One of the highlights of my visit to Athens was the Benaki Museum, a private museum with collections covering Greek history from antiquity to 1922. It’s easily one of the best museums in Greece. I was very impressed with the quality of the collection and the way the museum is organized.
The best day to visit is on a Thursday. Admission is free and it’s open until midnight! Otherwise, you pay a full admission of €9 or €7 for temporary exhibitions. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
I started my visit on the ground floor in the Greek antiquities section. It started out with the typical statues, vases, and funerary items, but especially interesting were the Fayoum Portraits from Egypt. They were used to cover bodies prepared for mummification during Roman occupation of Egypt. Before heading upstairs, there were a number of Byzantine icons on display.
Next was an ethnographic section of the museum. Several traditional Greek costumes from Greece, Cyprus, and Asia Minor were on display.
A room from a traditional Greek mansion in the town of Kozani in northern Greece concluded the exhibit.
Before checking out a temporary exhibition of serving trays, I viewed some paintings of Greece in the 19th century. It was incredible to see how small the city was just before Greece won its independence from the Ottoman Empire.
Finally, I got to see several items from Greece’s war for independence and the period after the war. On display were items such as Lord Byron’s pistols, Bouboulina’s telescope, a flag belonging to Theodoros Kolokotronis, and a painting of the launching of the Greek Revolution at Agia Lavra.
The rest of the gallery focused on post-war Greece and the new Greek royalty. Traditional clothing worn by the royal family and chairs used at a reception for King Otto were among the items on display.
The Benaki Museum is located in the upscale Kolonaki district of Athens. It’s named for a single ancient column that stands in Kolonaki Square, which is a great place for having coffee and people watching. Kolonaki is also known for shopping and jewelry. I visited the next afternoon with my friend Eleni after finishing some personal business and running around to several different government offices in the morning.
Kolonaki sits on the slopes of Lykavittos, a hill that rises 300m above sea level and is the highest point of Athens. On top is a church, an open air theatre used for many popular concerts, and a restaurant. It’s accessible by funicular railway. Eleni and I thought about going up to the top but decided against it.