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Monday, October 24, 2016

10/12: Athens' Benaki Museum, National Garden & Olympeion

Earlier today, we had visited the Acropolis, Hadrian’s Library and the Changing of the Evzones Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the city’s Syntagma Square. Just a few minutes away was the Benaki Museum. Greece’s oldest private museum was established in 1926 by an illustrious Athenian family and was set in the family's imposing neoclassic mansion in the posh Kolonaki neighborhood.
The museum covered the entire history of Greece with displays from the Bronze Age up to WWII. Ancient Athenian tomb steles, Byzantine jewelry, icons, an Ottoman-era living room, items from the War of Independence and some well-known ancient art pieces were also here. Beautiful religious art and also lots of textiles and period costumes were included as well– it sounded like it would be ideal for us. The building was roughly chronologically organized.

The following were some of my favorite pieces from the 100,000 plus item collection. This first one was from the Middle Geometric I Period, circa 8,000 BC. I certainly had never known there had been such a period!
A relief from a Cretan workshop from the mid 7th century BC:
This 7th century BC piece was restored from fragments – I needed to make sure I didn’t knock it over by mistake since it was freestanding! 
An early 5th century BC terracotta figure of Athena:
A terracotta figure Bust of Dionysus holding a jug of wine; i.e. showing his well known relationship with wine!
Fragment of mosaic decoration depicting a church from the eastern Mediterranean, circa 5th-6th century. Going through the Museum, I was just spellbound at the incredible condition of these ancient antiquities.
Fragment of a wall painting depicting Moses from a 7th-9th century church in Egypt:
Grave marker from the late 4th/early 3rd centuries BC from Boetia in central Greece including the name of the deceased:
A stunning wreath of gold oak leaves also from the late 4th/early 3rd centuries BC:
A very evocative marble grave stele with the deceased sitting down and bidding farewell to her loved ones; her maidservant is behind her. A stele was a stone or wooden slab, generally taller than it is wide, erected as a monument and used for funerary or ceremonial purposes.
I spent little time looking at the huge collection of icons as I had seen so many of them recently to truly appreciate these.

Costume from 17th century Crete in the Aegean Islands during their occupation by German tribes known as the Franks:

Reception room from a mid-18th century mansion in Kozani, Macedonia:

The lovely crystal chandelier could be seen from every floor. I wonder how that is ever cleaned!
Sedan chair: Note the iron grips through which poles were passed to transport the passenger by porters in the late 18th century. The chair appeared so very confining and claustrophobic to me as there was not one inch of space between where the woman's knees would be and the front of the chair and no room on either side by her arms either. It was like being in a starightjacket but sitting up.
The following icons were not in the same collection as the previous ones I had spent little time seeing. This was called In Thee Rejoiceth, and was a monumental icon illustrating the hymn of the same name, referring to the Virgin, according to the tag.
Steven had gone ahead of me much earlier in the museum as it takes me longer going through museums as I take photos and write down what has caught my fancy. I was surprised, therefore, he had waited for me here so we could appreciate this piece together. 

The Last Judgement: According to the label, the ‘iconographic wealth and rich color palette place this icon among the artist’s finest creations.’ It was painted in the second half of the 17th century. There were fifty mini paintings with a larger one in the center called The Akathistos. I am sure you can understand how it kept our attention for several minutes. These two paintings had themselves been worth the price of admission to the Benaki Museum.
The painter of the Hymn and The Last Judgment painting, done in 1774, recorded his place of origin, Athens, next to his signature. 
The Transfiguration, circa 1600, from a church in Constantinople, now Istanbul. The tag said the painting was associated with the style of paintings done in Mt. Athos. We had first seen paintings done by the monks at Mt. Athos when visiting the fabulous Icon Museum in Belgrade.
Lateral sanctuary door from the Church of the Holy Trinity in Corfu, dated 1688:
Silver handmade offerings that continued the Byzantine tradition of religious offerings, dated the late 19th and early 20th centuries: 

I next saw an exhibit of works by George Lappas called Happy Birthday. I couldn’t tell for sure but this looked like an image of a prison yard or a concentration camp.

I think I was supposed to have paid extra to see this special exhibition. But I wasn't asked and I didn't volunteer and wouldn't have paid more to see this room.
A large room dealt with Greece’s history represented through the medium of art. These 32 hand-colored lithographs depicting the Liberation of Greece caught my eye.

There was a fair-sized collection of war posters and paintings, something you don't see in a lot of museums.

The flag with the inscription ‘Union or Death’ belonged to a priest and chieftain who was one of the leaders of the Cretan Revolution in 1895.
Steven and I normally lose each other pretty quickly in museums as we like to each go at our own pace and have different preferences of what we want to spend time seeing. When I returned to the entrance, I didn’t realize that I was the last visitor in the museum. Steven was waiting for me at the entrance as they closed the doors! As we hurried out the door, we both said the Benaki should certainly make it on anybody's short list of really good museums.

Across the street from the Benaki Museum was the National Garden but it was more like a forest as there were very few flowers which is what I was expecting from its name. It turned out that the National Garden was the first organized, ornamental park in Greece. Its design was begun in 1839 with the import of 15,000 ornamental plants from Milan.

What a lovely philosophy:
It was so peaceful walking through the Garden especially since we could only hear faint rumblings of rush hour traffic nearby.

Photographers had this bride twirling around for a couple of minutes repeatedly to get the best shot. I wouldn’t have thought that they needed to try that hard as she looked beautiful each time to my unbiased eye.

This large, impressive building in the Garden was the Zappeion Conference Center.
From there, it was just a quick hop to the Olympeion, the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It was a colossal ruined temple in the center of the city dedicated to Zeus, king of the Olympian gods. 
A lovely view of the Acropolis from the entrance to the Olympeion:

Steven said it was too crowded here!
Construction of the Olympeion began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world. It was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD some 638 years after the project had begun. During the Roman periods it was renowned as the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest cult statues in the ancient world.

Seeing the toppled column immediately made me think of Humpty Dumpty!

The mammoth columns seemed higher than the Parthenon.

These photos just can’t do the Olympeion justice; what a sense of awe and wonder as we walked all around it to see it in different lights and shadows as the sun was setting.
In 131-132 AD, a triumphal arch, known as Hadrian's Gate, was erected by Athenians by the Olympeion in honor of the Emperor for his many public works in the city of Athens. It marked the boundary between the old and the new city. 

A view of Hadrian’s Gate with the Parthenon behind it:

The monument had two facades and the same features and was divided into two distinct parts: one a Roman style and the other, Greek. There were two inscription above the archway. On the west side, it said, 'This is the city of Theseus.'  On the east side, it said, 'This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.' 

Final shots of the Acropolis, one near the Olympeion and Hadrian's Arch and the other from nearer our hostel, an hour later:

It is hard to think of life getting any better than the few hours we spent wandering around Athens' marvelous Benaki Museum, topped by a stroll in the National Garden and being mesmerized by the Olympeion and Acropolis in the waning light of day.

Posted from Luxor, Egypt on October 24th, 2016.


  1. Was waiting for the picture of dad drinking out of the water fountain. Please tell me there is one

  2. The acropolis after dark - awesome. Lil Red


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