the past few years the National Archaeological Museum (NAM) has created new avenues of dialogue with the public, opened its warehouses and laboratories, and put antiquities hidden in storage rooms out on display. It has also spearheaded innovative initiatives, collaborations and temporary exhibitions such as “Odysseys” and “The Countless Aspects of Beauty”. And the public has responded, with visitor numbers increasing 27.7% over the past five years.
2019 saw 608,876 people visit the museum, a year-on-year rise of 2.47%, and the data shows that the country’s largest museum draws visitors throughout the year – not just during the summer months.
“Evaluating the data regarding visitors over the three-year period 2017-2019, we observe that the number of visitors from November to March remains quite high, making up 39% of the annual number of visitors,” NAM director Maria Lagogianni said recently in her end-of-year presentation, noting that the museum is succeeding in attracting visitors even during the “difficult” months of the winter period.
Aside from evaluating the progress of the museum over the past year, Lagogianni also announced future initiatives. “The premier museum of the country has a duty to listen, to observe, and to actively participate in our collective course. A golden opportunity towards this end are the historic anniversaries of the coming two-year period.” With a series of exhibitions, NAM will celebrate the 2,500 years since the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis, as well as the 200-year anniversary since the declaration of the Greek War of Independence in 1821.
“In this context, the concept of Nike [Victory] will function as the connecting link between the different narratives of the exhibitions. The winged goddess of the Greeks will bridge the anniversary exhibitions, offering timeless symbols of those things that move and inspire people.”
“We Fought For Them… Antiquities and the Greek Revolution” is the name of the exhibition that will be launched in February. It will focus on the role played by Greek antiquities in the ideological reinforcement of the great uprising and forging of modern Greek identity. In the temporary exhibition hall, antiquities from NAM’s earliest collections will be shown alongside other works on loan from other organizations. After the exhibition closes, it will be presented throughout 2021 as a digital exhibition on the museum’s website.
A second exhibition, which will be inaugurated on September 29, will mark the 2,500 years since the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis. “Ancient pieces of evidence that highlight aspects of the victorious fight of the Greeks against the Persians will be accompanied by newer works and explanatory material with the aim of shedding light on the impact of these important victories on the ideological preparation leading up to 1821, as well as in more modern times,” Lagogianni said.
The director of NAM has long stressed the importance of the winged goddess Nike of the Greeks – the personification of victory – and the myriad representations of her. After all, the Nikes that we admire in the museum – which many mistakenly believe represent angels – are not only linked with events on the battleground, but with sports, the soul, the daily lives of the ancients, and more.
The concept of Nike will run through the exhibition with two key focal points. For the first, in two different halls of the museum audiovisual exhibits will depict famous victors in physical and spiritual pursuits during peacetime.
One such figure is the Jockey of Artemision, the famed bronze sculpture that was salvaged in 1928 and 1937 in pieces from an ancient shipwreck. The young rider atop the powerful steed will tell the story of his own personal triumph and the crowned Nike on the body of the bronze horse; the figure of the goddess holding a wreath in her raised hand is etched on the horse’s right thigh – a branding borne by thoroughbred horses in antiquity.
The second focal point is the Nike that once stood in the central gallery of the Temple of Asclepius in Epidaurus, who held in her hands a partridge, a symbol of the god’s healing power.
NAM’s plans for 2020 also include education activities and contemporary art exhibitions, Unseen Museum events featuring items from the museum’s vast storerooms, taking the “Countless Aspects of Beauty” exhibition to Beijing and more.
But beyond that, the NAM must continue to pursue its own version of victory: “redefining its place and proving its importance in a world that is changing,” according to its director, who stressed that much remains to be done – particularly in terms of improving the museum’s facilities, making use of new technologies and improving the surrounding neighborhoods.