As an avid learner and museum aficionado, my life’s best days have been spent in the halls of the Borghese Gallery, the British Museum and The Prado. When I travelled to Athens to celebrate my 30th birthday, I appointed several days of my itinerary for exploring Athens’ museums. These museum visits not only enriched my vacation, but expanded and deepened my understanding of Mediterranean history.
NEW ACROPOLIS MUSEUM: Having visited Greece on an occasion before the new museum was opened, The New Acropolis Museum was my first priority. The museum is nestled comfortably below the staunch protection of Acropolis Hill and beside the cozy Plaka neighborhood. Its glass faηade and the active excavations below the entrance was a stately and proper introduction to the priceless jewels within. The glass floors, interactive videos and nicely appointed museum shop supported the expansive Parthenon Gallery. The Gallery features panels of the temple, with the entire floor of the building mimicking scale and dimensions of the actual Acropolis structure. The plaques marking missing artifacts currently housed in other institutions provoked me to ponder the ethics of archaeology, ownership and education.
NATIONAL ARCHAEOLOGY MUSEUM: Fresh out the door from the New Acropolis Museum, appetite satiated by a snack from Monastiraki Square, I took the train to the National Archaeology Museum. I did not believe a museum could possibly trump the New Acropolis Museum, but through the volume of artifacts, expanse of geography and epochs of time, the National Archaeology Museum reigns supreme. With over forty rooms of organized, well-marked and pleasantly lit treasures, this edifice entertained me for hours. There were plenty available docents, and the museum allows for non-flash photography, affording a pictorial register for memory. Toys, sculptures, paintings, jewelry and numismatic currency are on display from Roman, Egyptian, Spartan, Mycenae, Cretian and numerous other civilizations. Like my first vision of the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and Velasquez’ Las Meninas in the Prado, when my eyes met The Death Mask of Agamemnon, my lungs spontaneously emptied. To witness such a timeless and famous piece is a gift.
BYZANTINE MUSEUM: As a Protestant growing up in New England, I am well-versed in Reformation history. What happened, though, between the Crucifixion and Martin Luther? The Byzantine Museum answers that question through 1500 years of historical pieces. The building is unique in that it is somewhat sub-terranean, well cooled and dimly lit. The volume of docents (all clad in parkas to combat hours standing in the cold) eagerly answered questions or offered insight when a visitor stood at a display case for a period of time. The original art textiles, Eucharistic instruments, ceramics, icons, paintings and pediments are displayed in geographic and chronological groupings, making time flow under patrons’ feet.
Greece has done an exceptional job of collecting, organizing, preserving and presenting the area’s priceless artifacts, and in doing so has created numerous remarkable museums. Treat yourself to at least two on your next trip to Greece, the educational epicenter of the modern world.