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A Flight at the Museum

A paper plane flies over the permanent collections of Benaki Museum.

www.benaki.org/

Thousands of artworks are displayed in this grand, neoclassical building that holds Greece’s most representative cultural treasures.

Regal and imposing, it could be named the jewel in the crown of the astonishing, approximately 150 museums Athens has to offer. The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture in Kolonaki is the flagship of the seven museums that make up the Benaki “family.”

And this Museum of Greek Culture is in fact the embodiment of Greek culture past and present. It is, remarkably, the only museum in the world that shows the continuity of Greek culture from the Stone Age until modern times. It offers carefully chosen emblematic and rare Greek paintings, sculptures, furniture, costumes, jewelry, icons, and artifacts. In a city teeming with history and dizzying choices, it remains a must-see stop for tourists, while for Athenians, it commands universal respect. An oasis of culture in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Athenian downtown life, it will take you on a serene and inspiring visual journey through artworks that stretch from Paleolithic times to this day. Its collection contains an astounding 6,000 artworks, its library, 200,000 books.

Occupying an elegant white marble Neoclassical building across from the National Gardens, it houses the collection of art collector Antonis Benaki (1873–1954). He donated his collection to the Greek nation in 1930, and ever since the name has been highly regarded in the art world. Visitors can feast their eyes on resplendent marvels of all types while immersing themselves in an all-encompassing journey through Greek culture.

Worth pointing out, in a separate wing, is the astoundingly beautiful icon collection. It features a mesmerizing array of deep red and gold icons that are spot lit in dim surroundings so that they glitter and shine, seducing visitors and encouraging them to take a closer look at the world of iconography. This area is dedicated to the beloved late director of the museum, Angelos Dellivorias, whose artistic sensibilities were legendary. The top floor contains a wing that showcases temporary exhibitions, where an array of notable artists from around the world are displayed.

The charming Director of the Benaki Museums, George Manginis, shared a poignant remark with me when he pointed out that the Benaki museums offer Athenians and visitors a “way of life.” It’s true that this plethora of cultural information is not merely an art museum or even a historical museum. It is a vibrant and pulsing engine of research, book publications, educational programs, and events among other things. It also includes an indisputably unique shop that sells high-quality beautiful art, artifacts, etc. by emerging, talented Greek artists. The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture is, in short, the beating heart of Greek culture and has won the admiration of people world over.

* The Benaki Museums include the Benaki Museum/ Nikos Hadjikyriakos- Ghika Gallery, the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art, the Benaki Museum/Valadoros Collection, the Benaki Museum/Pireos 138, the Benaki Toy Museum, the Benaki Museum/ The Yannis Pappas Studio, the Benaki Museum/ the Patrick Leigh Fermor house in Kardamyli.

By Joanna Papadopoulos

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