Athens, Greece. August 2014

Click here for Part I of “Athens, Greece. July 2014”

August 2, 2014

D and I were back to Athens to celebrate Stacy and Antonis’ wedding at Island Art and Taste  – a beautiful wedding venue on a cliff in Varkiza area of Athens. The wedding wasn’t till evening, but after 2 weeks on the road, we needed our “re-charge” time so we stayed at the apartment, ate the most delicious greek watermelons and read on the balcony. It was the best carefree time I could remember.


In the evening, we drove to the venue and spent a wonderful evening with D’s school friends most of whom I just met. It was my first “big fat greek wedding” with 500+ guests and I don’t know whether it went wild (as everyone predicted) since we left around 1 am which was still an early evening by Greek standards!


August 3, 2014

Today, since we still had D mom’s car, we decided to visit places that aren’t easily accessible by foot. So we started in the morning and drove to the Panathenaic Stadium (also called Kallimarmaro Stadium). Entry €3, free audioguide – highly recommend, one hour to visit.

Panatheanic Stadium

This huge marble structure set in a small valley by Ardittos Hill occupies the same site of the original Panathenaic stadium built by archon Lykurgus in 330-329 BC. But even many centuries before, this place hosted games in which nude athletes competed in track events and athletics. Lykurgus’ Stadium was first used during the celebration of the Great Panathenaia in 330-329 to host competitions. During Roman times, it was first reconstructed for gladiatorial contests during Hadrian‘s reign in AD 120 and they say at its inauguration, 1000 wild animals were sacrificed in the arena. In AD 144, thanks to the wealthy Roman benefactor Herodes Atticus, the stadium underwent some modifications: instead of parallelogram it was remodeled into a horseshoe shape and spectators’ seats were rebuilt in white marble. A vaulted passage under the east retaining wall terminated at the back of the Stadium and the temple of Tyche (Fortuna) was built on top of Ardettos Hill. The whole space was adorned with splendid statues and for many years, the tomb of Herodes dominated the hilltop left of the entrance.


With the prevailing of Christianity and the prohibition of pagan celebration and the barbarous spectacles of Roman times, such as bloody gladiatorial duels and contests with wild beasts, the Stadium fell in disuse and was neglected, while its marble was gradually quarried for use in new buildings or burnt down to make lime. The idea to revive the Olympic Games (brought to fruition by French baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1894) and 4 million golden drachmas donated by Georgios Averof led for the Stadium’s resurection. Designed by Anastasios Metaxas, the present stadium is an exact replica of Herodes Atticus’ stadium, as described in the “Guide to Greece” by traveler Pausanias. Built in white Pentelic marble, it is 204 m long and 83 m wide and can seat up to 68,000 people. On 5 April 1896, the new stadium hosted the First Modern Olympic Games and until today, it is the venue where the Olympic flame handover ceremony takes place before every Olympic Games.

I absolutely recommend taking a free audio-guide as it gave us the fullest information about the site as well as guided us through the times of the gladiatorial battles to present Games. On the left side of the stadium, there is a small underground tunnel which used to be the Gladiators’ exit but now serves as an entrance to a small museum dedicated to the Olympic Games and containing exhibits and memorabilia from every past Game.

AAWe went to Greece to meet D family members and so far, I’ve met many of them, but there was one person, who played a huge role in D’s life – his fraternal grandmother who was no longer alive. However, it was important for D and I to visit her tomb, to bow our heads and pay respect. She is buried in the First Cemetery of Athens, next to the Stadium. First opened in 1837, it is a peaceful place, filled with pine and olive trees. Beautiful example of the 19th century funerary art range from the flamboyance of some of the marble mausoleums to the simplicity of the belle epoque Kimomeni (Sleeping Maiden). Created by Yannoulis Chalepas, this beautiful tomb is found to the right of the main cemetery avenue where many of Greece foremost families are buried. Among the notable 19th and 20th century figures with tombs here are Theodoros Kolokotronis, British philhellene historian George Finley (1799-1875), German archeologists Heinrich Schliemann (1822-1890), the Nobel Prize winning poet Giorgos Seferis (1900-1971) and many more. In addition to the large number of individual tombs of famous people, the cemetery contains a moving single memorial to the 40,000 Athenians who starved to death during the WWII.

AWe took a stroll around the cemetery, as it was very serene and beautiful, until we got to the grandmother’s grave. It was a touching moment for both of us, since D loved this woman with all his heart and soul. I took a moment to say a prayer.


Before returning a car to D mom, we drove to the Lykavittos Hill (300 m above sea level) for the finest panoramas of the city. Its name means the “hill of wolves” implying that in the past wolves probably inhabited the slopes of this hill. Another myth credits the creation of the hill to goddess Athena who dropped a mountain she had been carrying from Pallene for the construction of the Acropolis after the box holding Erichthonius was opened. We took the car all the way up, but you can either walk up (45 minutes) or take a fonicular railway. There is a small whitewashed chapel of Agios Georgios crowns the top of the hill. It was built in the 19th century on the site of an older Byzantine church, dedicated to Profitis Ilias. Both saints are celebrated on their name days – Ilias on 20 July and Georgios on 23 April.


But the best day to see the hill, according to locals, is on the eve of Easter Sunday when a spectacular candlelit procession winds down the peak’s wooden slopes. There are multiples cafes and restaurants on top as well as the open-air Lykavittos Theater which holds annual performances during the Athens Festival (mid-June to mid-September). The views of the city from the observation decks that rim the summit were indeed spectacular.


And we finished the day at D mom’s place where we had a delicious homemade dinner and said our goodbyes.


August 10, 2014

D. and I arrived from Santorini very late the night before so we decided not to rush in the morning. However, there were still a few unvisited places and unfinished tasks to complete. For one, I really wanted to visit Benaki Museum of Greek art, culture and history. It is open only till 15.00 on Sundays and by the time we got there, we had only 90 minutes to see it all (allow at least 3-4 hours, entry is €7 per person). Nevertheless, it turned out to be my favorite museum and if you have just a few days in Athens or dislike museums all together, head to Benaki’s family private house, that hosts the collection, and you will see/learn everything you need in order to understand Greece and Greeks – ceramics, figurines, jewelry, sculptures, paintings, metal work, costumes, mosaic, embroidery, religious artifacts, etc. Conveniently located near the Syntagma Square (ΣΤ.ΣΥΝΤΑΓΜΑΤΟΣ subway stop) and housed in a beautiful neoclassical building that, in the early 20th century served as a private residency of the Benaki family, the collection, gathered by Antonis Benakis and donated by many others, contains over 100,000 items. In 2000, the museum building was renovated and expanded, while the entire collection was subdivided into themes (Greek art, Islamic Art, Chinese Porcelain etc) and finally relocated according to the categories. Hence, when somebody refers to Benaki Museum, they might mean the main building exhibiting the Greek art, however, they might as well mean the Museum of Islamic Art in Kerameikos or Historical or Photographic Archives or any one of eleven facilities of the museum. D. and I came to see the Greek collection of the museum; building has 4 floors and the collection on each level is arrange based on different parameters: chronological, topical, geographical etc.

The ground floor collection is arranged into different periods and ranges from Neolithic to late-Byzantine art and Cretan icon paintings.


Gallery 1 – In Greece the Neolithic Age succeeded the Paleolithic Age around 6500 BC and lasted until 3200 BC. It is characterized by permanent settlements, the systematic cultivation of the land, the domestication of animals and the crystallization of the religious beliefs. Improved techniques in stone-knapping facilitated the production of tools that to a point compensated for the absence of metal. Although the potter’s wheel had not yet been invented, clay vases of inspired shapes were made by hand and although living conditions were difficult, they in no way impeded the formation of an aesthetic with distinctive traits. Neolithic people wove cloth, dressed and adorned themselves, bartered goods, embarked on hazardous journeys on land and sea. The gallery, among other things, contains neolithic axes, adzes, figurines, monochrome and incised pottery.

Gallery 2 – During the Bronze Age, from 3200 to 1200 BC, the use of bronze was established and living conditions improved. In the early period there was a spectacular floruit in the Northeast Aegean islands, centered in Lemnos, and in the Cyclades. During the middle and late periods the civilizations of Minoan Crete and Mycenae were enhanced, covering the entire geographical area of Greece. In the collective subconsciousness of historical times the memory of there civilizations is etched in a sequence of fascinating myths that excite the imagination even today. Imposing and opulent palaces, impressive funerary monuments, cities fortified with Cyclopean walls, remarkable public works; these bear witness to the spectacular achievements, the economic basis of which is reflected in the treasures of gold artifacts brought to light in excavations. The Minoans and the Mycenaeans traveled throughout the Mediterranean as well as in the Black Sea, making contact with Egypt and the Middle eastern civilizations, founding emporia for their trading transactions. They invented writing to facilitate communication and gradually devise the pantheon of the Twelve Gods. The 12th and 11th centuries BC were a period of crisis and upheaval, the principal episodes in which were the Fall of Troy (1196 BC), the breaking up of central authority in the Mycenaean cities and the incursions of the “Sea peoples” from the Aegean and Asia Minor. There disturbances brought the Bronze Age to the end, with the introduction of iron-working technology, the manufacture of more durable weapons and the change in social stratification. During the Iron Age, 11th and 10th centuries BC, contacts via the sea lanes were reduced, to be intensified again in the 9th and 8th centuries BC, in direct proportion to the gradual improvement of living conditions. From the first half of the 8th century BC relations between Greeks and Phoenicians proliferated, resulting in the adoption of the Phoenician script, supplemented by Greek vowels. Around 700 BC Homer composed the Iliad and the Odyssey, in which the echoes of a world that travels in search of raw materials and new places to settle, insinuates itself between earlier memories. The art of this period moved away from the Greco-Mycenaean ideals, preferring stricter geometric canons for organizing its subjects. From 700 BC and during the course of the 7th century BC the geometric forms were gradually dissolved, with the introduction of a host of sappy vegetal motifs from the Orient, enriching the imaginative reserved of Greek art with mythical figures of a charming “exotic” worlds. Around the middle of this period Daedalic art conquered the monumental scale of expression in sculpture. This gallery contains Cycladic marble female figurines, Cypriot and Minoan pottery, Attic black-figure amphora and Geometric vases, rare gold diadem from Kos, unique “Euboea Treasure” with the two gold cups and Mycenaean gold jewelry.

Gallery 3 – By the 6th century BC the Hellenic worlds was decentralized in its organization, comprising a large number of independent city-states and an immense series of colonies developing in the coastal zone of the Mediterranean, yet remarkably cohesive in its cultural unity. From the Euxine Pontus, the Propontis and the Hellespont to the shored of Asia Minor, from North Africa, the coasts of Spain, France, Italy and Sicily to the Adriatic, this unity was forged by the strong bonds of the common language, the common traditions and the common religion. The major panhellenic sanctuaries of Apollo in Delphi, Zeus at Olympia and Nemea, Poseidon at Isthma, as well as the games held in there, played a role in boosting ethnic consciousness. The same can be said of the social struggles, which, from the aristocratic regimes and with intermediate variations, expressed for the first time in history the demand for Democracy. In myth the model of life is epitomized by Heracles and Theseus, in the constant struggle between good and evil. The 6th century BC discovered the necessity of laws, scientific research, philosophical contemplation and lyrical expression, while the detection of movement as a basic ingredient  of the process quickly freed monumental sculpture from the bonds of materiality and identifies the content of vitality with the concept of internal rhythm. This gallery contains cases and figurines from the pottery workshops in Attica, Corinth, Boeotia and Cyprus, bronze bowls from Macedonia, gold and silver jewelry from Northern Greece, a spectacular gold gorgoneion (gorgon’s head) to be sewn onto a textile.

Gallery 4 – With the stemming of the Persian tide in the historic battle of Marathon in 490 BC, the animating prudence of the fledgeling Athenian democracy was revealed. 10 years later, after Athens had been totally destroyed, the now united Greeks vanquished the far more numerous Persian forces in the legendary naval battle of Salamis, in 480 BC. During the ensuing period, Athens, despite its worsening relations with Sparta, reached its cultural zenith, under the guidance of Pericles. History with Herodotus and Thucydides, Tragedy with Aeschylus and Sophocles, Architecture with Iktinos and Kallikrates, Art with Polygnotos and Pheidias, shaped the concept of the Classical. Current ideas and great intellects of the day – Demokritos and Anaxogoras, Hippodamos and Hippokrates, Socrates and Protagoras, Euripides and Aristophanes – met and mingled in Athens. Although the catastrophic conflict between the Athenian and the Spartan Coalition in the years of the Peloponnesian War, waged between 431-404 BC, ended with the defeat of the Athenian Democracy, the Spartan forces were exhausted too. Art moved from the level of spirituality and internal balance of the time of the Parthenon to register the imminent changes, with a gradual weakening of the figures which emanate a disposition for fluidity and fugacity. This gallery contains examples of red-figure pottery, colossal double herm from Italy and marble statuette of Pan.

Gallery 5 contains the examples of sculpture of the 5th and 4th centuries BC: male head from Ancient Agora, votive Hekataion, head of Apollo Sauroktonos, a fragment of the funerary relief, etc. Dominating the center of the gallery is the late Archaic marble kalpe with relief of dolphins.

Gallery 6 – The 4th century BC was dramatic period for Athens, which tried in vain to regain part of its lost glory, as well as for other Greek cities, which were torn apart by the continuous conflicts between them. With the dissolution of the ed hoc coalitions, after the battle of Chaironeia in 338 BC, and the consolidation of the Macedonian hegemony, the Greeks, led by Alexander the Great, sought the solutions to their vital internal problems in the conquest of the East. Art continues the tradition of the 5th century BC but there is an underlying predilection for nostalgic reverie, a diffuse melancholy or a desperate disposition to break through the stifling cordon. Thus the dissolving inner world projected with increasing clarity the individual qualities and the singularity of the soul in each case. In the field of philosophical contemplation, Plato reasonably resorted to the sphere of ideas in order to seek the stable values there, while Aristotle, as a down-to-earth pragmatist, laid the bases of science by studying the species and the classes of phenomena. The fatigue and resignation of the age are expressed equally well by Epikouros, with the reduction of harmony to man’s distancing from public affairs and absorption in his personal felicity. Gallery contains small modeled vases, bronze mirrors, terra-cotta figurines from various regions, gold wreaths and jewelry, inscribed funerary monument of Herpyllis from Thrace bidding her loved ones farewell.

Gallery 7 – When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC the expansion of Hellenism from Egypt to India and the control of the East had already been achieved. The Greek language, used in economic transactions and cultural communications became the link connecting the different traditions of a vast state in which the cosmopolitan spirit predominated. The division of this state into several kingdoms and the continuous conflicts between the successors to Alexander the Great, the Diadochoi, gradually debilitated the Hellenic world, facilitating its subjugation to the Romans after the battle of Pydna in 168 BC. The art of the Hellenistic period in characterized on the one hand by the dramatic intensity of an extrovert endeavor to break through the bounds of space, and on the other by an introvert tendency to take idyllic refuge in the ordinary and the curious in everyday life. Intellectual inquiries were governed by the need for a now broader scientific assessment in the large libraries founded then. Gallery contains Attic pottery, a marble head of a young girl, gold jewelry from Eritrea and other areas, silver vases, sepulchral entablature from Boeotia, the monumental krater and hydria from Apulia, wall record stele, examples of Alexandrian art, works of the Roman period and the masterpieces of Hellenistic and Early Roman goldwork.

Gallery 8 – The Roman conquest of the geographical area in which Hellenism had spread in no way hampered the prospects of its historical progress. During the reigns of Augustus (27 BC – AD 14) and Hadrian (Ad 117-138) in particular, the Greek cities enjoyed a new economic and cultural heyday, while the major creation of the Hellenic past became the prototypes for the artistic expression of the new era. The artists, surpassing the classicizing stage of admiration, repetition and imitation, soon found the routes leading from the impressionist to an expressionist world view and, in the portrait specifically, the ways out of the dark depth of the soul. Exhibited around the perimeter of this gallery are examples of sculpture from various regions and periods; case contains the gold jewelry of the Roman period, from Egypt, Syria and other regions – golden statuette of Aphrodite, a neckless with a mounted gold coin of Emperor Hadrian, etc.

Gallery 9 – The founding of Constantinople by Constantine the Great (324-337) in the year AD 324, the transfer there of the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the state, marked the beginning of a new floruit. The empire that historians call Byzantine was based on the Graeco-Roman traditions of the East and its influence radiated to the ends of the Mediterranean, particularly during the reign of Justinian (527-565). The salvation of Constantinople from the siege of the Avars  in 626, during the reign of Heracleius (610-641), the defeat of the Persians in 627 and the tempestuous advances of the Arabs in the mid 7th century define the end of the Early Christian period. The gallery contains domestic vessels of glass, clay and bronze, the series of gold coins minted by the emperors of this period, bronze lamps with Christian symbols, a purple textile with gold motifs from Egypt, characteristic examples of linen and silk textiles from Egypt with Graeco-Roman mythological subjects, funerary portraits, double-sided encaustic icon with St. Paul the Apostle on one face and an unidentified saint on the other, pieces of Early Christian gold jewelry, etc

Gallery 10 – The arrangement of the interior of this small room evokes a sense of medieval Hellenism and of the atmosphere of the period between the reign of Heracleius and the Sack of Constantinople by mob of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. During the 8th and 9th centuries the Byzantine Empire was shaken by the religious and political-ideological conflicts of Iconoclasm. After the final Restoration of the Icons in 843, however, came reconstruction and reform, and in the following centuries, mainly during the era of the Macedonian dynasty (867-1056), its splendor radiated far and wide. Central authority was strengthened, economic recovery was achieved and in 1018 the Bulgar threat was quashed decisively. The rivalry in relations between Byzantium and the West came to a head in 1054 with the Schism of the Orthodox and the Catholic Church. Among the successes of foreign policy, however, was the conversion of the Rus to Christianity in 988, and in the sector of education the organization of the university, during the reign of Constantine IX Monomachos (1042-1055), which made Constantinople, along with Paris and Baghdad, one of the most important centers of advances studies in the then-known world. Gallery contains the paining with a scene of the Descent from the Cross from the church of St. Barbara at Latziana in Crete, icon of the Virgin from Thrace, fragment of a mosaic with the representation of the Crucifixion from an Italian church of the 8th century, a selection of illuminated manuscripts and gospel books, examples of Middle Byzantine bronzework, etc.


Gallery 11 – The loss of large parts of the Byzantine Empire after 1204 and the dire economic straits, in conjunction with Ottoman harassment, created a suffocating clime, despite the recapture of the Capital in 1261 by Michael VIII Palaeologos (1259-1282). In the 14th and 15th centuries the Bulgars and the Serbs created a mighty states in the Balkans, the Ottoman forces marched unimpeded throughAsia Minor and the never-ending civil strife completed the weakening of the Empire. Nevertheless, the coincidence of historical circumstances that led to the final collapse with the siege and fall of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, came in the wake of an exceptional cultural floruit during the period of the Palaeologan dynasty (1261-1453). It could be said that the laws governing historical events do not always hold for interpreting artistic and intellectual phenomena too. This gallery contains superb examples of the Byzantine painting of this period, which was of unrivaled sensitivity.

Gallery 12 – When Byzantium collapsed in 1453 not all Greek regions were subject automatically to the Ottomans. Cyprus, Crete, the Dodecanese, many of the Aegean islands, the islands in the Ionian sea and several cities of strategic importance in mainland Greece had, since 1204, been in the possession of Venice and other western powers that took part in the Fourth Crusade. Tough no less painful for the Greeks, the period of Latin Rule allowed them to keep their traditions. Concurrently, however, they absorbed many western traits. Crete enjoyed a particular artistic heyday during the 15th, 16th and part of the 17th centuries, where painting continued the Palaeologan tradition while at the same time receiving messages from Italian Renaissance art. In the first decade of the 17th century the poet Vincenzo Cornaro wrote the verse-play Erotokritos, the most important and inspired creation in Neohellenic literature. The capitulation of Candia (Herakleion) to the Ottomans in 1669 marked the demise of the so-called Cretan renaissance. The gallery contains mostly icons.


The first floor exhibits are organized geographically and are from Asia Minor, mainland Greece and the Greek Islands. There is also a collection of ecclesiastical silverware and jewelry.


Gallery 13 – Crete, Cyprus, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades during the period of foreign occupation. Despite the adverse conditions that prevailed under foreign rule, Frankish initially and Ottoman subsequently, the island world maintained its cultural tradition, distilling in the potions of its sensitivity potent influences from West and East. This process was helped by the relative independence that the community organization ensured as well as by the economic development that ensued from the favorable terms for Greek shipping of the Russian-Turkish treaties of Kutchuk Kainardji (1774) and Jassy (1792). Although ecclesiastical art flourished, thanks to the religious tolerance of the Ottomans, the shrinking of public life was not conducive to artistic output on a monumental scale. The islanders expressed their aesthetic needs mainly in the private space of the home, projecting their optimistic expectations in a somewhat ‘painterly’ manner, through the creation of an imaginary world of general efflorescence. The gallery contains a rare map of Greece painted in egg tempera on wood in the early 18th century, probably by a Venetian, but also, Cretan kilim, festival and bridal costumes and embroidery, wood-carvings and jewelry, the wooden “baldachin” for the sperveri (curtains of the bridal bed) from Rhodes, lace of Melos, examples of the 17th century Iznik ceramics, wooden fragments from Rhodan mansions and gold jewelry.

aaGallery 14 – Sporades, Thasos, Lemnos and Chios to Metilene, Samos, Asia Minor, the Pontos and Constantinople. As the traveler goes to the other Aegean islands, and from there to the areas of Asia Minor where the Greeks once flourished, s/he can’t fail to be impressed by the endless variety in the elaboration of specific local costume types, by the highly imaginative synthesis of the heterogeneous materials, by the profusion of color and the excellence of technique, but mainly by the assimilative power that fertilizes the creative inspiration. Impressive too is enslaved Hellenism’s need to communicate with the outside worlds, as is reflected in the host of works from West and East, that come from many regions and, in their turn, underline the exceptional burgeoning of trade during the 17th-19th centuries. The walls of the gallery are adorned with five rows of ceramics alluding to the usual decoration of the Greek house, mainly in the islands; the gallery also houses female and male costumes from Irikeri and Asia Minor, a full reconstruction of the interior of a house on Skyros, gold jewelry from the Aegean islands, Crete, the Dodecanese and the Cyclades, embroideries, etc.


Gallery 15 – Asia Minor, Thrace and Macedonia. It contains ceramics from Canakkale, chests, embroidery, female costumes of Thraces, Kavakli, Makra Gefyra and Macedonia.


Gallery 16 – The Greek communities of Smyrna, Constantinople and the Pontos. During the period of foreign rule, the Greek community in Constantinople, united around the Ecumenical Patriarchate, continued to flourish, playing a leading role in the economic and cultural life of the Ottoman Empire. During the same period, active Greek communities developed throughout Asia Minor and the Pontos, in South Russia and Central Europe, North Italy, Venice and primarily Trieste, as well as in important cities of western Europe, such as Paris and London. Contacts between the towns in Greece and the communities abroad were close and fruitful, leading to the improvement of living  standards and the cultivation of letters. The gallery contains several 19th century watercolors with the view of the Bosporus and Constantinople, ecclesiastical and secular gold embroideries of exquisite workmanship, gold jewelry, wedding crowns of 1855 with a karamanlidiki inscription, silver book cover, etc.


Galleries 17-19 – Economic prosperity and cultural brilliance in Macedonia and Epirus during the 18th century. Northern Greece didn’t experience the positive influences received by the islands as a consequence of Frankish rule. Nor was it affected by the favorable terms for navigation of the Russo-Turkish treaties. However, this didn’t prevent it from developing a dense network of communication with the Balkans and Central Europe, from where it drew a large part of its artistic inspiration and to where it disseminated a large part of its rich craft industrial production. Western Macedonia and Epirus, with their mountain massifs unsuitable for crop cultivation, favored the tide of emigration and the development of trade, with the consequent emergence of affluent families abroad and the influx of money to the Ottoman-held regions. Here too the architecture of the museum building imposed the placement of Epirus at the center of the exhibition area and the two mansions from western Macedonia at the edges. The galleries contain spectacular 18th century bedsheets from Epirus, decorated wood-carved chest, 18th century Epirot embroidery of monumental size and composition, two embroidered bridal cushions from Ioannina, stone fireplace with addorsed lions in champleve relief, etc. The interiors, into which the Epirus gallery extends, with reception rooms from two Macedonian mansions, represent the general trends of Neohellenic aesthetics as well as their debt to the spirit of Central European and Ottoman decorative tradition, and to the legacy of Byzantium.


Gallery 20 – Goldwork and silverwork from Northern Greece. The contents of this gallery offer further testimony of the quality of art in northern Greece as well as of its relations with the neighboring Balkan lands during the period of Ottoman rule. Of the jewelry ensembles exhibited, those with the silver strips should probably be attributed to workshops in Macedonia, while those with enameled decoration are apparently associated with Thrace.


Gallery 21 – From Thessaly to Epirus and from Aitoloakarnania to the Ionian Islands. This gallery contains female and male costumes from Ioannina and Metsovo, Corfu and Lefkadia, Missolonghi and Thesally, large silver and gilded belt buckles with spectacular hammered decoration, amulets,  interesting examples of Neohellenic pottery, gold jewelry, paintings, embroidery, a 19th century gold-embellished lentika from Zakynthos, etc.

Gallery 22 – Ancient monuments, landscapes and later towns in the Peloponnese. The majestic beauty of nature and the host of monuments from Antiquity soon attracted the interest of foreign travellers to the Peloponnese. However, conspicuous by their absence from the extant visual records are all references to everyday life, the material evidence of which was destined to disappear during the years of the War of Independence, with the bloody destructions and enemy reprisals. This explains the paucity of material from the Peloponnese, not only in the Benaki Museum but elsewhere too. This gallery contains watercolors, oil-paintings, Arcadian relief of 1869, wood-carved chests, two of the very few surviving female costumes from Peloponnese, etc.

Gallery 23 – Romantic impulses in travels to discover Greece through the rediscovery of antiquity. The case of Athens. Thanks to the travellers and their records, it was possible to reconstruct the physiognomy of the Greek country side of that times, for this began to change after the end of the War of Independence, at a pace consistent with the increasing urbanization and modernization of the state, to suffer even more serious adulterations in the years after WWII. The foreigners who came to Greece, motivated by a romantic disposition of escapism and drawn by the magnetism of the anarchical coexistence of the ideal of Antiquity with the despotism of the Ottoman occupation, as well as the exoticism of the East in its alluring juxtaposition to the suffocation conventionalism – for the more liberal spirits – of European reality after the French Revolution, contributed to the creation of the powerful philhellenic movement which gave its support, mainly moral, to the Struggle for Independence. The gallery contains watercolors, pencil drawings, engravings, one of the most precious historical documents in the Museum collection – a watercolor by the Venetian officer Giacomo Milheau Verneda of the bombardment of the Parthenon in 1687, items associated with Lord Byron’s presence in Greece, leather-bound sketch book of Sir William Gell, the girl’s costume of Aghia Anna in Euboea and the rare bridal costume of Attica, etc.

Gallery 24 – The islands of the Argosaronic Gulf. From the mid-18th century many island and coastal towns developed into important maritime centers with mercantile fleets that ploughed the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, while at the same time extending their routes to the west. Of the islands in the Argosaronic Gulf, seafaring flourished on Hydra and Spetses, and the prosperity of those times is evident even today in the surviving architecture. The appeal of other, poorer, islands, such as Salamis, was linked more directly with the persistence of historical memory, while on Aegina the spectacular ruins of the Aphaia temple continues to attract the worshippers of ancient beauty. The gallery contains parts of the painted wood-carved interior decoration from the mansion built on Hydra in 1800 by the bey Georgios Voulgaris, oil-paintings, watercolors, the female costumes from Hydra, Spetses and Salamis, etc.

Gallery 25 – The church as unifying element and ecclesiastical art as single expression during the years of foreign rule. The Orthodox church is the only institutional and administrative structure that survived after the end of the Byzantine Empire, to be transformed into a unifying element for Hellenism during the long period of foreign rule. Ecclesiastical art, as the most formal artistic expression of the Greeks, preserved, through the interwoven influences of oriental and occidental provenance, the functions of Byzantine tradition and the character of Byzantine aesthetics.  Exhibited in this gallery are spectacular wood-carved and gilded liturgical items from a church in Zakynthos, a holy-water baptism basin, icons, prelatic sakkos (chasuble) of silk woven with gold and silver threads, precious personal heirlooms of the Metropolitan of Caesaria, etc.

Gallery 26 – Masterpieces of gold embroidery, goldwork and silverwork.


Gallery 27 – The continuity of tradition in ecclesiastical painting of the 17th and 18th centuries. The stylistic idiom of painting that prevailed until the period of the War of Independence adopted trends already elaborated in the Ionian islands, where the Cretan tradition had been transplanted, while concurrently accepting influences from Italian Baroque and Flemish art. The workshops of the Greek mainland remained devoted to stricter traditional formats. By the turn of the 18th to the 19th century a folk disposition held sway everywhere, expressed in simple compositions and strong colors. This gallery contains the icons of Cretan-Heptanesian art, wood-craved and painted closure panels and iconostasis, processional crosses, liturgical fans and lamps, etc.


Gallery 28 – Ecclesiastical goldwork and silverwork of the 17th-19th centuries.

The second floor displays items relating to Greek spiritual, economic and social life; it contains the temporary exhibitions, the cafeteria and the terrace of the Museum.


Gallery 29 – Dance, music and song, dim reflections of the intellectual output of the Greek Enlightenment. It contains the representations of dance on a rare early 19th century embroidery from Epirus, watercolors, wind, string and percussion instruments, large glazed jar with sgraffito decoration of women dancing, illustrated manuscripts of ecclesiastical music from Asia Minor, a selection of important publications reflecting the interests and the educations aims of the era, text books on arithmetic, grammar, logic, history and rhetoric, etc.

Gallery 30 – The blessings of the sea and the hazards of the voyage. It contains the lithograph by Luigi Mayer of the harbor of Samos, and the tinted lithograph by Hilaire of the harbor of Tinos,  a very rare and much-used 19th century jug with sgraffita representation of a sailing ship, Neohellenic pottery, aquatints by Cartwright of the harbor of Zakynthos and Corfu in 1821 and scenes of daily nautical life there, etc.

Gallery 31 – From the struggle at sea to the toil for daily bread. This gallery contains silver icons, oil-paintings, 3 Russian icons, concise overview items of the rural economy related to cultivation of grain (yoke and plough, sickles, winnowing forks and shovels, stone handmill for grinding), etc.

Gallery 32- Oil and wine, pastoral economy and cottage industry, home and holiday. The gallery contains watercolors, iron pruners and an axe for tending the trees, wooden vessel for measuring and carrying the oil from the press, pitchers, clay flasks, a series of engravings relating directly or indirectly to bucolic life, rifles and pistols, silver tamatas (votive plaques), mould for casting an icon, domestic vessels of clay, metal and wood, pinakoti (wooden board with depression for bread dough), etc.

The third floor concentrates on the Greek War of Independence and modern political and cultural life.


Gallery 33 – The early years of the Struggle for Independence in Central Greece, the Peloponnese and the islands. In 1821, after 400 years of subjugation and repeated ill-fated insurrections, the Greeks tried once again to cast off the Ottoman yoke. The Revolution broke in the Peloponnese and Central Greece, and was followed by the creation of hearths of rebellion in Epirus, Mt. Olympos, Macedonia, Chilkidiki, the Aegean islands, Crete and Cyprus. The Greeks pitched their indomitable conviction against not only the numerically larger and better equipped army of their adversaries, but also, primarily, against the hostile attitude of the Great Powers that advocated the implementation of the decisions of the Vienna Conference (1815), the maintenance of the status quo in Europe and the integrity of the Ottoman Empire. As this unequal confrontation progressed, the moral support of Philhellenism, which drew along in its current free consciences from St. Petersburg to London and even to the US, was significant. The heroic deeds of the Greek War of Independence enriched the history of mankind with remarkable examples of self-sacrifice, self-awareness and self-respect, and inspired such great exponents of Romanticism as Pushkin, Goethe, Byron, Hugo and Delacriox. The gallery contains dedication to two towering poets who embraces the ideals of the National Insurgence: the Greek national poet and expresser of the visions of the Struggle, Dionysios Solomos from Zakynthos and the foremost representative of the Romantic Movement – Lord Byron; memorabilia of Rigas Pheraios, one of the most important figures in the Greek Enlightenment who strove to support the revolution of the enslaved nation in the intellectual awakening and collaboration of all Balkan people; mementoes of the infamous Ali Pasha of Ioannina, the flag of Theodiris Kolokotronis with the inscription “Freedom or Death”, oil-paintings, the flags of Hydra, etc.


Gallery 24 – From the period of the reverses to the declaration of Greek Independence and the dramatic end of Ioannis Capodistria. On 1 January 1822 the 1st national Assambly at Epidauros declared the “political existence and independence of the Greek Nation”, while the Greeks were continuing their efforts to consolidate the Struggle, with remarkable victories on land and sea, until 1823. From 1824, however, due to the inability – or rather the unwillingness – of the political governments to back up the operations of the military leaders, the two civil wars and the remastering of the enemy forces, the tide turned against them; the insurrection in Crete was quashed with great bloodshed on 6-8 June 1824, Kasos was destroyed totally and then Psara on 20-22 June 1824. The enemy armies, reinforced by Egyptian forces of Ibrahim Pasha, mercilessly burnt the Peloponnese and on 10 June 1925 they won back Tripolis. In Central Greece, after the second siege of Missolonghi from 15 April 1925, the total debilitation of its defenders and their heroic exodus on 10-11 April 1826, Reshit Pasha Kutahi threw a noose round the Acropolis of Athens on 23 August 1826. Georgios Karaiskakis began regrouping the Greek forces at Phaliron with the aim of unblocking the besieged, but was killed on the eve of the major assault he was preparing on 22 April 1827, resulting in the ignominious defeat of the revolutionary army on 24 April 1827. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks had been lost on the fields of battle, from massacres, famine and hardship. The towns and the villages lay in ruins, the land was uncultivable and the population had fled to the mountains. However, the prolonging of the Revolution “beyond all hope”, the impeding of European trade in the Middle East and the welling tide of the Philhellenism, forced the European governments to intervene for the restoration of peace, with the London Treaty of 6 July 1827. As a consequence of this the Turkish-Egyptian navy was defeated by the united British, French and Russian fleets on 8 October 1827 in Navarino Bay. After the election of Capodistria as Governor, by the 3rd national Assembly at Troizinia and his arrival in Greece in 1828, the revolutionary forces were remastered. They recaptured Central Greece and drove Ibrahim Pasha from the Peloponnese. Thanks to Capodistria’s intense diplomatic activity, the Independence of the Greek State was recognized with the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829 and the London Protocol on 22 January 1930. The great statesman’s reparative work was cut short by petty local interests and his assassination in Nafplion on 27 September 1831.The gallery contains lithograph depicting the Exodus from Missolonghi, oil-paintings dated 1830 and after, The Naval Battle of Navarino by Thomas Luny, the portrait of Lazaros Koundouriotis by Andreas Kriezis, oil-painting depicting Theodoris Koloktronis, the egg tempera from the lost series of the War of Independence, based on the narrations of General Ioannis Makriyannis to the folk painter Panayotis Zografos and his sons, etc.


Gallery 35 – Othon’s reign, the romantic view of and the realistic approach to Greek problems. In February 1832, with the blatant intervention of the Greek Powers, Othon, youngest son of the philhellene King Ludwig I of Bavaria, was chosen as King of Greece. During his reign, from 1833-1862, Athens was declared capital of the realm, foreign centralizing models of state organization were imposed, the administration was high-handed, the freedom-fighters of 1821 were pushed aside and problems accumulated at home and abroad. The growing reaction of the liberal Greek spirit culminated in the bloodless revolution of 3 September 1843 and the granting of a constitution, though this didn’t bring calm to the state. Othon’ attempts to extend the borders of the realm by supporting rebel movements in Crete, Thesally and Epirus, came up against the pro-Turkish policy of Britain and France. The hostile stance reached its dramatic peak with the blockade and occupation of Piraeus and Athens (1854-1857) during the Crimean War, to end with the abolition of the monarchy and Othon’s expulsion in 1862. The gallery contains furniture from the Voulgaris mansion on Hydra, portraits of Othon, oil-paintings, precious European jewelry of the 15th-19th century, porcelain, King Othon’s bible, etc.


Gallery 36 – The reign of George I, Eleftherios Venizelos, territorial expansion and the Greek catastrophe in Asia Minor. The enthronement of George I was accompanied by Great Britain’s transfer of the Ionian Islands to Greece (1864). His reign (1863-1913) was long and checkered, bedeviled by successive changes of government and acute problems at home and abroad, despite the modernizing efforts of Charilaos Trikoupis, the most important politician in this period. The continuous uprisings in Crete and the holocaust in the Arkadi Monastery (1866), the cession of Cyprus to Great Britain (1878), the Greek-Turkish war, the defeat in 1897 and the imposition of international economic control, the Bulgarian schism (1876) and the creation of the Macedonian issue, fanned the flames of abnormality and unrest until the Military league (1909) of dissident officers subverted the status quo, promoting Eleftherios Venizalos as premier political figure in 20th century Greece. Venizelos set his seal on all the significant events in the closing years of George’s reign and the much-troubled reign of his son, Constantine I, with his domination in politics from 1910, and the positive outcome of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913). The outbreak of WWI was followed by a long period of crisis during which the dissent between parliament and palace was exacerbated, Venizelos prevailed and Constantine withdrew, Greece sided with the allied forces and after the end of the war its territory was enlarged spectacularly. Venizelos triumphantly called the elections of 1920, which he lost, with the consequent return to the throne of Constantine, the erroneous move of the subsequent governments and the Greek catastrophe in Asia Minor in 1922. Nevertheless, that same year Venizelos was invited by the leaders of the Revolt, to represent Greece at Lausanne, to salvage whatever he possibly could and to sign the treaty which was to put an end to the Great idea of irredentism. Within a turbulent political clime, he formed a new government (1928-1932), was defeated again at the polls and went into self-imposed exile in Paris, where he died in 1936. The last exhibition unit in the Museum is marked on the right by two references to the events that brought about the dissolution of Othon’s reign, it contains oil-paintings, lithographs, furniture, original hand-written constitution, weapons of exquisite mainly oriental art, precious Victorian jewelry, formal costumes from the court of George I, memorabilia of Pavlos Melas, freedom fighter for Macedonia, mementoes of the Balkan Wars, items belonging to Venizelos, collection of poems, etc.

Sadly, we didn’t have time to see the entire collection in details but we will come back. And before returning to the apartment, D and I went to check out the famous Greek fur-shops. I have been impressed with the choice and quality but unfortunately, we didn’t buy anything.

aaAnd in the evening, D’s family took us out for dinner at one of the local restaurants. It was a great finale to our 3 week tour around Greece.


Pictures of Athens, August 2014

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