Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum is the country’s oldest privately owned museum, and it is a monument in culture and art commemoration dedicated by the Benakis family. The Benakis family was a prominent Greek family who maintained their wealth after the 1921 Greek War of Independence. The Benaki Museum Athens was established in 1929, the year Emmanouil Benakis died. Born in Syros, Greece in 1843, Emmanouil would eventually become the mayor of Athens, after beginning political life in 1910. He would ultimately end up being jailed and then exiled for his political beliefs, and chiefly for his support of Venizelos. Collector, and son of Emmanouil, Antonis Benakis (1873-1954) was born during his father’s term as a cotton merchant in the city of Alexandria, Egypt. His love for collecting was fostered from the time he was a youth, and his collection grew in significance as he consulted prominent scholars who would help him determine the importance of various artifacts. Antonis moved to Athens in 1926, from Alexandria, and founded the Benaki Museum three years later.

The Benaki Museum can easily be accessed from Syntagma Square, the heart of Athens where the Parliament Building is located. From the Square, you can take Vassilissis Sofias Avenue to where the museum sits at 1 Koumbari Street. The main building of the museum is a mansion built in the neo-classical style that characterizes many prominent Athens buildings. The building was originally constructed between 1867-1868 for a successful Greek merchant, later acquired by a prominent Greek businessman, and eventually purchased by Emmanouil Benakis in 1910. The opulent building proved to be a good template for a rich, cultural museum and from 1929-1931 it would be redesigned as such.

The Benaki Museum began construction of a new wing in 1988 that was open to the public in 1997. The purpose of the addition was to further house the large museum collections, as well as open up space for activities as to further establish the Benaki Museum Athens as a standard among other cultural institutions. Added as well during the construction of the new wing, were a library, a coffee shop overlooking the National Garden, and additional rooms for the housing of temporary exhibitions.

The original Benaki Museum Athens collection is found from rooms 1-36 and the sequence of room numbers follows the progression of history. The Antiquities Collection is housed in rooms 1-8 of the Benaki Museum Greece and houses artifacts from ancient times beginning with Paleolithic and Neolithic relics and working sequentially up until the late Roman Empire as it merged into the Byzantine Empire. Rooms 9-12 house the Byzantine Collection, with a focus on the civilization’s artistic development through artistic representations and the art of the period’s daily domestic items. Following along historical progression, the following rooms 13-36 reveal the artifacts of the Modern Times Collection. This collection primarily features representations of both religious and non-religious items from the 15th century to the 19th, when the Ottoman Empire reigned in what is now Greece.

The Benaki Museum Greece Modern Times Collection features many exhibits of primary importance to Greece’s history that are of extreme importance to Greek culture and independence. Islamic Art is featured as well among the original Benaki Museum Greece museum collections, as was a collection of Folk Art. Further Benaki Museum Athens sites in Karameikos, Kolonaki and on Pireos Street offer an array of unique galleries in tandem with the newer museum collections featured in the original museum.

The Benaki Museum Greece also offers education programs tailored for teaching culture through art and history throughout Greek schools, as well as a number of special events targeted at enriching the country’s overall cultural development. Hours of operation and admission prices vary among the different museum sites and collections, and the main Benaki Museum is free on Thursdays with hours of operation from 9 a.m. through midnight. On Sundays, the Benaki Museum Greece is open from 9 a.m.- 3 p.m., and from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Cost of admission on days other than Thursday is $8.

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