National Archaeological Museum, Athens

National Archaeological Museum of Athens
Established 1829
Location Patission Avenue, Athens, Greece Greece
Type National museum
Public transit access Athens Metro stations:
Viktoria station, Omonoia station
Website Official website

The National Archaeological Museum (Greek: 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 Greek antiquity worldwide.[1] It is situated in the Exarhia area in central Athens between Epirus Street, Bouboulinas Street and Tositsas Street while its entrance is on the Patission Street 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.[2]

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 museum's 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.[3]

The building

Floor plan of the museum.

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.[2]

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.[2] 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.[4] On May 2008 the Culture Minister Mihalis Liapis inaugurated the much anticipated collection of Egyptian antiquities and the collection of Eleni and Antonis Stathatos.[5] 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.


Minotaur bust.

The museum's collections are organised in sections:[6]

Prehistoric collection

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 and Mycenaean art.

Neolithic era and early and mid-Bronze age collection

There are ceramic finds from various important Neolithic sites such as Dimini and Sesclo from middle Helladic ceramics from Boeotia, Attica and Phthiotis. 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 and Keros including the Lutist. These mysterious human representations that resemble so much modern art and inspired many artists like Henry Moore[7] came from the 3rd millennium BC old cemeteries of Aegean islands along with bronze tools and containers.

The mask of Agamemnon, one of the best known pieces shown in the museum.

Mycenean art collection

Mycenean civilization is represented by stone, bronze and ceramic pots, figurines, ivory, glass and faience objects, golden seals and rings from the vaulted tombs in Mycenae and other locations in the Peloponnese (Tiryns and Dendra in Argolis, Pylos in Messinia and Vaphio in Lakonia). 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 19th century finds of Heinrich Schliemann in Mycenae 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

Bronze head of bearded man with furrowed brow and unruly hair
The philosopher's head from the Antikythera wreck.

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 artifacts. 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 70 cm high and wearing a gown covered in hieroglyphs, the statue was found south of Alexandria in 1880.[8]

Stathatos collection

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 to post-Byzantine era. Its highlights are the Hellenistic period golden jewels from Karpenissi and Thessaly.

Artists and artefacts

The Antikythera mechanism (main fragment).

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.

Artifacts 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, Cave of Archedemos the Nympholept, the Antikythera wreck and from various other places across Greece.[2]

The museum houses the archaic terracota statuette daidala that inspired the designers of the 2004 Athens Olympics maskots Athena and Phevos.

New exhibits

Two of the newest exhibits of the museum include a 4th century BC golden funerary wreath and a 6th century BC 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.[9] One year earlier, the Los Angeles foundation agreed to return a 4th century BC tombstone from near Thebes and a 6th century BC votive relief from the island of Thassos.[10]

Museum highlights

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.[11] The bibliography covers Archaeology, History, Arts, ancient religions and ancient Greek philosophy, as well as Ancient Greek and Latin literature. Of particular value are the diaries of various excavations including those of Heinrich Schliemann. The collection of archaeology books is the richest of its kind in Greece. The Library 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.[12]

Museum Activities

  • 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.

Visitors information

The museum is accessible with the Athens metro. The nearest stations are Viktoria station and Omonia station. The museum houses a gift shop with artifact replicas and a café in the sculpture garden. The museum is fully wheelchair accessible. There are also facilities and guides for hearing impaired visitors.


See also


  1. ^ Hellenic Ministry of Culture | National Archaeological Museum
  2. ^ a b c d The National Archaeological Museum (2000) Euangelia Kypraiou Archaeological Receipts Fund Direction of Publications, Athens Greece
  3. ^
  4. ^ | National Archaeological Museum
  5. ^ Egyptian antiquities exhibition
  6. ^ Sculpture in the National Archaeological Museum, Athens (2002) Nikolaos Kaltsas Getty Trust Publications: J. Paul Getty Museum, California, USA
  7. ^ Early cycladic sculpture: its aesthetics and its influences on Henry Moore and Constantin Brâncuşi DEB Lercher - 1979 - State University of New York at Binghamton
  8. ^ Priceless ancient Egyptian relics go on display[dead link]
  9. ^ BBC NEWS | Europe | Ancient wreath returns to Greece
  10. ^ Arts - Greece closes net on antiquities smuggling
  11. ^ | Rare tomes
  12. ^ | This Week

External links

Coordinates: 37°59′21″N 23°43′57″E / 37.98917°N 23.7325°E / 37.98917; 23.7325

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