The Byzantine and Christian Museum
Christian icons, elaborate altar screens (iconostases), and vestments trimmed with gold are some of the exhibits one can admire in one of the most renowned museums in the world. A visit to the Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens will prove that the end of history has not been written yet.
For those not acquainted with its austere architecture, the Museum resembles an urban monastery. However, the Byzantine and Christian Museum is not a monastery, but a place where treasure spanning centuries is kept: the treasure of an imperial past and a cultural heritage that opened the way to Europe's future. Situated right at the heart of Athens, the Museum has more than 25,000 artιfacts in its possession, originating from the 3rd to the 15th century and arranged in collections. A new gallery featuring the post-Byzantine collection with objects from the 16th to the 20th century is due to open soon. The exhibits are mainly from Greece, Asia Minor and the Balkans. Sculptures, icons, miniatures, frescoes, pottery and fabrics, manuscripts, sketches, anthivola (preparatory drawings), etchings and incunabula, as well as reproductions of Byzantine and post-Byzantine frescoes and mosaics, can be seen in the show-cases of the Museum.
A Museum before the Museum
Initially, the Byzantine and Christian Museum was housed in the Academy of Athens, where the first collections were presented to the public in 1924. However, in 1930 the Museum was moved to the Villa Ilissia which had been built by the architect Stamatios Kleanthis for the Duchess of Plakentia. The main building, whose exterior is covered with marble tiles, consists of two levels and a basement. This building is a towering construction at the far end of the courtyard and is complemented by two low wings on either side, initially built for ancillary purposes, and by a building at the front housing the entrance gate. Architect Aristotelis Zachos designed the interior of the main building so that it could house religious artefacts. The most radical architectural interventions are visible in the basement of the main building where three halls were remodelled to look like characteristic temples of the Paleochristian, Byzantine, and post-Byzantine periods, while the various artefacts, and the sculptures in particular, were set up in such a way so as to allude to their original contexts. Icons and miniatures were exhibited on the upper floor. The left wing of the compound houses various illustrative types characteristic of Byzantine art, while the right wing features manuscripts, reproductions of sculptures, mosaics and frescoes. In the centre of the whole compound there is a round courtyard designed by architect Kimon Laskaris.
A Historical Flashback
The first part of the exhibition is related to the Paleochristian and Byzantine period. This journey back in time starts with the introduction to the Byzantine Empire and its connection to the ancient world. It consists of six thematic subunits: old forms - new symbols; the secular world; the temples of the new religion; the Christianization of ancient temples; Christian Egypt - coptic art; and final resting place: the Christians before death. The second major thematic unit attempts to give a picture of the world of Byzantium presenting important aspects of Byzantine society and it consists of nine subunits: power and administration; the critical milestone; worship and art; the frescoes of a Byzantine temple: Diocese of Evritania; Attica: a Byzantine province; Francs and Romans in Byzantium; facets of public and private life; the last days of glory; and the fall of Constantinople. Soon there will be a new subunit featuring the period up to the 20th century.
Life inside the Museum
The Byzantine and Christian Museum is not merely a place that brings us closer to the past. Through its various activities (exhibitions, workshops, scientific conferences, musical events, lectures and book presentations) it builds a cultural relationship with all aspects of the modern era. One example is the "Adventure of a Monument," as is the name of one the educational programmes that are being prepared by the Museum in accordance with the main theme and the structure of its exhibits, as well as the regular exhibitions that are hosted there. Such programmes are intended both for organised groups of visitors and for primary and secondary school students. Leaflets with information about its past and current projects can be found at the Museum ticket office.
A Living History
Before you leave the Museum, make sure you visit the gift shop where you will discover faithful reproductions of icons, gravures, frescoes, jewellery and various accessories. You will also find CDs, CD-ROMs, audio- and videotapes, books, cards, posters, children's books, games and jigsaw puzzles.
Address: 22 Vas. Sophias Avenue, 106 75 Athens
Telephone: +30 210 72 11 027, +30 210 72 31 570
Fax: +30 210 72 31 883
Open: Tuesday - Sunday: 08.30 - 15.00
Tickets: €4 (reduced €2)
How to get there: It is a 15-minute walk from Evagelismos Metro Station or from Syntagma Square. If coming by bus or trolley, use the Rigillis Street stop. Both indoor and outdoor areas of the Museum are fully accessible to visitors with disabilities.