Sightseeing > National museum

At 1 Tositsa Street (but the public entrance faces Patission Avenue). Don’t rush in. Enjoy the setting first. From Patission you walk through a spacious garden with cafes beneath palm trees, up to a long, classical facade above a sweep of marble steps – ususally crowded with and footloose young travelers in search of a heritage, or a companion, and crowds of tourists pouring from sightseeing buses. It’s not unusual for 8,000 people to visit this museum in one day.

Once in the exhibition rooms proper you’re left with no doubt that here is the world’s grandest collection of antiquities. Years after you’ve visited the National Archaeological Museum, its treasures will be imprinted on your mind. You need several hours, if not several days, to see everything here. Go on your own rather than on a tour, when you’ll be whisked through so quickly you won’t remember a thing; on the other hand, if you have time for several visits, it might be an idea to take a tour first time round, make a mental note of exhibits, you want to see in a more leisurely manner, then return again on your own. At any rate, the Museum should be right after the Acropolis on your list of priorities – particularly if you intend to visit, or have just visited, other ancient sites in Greece.

All the treasures from Mycenae are here in Athens, and the distant site really comes alive before your eyes, when you see the fantastic collection of objects discovered at the dig by the famous German archaeologist Schliemann. Note the magnificent beaten gold mask of a man with beard and moustache taken from the fifth Shaft Grave: Schliemann claimed, having removed the mask, to “have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon”. The Mycenean Hall contains a staggering variety of finds: intricate gold and silver dagger blades, gold-leaf portrait masks, breastplates, swords, libation cups, and many representations of animals and birds – all dating from around 1550 B.C.

Contrast these objects of exquisite craftsmanship with the comparatively crude statues of the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. – the stiff, upright Kouros or youth is represented naked with one foot forward and the Kore or maiden is draped. Examples of this sculptural style have been found all over mainland Greece and the islands. Another remerkable category of exhibits (not grouped together) consists of bronzes, some of which have lain beneath the sea for the past two thousand years. Most famous of them is the statue of Poseidon, dating from 450 B.C. He stands poised to hurl his trident (which has long since disappeared), not far from the bronze head of Hermes (which was discovered at Piraeus) and the Horse and Jockey of Artemission.

If you are a lover of fine pottery, upstairs there’s a huge and bedazzling collection of red and black figured bases of all shapes, from all periods. (The pieces you will see in the gift shops, with little metal tags attached, are hand-painted authenticated copies of these originals in the Museum.)

You should also visit the exhibition of the finds from Santorini (or Thira, as it has now been officially named), the frescoes alive with colorful representations of swallows, monkeys, dolphins, and elegant figures of youths and maidens. Thira/Santorini was an island civilization that flourished at the same time as the Minoan, back there in the second millenium B.C. The islanders built luxurious homes and decorated them with gorgeous murals and pottery. But one day, as legend has it, “Enkeladus in the bowels of the Earth was roused with undescribable fury” and the ensuing earthquake wiped out Thira

These paragraphs describe maybe one-millionth of this museum’s treasures; unless you have time to pay several visits, confine your tour to a couple of halls, and within each focus on a couple of showcases – such as the displays of gold rings, bracelets, and seals.


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