With the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museums stealing the glory, many museums in Athens are often overlooked by travelers. Just to be fair though, the Greek capital has an abundance of sites and museums that is impossible not to leave some out of your itinerary. To save you some time we gathered the 10 things to know about the National Archaeological Museum of Athens that will persuade you that it definitely deserves a place on your to-visit list.
It was the first museum of the independent Greek state
Founded in 1829, the National Archaeological Museum is the first museum of the independent Greek state. Initially, it was located in Aegina, the country’s first capital but it moved to Athens following the transfer of the capital to Athens in 1834. The museum officially opened its doors in 1889. At the time its permanent collections featured parts of the Collection of Prehistoric Antiquities and the Sculpture Collection.
It is the largest archaeological museum in Greece
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens houses five permanent collections and several permanent exhibitions. Its premises, in Athens’ city center, cover an area of 8,000 m² separated in dozens of halls that display artifacts from all the different places the Greek civilization flourished. Its collections feature around 11,000 exhibits that date from the beginning of prehistory to late antiquity.
The museum’s building architectural style
The prominent museum is housed in an elegant 19th-century neoclassical building which is located on Patission street, close to Omonia square. Designed by the German architect Ludwig Lange and formed by Ernst Ziller, the famous designer of several Greek royal and municipal buildings, the museum’s building has its own historical significance.
It features a majestic garden
In front of the National Archaeological Museum spans a spectacular garden with over 6,000 indigenous plants. Renovated in 2020, the garden is separated into three sectors: the botanical walks, the “Arcadian landscape”, and the olive tree hill. Each one of the plants and trees that today decorate the garden is related to Greek history and aims to connect classical Greek culture with contemporary Greek creation. As you stroll around you’ll find a 1,300-years-old olive tree, cypress trees, myrtles, thyme, oregano almond trees, and vines.
It has five major permanent collections
The museum’s permanent collections cover a wide period of time in history starting from the 6th millennium. Specifically, the five collections are The Collection of Prehistoric Antiquities, The Collection of Sculpture Works, The Vase and Miniature Collection, The Collection of Metalworking Works, the Greece collection of Egyptian and Eastern Antiquities. Covering different eras of antiquity, the impressive collections feature noteworthy artifacts and sculptures that bear testimony to the world’s history.
It houses the oldest archaeological library of the Archaeological Service and a rich photo archive
Aside from the remarkable collections, the National Archaeological Museum also houses one of the most important libraries in the field of archaeology. It is home to more than 20,000 books related to Greek and Latin literature, archaeology, art history, ancient philosophy. Moreover, it houses significant archival material of excavations and original archaeological finds of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum’s photo archive is the oldest and richest of the Archaeological Service. It consists of negative pictures and photographs, color negatives and photographs and slides of the objects housed in the museum.
It has a peaceful cafe and a shop
The museum’s elegant cafe is located in the garden welcoming visitors to its stylish indoor and outdoor areas. Aiming to function as a platform of expression and dialogue among artists and the audience, it often hosts artworks, musical performances and other events. It offers the ideal surroundings to make a pitstop and unwind away from the noise of the city center.
Exquisite exhibits of the National Archaeological Museum
The Mask of Agamemnon
At the gallery which is dedicated to the Mycenean civilization, you’ll see an impressive display case with golden findings from Grave Circle A including the golden funerary mask, which is attributed to the king of Mycenae Agamemnon. The German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann found the mask that covering the face of a body that was buried in Grave Circle A, within the walls of the Mycenaean acropolis. Schliemann believed that he had discovered the grave of the legendary ancient king Agamemnon Homer refers to in the Iliad.
The Jockey of Artemision
The unique Hellenistic bronze statue of the young African boy riding a horse is definitely one of the museum’s highlights. It was discovered in an ancient shipwreck at the sea off Cape Artemision on Euboea. It is widely known for depicting quiet accurately the horse’s speed. On the animal’s right thigh is engraved a figure of Nike holding a wreath while the boy wears sandals and a short chiton holding the reigns in one hand and a whip in the other.
The statue of Varvakeion Athena
The statue of Athena Varvakios is a copy of the famed gold and ivory statue of Athena the Virgin that was once standing inside the Parthenon. Even though it is approximately one-twelfth of the estimated height of the original, it is considered the most faithful replica of the original sculpture. The 1.05-meters (3ft) tall statue is made of Pentelic marble and bears traces of red and yellow paint.