Museums and Culture in Athens
With the embarrassment of riches that is Greece’s history, Athens’ museums are superb showcases of all things Greek. Most of Athens’ archaeological museums could also be characterised as art museums, what with their troves of Greek and Roman sculptures, pottery and jewellery. But there are also several museums dedicated to painting, etching, contemporary art forms such as installations, and rotating exhibitions of international shows.
Byzantine & Christian Museum
This outstanding museum does not look like much at first, but its exhibition halls lead one to the next in an expansive underground maze of glimmering gold and mosaics. The exhibits go chronologically, charting the gradual and fascinating shift from ancient traditions to Christian ones, and the flourishing of a distinctive Byzantine style. Of course there are icons, but also delicate frescoes (some salvaged from a church and installed on haunting floating panels) and more personal remnants of daily life.
Benaki Museum of Greek Culture
Antonis Benakis, a politician's son born in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 19th century, endowed what is perhaps the finest museum in Greece. Its three floors showcase impeccable treasures from the Bronze Age up to WWII. Especially gorgeous are the Byzantine icons and the extensive collection of Greek regional costumes, as well as complete sitting rooms from Macedonian mansions, intricately carved and painted. Benakis had such a good eye that even the agricultural tools are beautiful.
This dazzling museum at the foot of the Acropolis' southern slope showcases its surviving treasures. The collection covers the Archaic period to the Roman one, but the emphasis is on the Acropolis of the 5th century BC, considered the apotheosis of Greece's artistic achievement. The museum reveals layers of history: ruins are visible in its floor, and, through floor-to-ceiling windows, the Acropolis is always visible above. The surprisingly good-value restaurant has superb views; there’s also a fine museum shop.
National Archaeological Museum
This is one of the world’s most important museums, housing the world's finest collection of Greek antiquities in an enormous neoclassical building. Treasures offering a view of Greek art and history – dating from the Neolithic era to Classical periods, including the Ptolemaic era in Egypt – include exquisite sculptures, pottery, jewellery, frescoes and artefacts found throughout Greece. The beautifully presented exhibits are displayed mainly thematically.