The National Archaeological Museum of Athens (Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο) in Athens houses some of the most important artifacts from a variety of archaeological locations around Greece from prehistory to late antiquity. It is considered one of the great museums in the world and contains the richest collection of artifacts from the Greek antiquity worldwide. It is situated in the Exarhia area in central Athens between the streets Epirus, Bouboulina and Tositsas while its entrance is on the Patission Avenue adjacent to the historical building of the Athens Polytechnic.
The first national archaeological museum in Greece was established by prime minister of Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias in Aigina in 1829. Since then the archaeological collection has been moved to a number of exhibition places until 1858, when an international architectural competition was announced for the location and the architectural design of the new museum.
The current location was proposed and the construction of the museum's building began in 1866 and was completed in 1889 using funds from the Greek Government, the Greek Archaeological Society and the society of Mycenae. Major benefactors were Eleni Tositsa who donated the land for the building of the museum, Demetrios and Nikolaos Vernardakis from Saint Petersburg who donated a large amount for the completion of the museum.
The initial name for the museum was The Central Museum and it was renamed to its current name in 1881 by Prime Minister of Greece Charilaos Trikoupis. In 1887 the prominent archaeologist Valerios Stais becomes the museums curator.
During the World War II the museum was closed and the antiquities were sealed in special protective boxes and buried, in order to avoid their destruction and looting. In 1945 exhibits were again displayed under the direction of Christos Karouzos.
The south wing of the museum houses the Epigraphic Museum with the richest collection of inscriptions in the world. The inscriptions museum expanded between 1953–1960 with the architectural designs of Patroklos Karantinos.
The museum has an imposing neo-classical
design which was very popular in Europe
at the time and is in full accordance with the classical
style artifacts that it houses. The initial plan was conceived by the architect Ludwig Lange
and it was later modified by Panages Kalkos
who was the main architect, Harmodios Vlachos
and Ernst Ziller
. At the front of the museum there is a large neo-classic
design garden which is decorated with sculptures.
Expansions and renovations
The building has undergone many expansions. Most important were the construction of new east wing in the early 20th century based on the plans of Anastasios Metaxas
and the erection of a two-storeyed building, designed by George Nomikos
, in 1932-1939. These expansions were necessary to accommodate the rapidly expanding collection of artifacts. The most recent refurbishment of the museum took more than 1.5 years to complete, during which the museum remained completely closed. It reopened in July 2004, in time for the Athens Olympics
and it included aesthetic and technical upgrade of the building, installation of a modern air-conditioning system, reorganisation of the museum's collection and repair of the damage that the 1999 earthquake
left to the building. The Minoan frescoes rooms opened to the public in 2005. On May 2008 the Culture Minister Mihalis Liapis inaugurated the much anticipated collection of Egyptian antiquities and the collection of Eleni and Antonis Stathatos.. Today, there is a renewed discussion regarding the need to further expand the museum to adjacent areas. A new plan has been put forward for a subterranean expansion at the front of the museum.
The museum's collections are organised in sections:
The prehistoric collection displays objects from the Neolithic
era (6800-3000 BC), Early and Mid-Bronze age
(3000-2000 BC and 2000 to 1700 BC respectively), objects classified as Cycladic
Neolithic era and early and mid-Bronze age collection
There are ceramic finds from various important Neolithic sites such as Dimini
from middle Helladic
ceramics from Boeotia
. Some objects from Heinrich Schliemann
excavations in Troy
are also on display.
Cycladic art collection
Cycladic collection features the famous marble figurines from the Aegean
islands of Delos
including the Lutist
. These mysterious human representations that resemble so much modern art and inspired many artists like Henry Moore
came from the 3rd millennium BC old cemeteries of Aegean islands along with bronze tools and containers.
Mycenean art collection
Mycenean civilization is represented by stone,bronze and ceramic pots, figurines, ivory, glass and faience obejcts, golden seals and rings from the vaulted tombs in Mycenae and other locations in the Peloponnese (Tiryns
). Of great interest are the two golden cups from Vafeio showiung a scene of the capture of a bull.
Heinrich Schliemann finds
Mycenean collection includes also the magnificent 16th century finds of Heinrich Schliemann
from the circle A graves and the much earlier circle B graves. Most notable are the golden funerary masks covering the faces of
the deceased Mycenean leaders. Among them, the most famous is the one that was named erroneously as the mask of Agamemnon
There are also finds from the citadel of Mycenae
including relief stelae, golden containers, glass, alabaster and amber tools and jewels. Other highlights are a group in ivory showing two goddesses with a child, a painted limestone head of a goddess and the famous warrior's vase dating from the 12th century.
Egyptian Art collection
The Egyptian collection dates back to the last twenty years of the 19th century, while it is worthy to note the donation of the Egyptian government which in 1893 offered nine mummies of the era of the Pharaohs. However, the Egyptian collection is mainly by two donors, Ioannis Dimitriou (in 1880) and of Alexandros Rostovic (in 1904). In total the collection includes more than 6000 artefacts. However today only 1100 of them are available for the public. The collection is considered to be one of the best collections of Egyptian art in the world.
The exhibition features rare statues, tools, jewels, mummies, a wooden body tag for a mummy, a stunning bronze statue of a princess, intact bird eggs and a 3000-year-old loaf of bread with a bite-sized chunk missing. The exhibition centrepiece is a bronze statue of the princess-priestess Takushit, dating to around 670 BC. Standing 70cm high and wearing a gown covered in hieroglyphs, the statue was found south of Alexandria in 1880.
Stathatos collection took its name by the donors and major Greek benefactors Antonis and Eleni Stathatos. The collection features about 1000 objects mainly jewels as well as metal objects, vases and pottery from the Middle Bronze Age
era. Its highlights are the Hellenistic period
golden jewels from Karpenissi
Artists and artefacts
Some of the ancient artists whose work is presented in the museum are Myron, Scopas, Euthymides, Lydos, Agoracritus, Agasias, Pan Painter, Wedding Painter, Meleager Painter, Cimon of Cleonae, Nessos Painter, Damophon, Aison (vase painter), Analatos Painter, Polygnotos (vase painter), Hermonax.
Collections include sculpture work, Loutrophoros, amphora, Hydria, Skyphos, Krater, Pelike, and lekythos vessels, Stele, frescoes, jewellery, weapons, tools, coins, toys and other ancient items.
Artefacts derive from archaeological excavations in Santorini, Mycenae, Tiryns, Dodona, Vaphio, Rhamnous, Lycosura, Aegean islands, Delos, the Temple of Aphaea in Aegina, the Sanctuary of Artemis Orthia in Sparta, Pylos, Thebes, Athens, the Antikythera wreck and from various other places across Greece.
The museum houses the archaic terracota statuette daidala that inspired the designers of the 2004 Athens Olympics maskots Athena and Phevos.
Two of the newest exhibits of the museum include a 4th century BCE golden funenary wreath and a 6th century BCE marble statue of a woman, which were returned as stolen artifacts to Greece in 2007 by the Getty Museum in California, after a 10 year-old legal dispute between the Getty Center and the Greek Government.
One year earlier, the Los Angeles foundation agreed to return a 4th century BCE tombstone from near Thebes and a 6th century BCE votive relief from the island of Thassos.
Library of archaeology
The museum houses a 118 year old library of archeology with rare ancient art, science and philosophy books and publications. The library holds some 20,000 volumes, including rare editions dating to the 17th century. The bibliography covers Archaeology
, ancient religions
and ancient Greek philosophy
, as well as Ancient Greek and Latin literature. Of particular value are the diaries of various excavations incluning those of Heinrich Schliemann
. The collection of archaeology books is the richest of its kind in Greece
. The Library is has been recently renovated with funds from the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation
. Its renovation was completed in 26 May 2008 and is now named after Alexander Onassis
- Conservation laboratories
- Photographic archive and chemistry laboratories
- Organises temporary exhibitions in the museum and abroad
- Hosts a large number of archaeology related lectures in its lecture-hall annually.
The museum is easily accessible with the Athens metro
. It is five minute walk from Viktoria station
and a ten minute walk from Omonoia station
. Access is free for children up to 6 year old and students. The museum houses a large recently renovated gift shop with artifact replicas and a popular cafe for tourists in the sculpture garden. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible. There are also facilities and guides for hearing impaired visitors.