Athens

The Benaki Museum in Athens is a place where antiquity and Byzantium, Greek and Asian art, archaeological finds and pictorial art meet together. This is one of the largest museums not only in Greece, but also in Europe, the collections of which are displayed in several buildings. The Benaki Museum collection is truly huge. Having seen it, you can easily imagine how people lived in different times and epochs.

Why it is worth a visit

The first reason to visit the Benaki Museum is its history and the building where the main exhibition is located. The central building is considered to be one of the most beautiful neoclassical mansions in Athens. The luxurious structure belonged to the famous venturer and politician Emmanuel Benakis. In order to commemorate the memory of the father, his son, Antonis Benakis, founded this museum.

The first exhibition was based on the personal collection of Antonis, who was known as a great fan of works of art and was gathering his collection all over the world. In fact, the first private museum in Greece is the Benaki Museum.

The Benaki Museum attracts not only with its collections, but also with many interesting events: master classes, temporary exhibitions and dozens of educational programs.

The museum halls

The extensive collection of the Benaki Museum’ main building (the Museum of Greek culture) includes relics of a period from 3000 BC to the beginning of the 20th century. They are presented in chronological order on the 4 floors of the neoclassical mansion. It is this building that Antonis Benakis gave to the Greek state. Today in the Museum of Greek culture you can see:

  • A collection of prehistoric, ancient Greek and ancient Roman art: statuettes, ceramics, Mycenaean jewelry, sculptures from Attica, Thessaly, Macedonia and from the islands, coins, Roman goods made of glass, and funerary steles; 
  • The Byzantine art: church vessels made of silver and bronze, ceramics, icons (from the times of the Paleologues to the present), decorative silver plates, household items, an impressive collection of Byzantine jewelry (amethysts, sapphires, pearls, gold), crosses;
  • Historical family heirlooms: items that were donated to the museum by the descendants of prominent personalities of times from 19th century to early 20th century. Among the exhibits are the Laskarina Bouboulina’s telescope, personal belongings of Ioannis Kapodistrias, and of the poets Yanis Ritsos, Konstantinos Kavafis and Odiseas Elitis;
  • The Post-Byzantine and Neo-Hellenistic art: a collection of church and secular items of the 15th – 19th centuries. Here you can see the carved church furniture, relics brought by refugees from Asia Minor, precious metal products, embroidery from the 18th century from different parts of Greece, a collection of marble decorative elements, engravings and national costumes;
  • A collection of paintings and drawings: more than 6000 works by the European artists of the 17th – 19th centuries and by the Greek masters of the 19th – 20th centuries; 
  • The Benaki Museum library: more than 10 000 books and periodicals on various subjects, especially valuable are the books of the 15th – 19th centuries.

The new building of Benaki Museum is another exhibition space that was necessary for expending the museum's capabilities. Today there are two permanent exhibitions here: 

  • Architectural archives: drawings, plans, photographs and models related to the architectural arrangement of Greece from 1828 to the present; 
  • Photographic archive: a collection of 300 000 negatives and 25 000 photographs that date back to the 19th – 20th centuries. Among the exhibits are collections of photographs of Voula Papaioannou, Nelly, Dimitris Haritidis and other famous masters of Greece.

The Museum of Islamic art is a branch of the Benaki Museum with a rich collection of artifacts from different parts of the world: India, Spain, North Africa, Asia Minor, Sicily, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The exhibits tell about the evolution of Islamic art. In the museum, you can see golden jewelry, marble, ceramics, weapons, funerary steles. There are also especially valuable exhibits: for example, a velvet saddle from Bursa (the 16th century).

The Ghika Gallery is a branch dedicated to life and work of the famous Greek artist Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika. He donated his house to the Benaki Museum during his lifetime. Here you can see not only the artist's works, but also family heirlooms: antique furniture, photos and dishes. Art lovers will be particularly interested in visiting the workshop where Ghika worked.

The Yannis Pappas Studio is a branch located in the studio of the sculptor and artist Yannis Pappas. The building was given to the Benaki Museum by the master's son with the only condition: the father's works must be in their "natural surroundings". Today, Pappas' paintings and sculptures are displayed here.

The building of the old textile factory MENTIS. Here the production of textiles was located during 1.5 centuries: they produced theatre costumes, curtains and church clothes. When the business failed because of the financial crisis, the Benaki Museum received the building as a gift. Today, you can see how the silk was worked over and how the products were created, which the MENTIS factory was famous for. And those who wish can even attend master classes.

The Toy Museum is a collection that is interesting for both adults and children. This branch was opened not so long ago — just in 2017, but its size is impressive. It is based on the collection of Maria Argiriadi, which she had been collecting for more than 20 years. Now there are more than 20 000 toys and games, from antiquity to the 1970ies. There are even Roman and Byzantine ones. You will find out what toys and games children played in the cities and villages of different parts of Greece as well as of the world tens or hundreds of years ago, because the museum also presents European toys of the 17th – 20th centuries.

The Valadoros collection was donated by the Valadoros family. It became one of the most important acquisitions of the Benaki Museum during the recent years. The collection includes hundreds of icons and the rare gold embroidery, which is a masterpiece of Byzantine culture. This branch is located in the Valadoros family mansion.

How to get

You can get to the main building of the Benaki Museum by several kinds of transport: 

By buses No. 022, 054, 100, 203, 204, 220, 221, 224, 235, 608, 622, 732, 815, Α5, Γ5, Ε14, Ε6; 

By trolleybus No. 3; 

By metro: lines 2 and 3 — you need to get off at “Syntagma” or “Evangelismos” stations.

The new building of the Benaki Museum can also be reached in several ways: 

By buses No. 815, 049, 914, 838, Β18, Γ18; 

By trolleybus No. 21; 

By metro: line 3, till “Keramikos” station.

Tips

  • Free Wi-Fi is available in all branches of the Benaki Museum;
  • The best time for a visit is on weekdays. The Benaki Museum can be crowded on weekends;
  • The exit to permanent exhibitions is free: on the International Museum day and every Thursday from 18:00 to 00:00, except for organized tour groups;
  • The museum has a separate convenient entrance for visitors in wheelchairs;
  • You to take flash-off photos in the museum;
  • The cafes of the Benaki Museum are located in its three branches: in the main building, in the new building, and in the Museum of Islamic art. In the main building the cafe is open every day except Tuesdays;
  • The Benaki Museum shop is also closed on Tuesdays. It is open from morning until closing on all other days.