The most complete information guide about Athens, Greece

The entrance to the Byzantine and Christian Museum



Byzantine and Christian Museum


The Byzantine and Christian Museum was founded in 1914. Initially it was located on the ground floor of the Academy of Athens. In 1930 it was permanently transferred to the Ilissia Manson, the winter residence of the Duchess of Piacenza, in the area between Vasilissis Sofias and Vassileos Konstantinou avenues.

The mansion was completed in 1848 by the architect Stamatis Kleanthis. Its main entrance was opposite the River Ilissos, which was still visible at that time. Under Professor Georgios Sotirou, Aristotelis Zachos turned the interior of the mansion into a museum. From 1993 work began to expand the building on three underground levels, taking advantage of the sloping ground so as to make more space available for displays.

The present mansion is similar to its predecessor. The main entrance is still on Vasilissis Sofias avenue through a building with a portal, which has “ILISSIA” inscribed on the arch. The building was initially used to accommodate the servants. Today it is home to the museum’s offices, library and research department. Visitors going thought the portal are led into a rectangular courtyard, which is defined by the mansion’s lateral buildings. In the center of the courtyard is a marble fountain and an early Christian mosaic. The walls around the yards have architectural elements of various churches.

The main building of the Byzantine and Christian Museum in AthensThe main building, one of the most important monuments in Athens, consists of two floors and a basement. The northern side, which looks less heavy thanks to a pillared arcade, is framed by two corner tower-staircases. The narrow bass-relief panels on the building indicate the separate floors. The external walls are covered with marble. In general, the building looks more like a Tuscan Renaissance villa with classical elements (dominant horizontal lines, low enclosed towers), as well as romantic (arched vaults, protruding roofs.

When the extensions are complete, all 15.000 objects of the collection will be easily displayed and the building will form a part of a larger archeological park that includes Aristotle’s Lyceum and a small open air amphitheatre.

The museum’s large collection documents the development off art from the early Christian period to the post-Byzantine years (4th to 19th centuries). The collections includes sculptures, paintings and small ornaments from Greece and other parts of the Byzantine Empire such as Asia Minor, the Black Sea, Easter Trace, Coptic Egypt and the Donubian Principalities, which more or less covered the area of modern Romania.

Many-figured icon with Christ Great High Priest and the Virgin Enthroned – (1729) – Byzantine MuseumThe collections also include around 3.500 icons, a larger number than any other museum in the world has. The icons, from various parts of the Byzantine world, cover the empire’s 1.000 years history as well as the post-Byzantine period. Among the earliest are those showing the Virgin Mary such as Glykofilousa (the Virgin Mary kissing Jesus affectionately) from the 12th century – Northern Greece, Odegetria (guiding Madonna) from the 13th century – Cyprus) and under various names, for example the Episkepsis (the Visitation) a mosaic from Triglia in Bithynia in Asia Minor and the Akatamachetos (undefeated) from the 14th century.

Also important is the 13th century icon with two images of Saint George on either side, one painted and one sculpted, with scenes from the saint’s life. Among the numerous post-Byzantine icons (15th to 19th century) are rare signed works of famous Cretan painters such as Angelos, Andreas Ritzos and Michaël Damaskenos.

The largest part of the museum’s collection consists of around 4.000 religious and secular artifacts and ornaments. Among the most important ones are oil lamps from Attica, Corinth, Asia Minor and North Africa, decorated with scenes from the Roman and Christian traditions, dating from the 3rd to the 6th century.

There also are small ceramics phials of holy oil, also know as eulogies (blessings), which were brought back by pilgrims from the Church of Saint Menas near Alexandria. The collection also has ornate crosses, reliquaries made of holy wood, post-Byzantine religious artifacts, rare 24 carat golden coins from the Byzantine Empire (the Avgeris Collection) as well as jewels from the 2nd to the 7th century and the Treasure of Mitilini (Lesvos), accidentally discovered during excavations prior to the construction of the airport, which includes valuable artifacts, gold coins and jewels.

The sculptures collections consists of around 2.000 Byzantine and post-Byzantine pieces. They are mostly architectural elements from churches fallen into ruin in Attica and also decorative works such as the famous small statue of Christ-Orpheus from Aegina (4th century) and a bas-relief showing a nativity scene from Naxos (ca. 400 AD), a rare piece of narrative sculpture from the early Christian Era.

Equally important, though less known, is the ceramics collection, which consists of finds from excavations or shipwrecks from the area of greater Greece and from Fostat in Egypt. It includes items across the whole period of Byzantine art as well as early Christian grave offerings and Byzantine glass-coated cooking pots.

19th century silk with gold thread sakkos – Byzantine MuseumThere also are numerous textiles, including Coptic material, donated to the museum by Antonis Benakis, which cover the first seven Christian centuries as well as ecclesiastical textiles from the Byzantine and the post-Byzantine era (canonicals, epitaphs and antimensia) many of which are outstanding samples of gold embroidery. The earliest of these date from the 14th to the 15th century. As their decoration is flat, they imitate paintings while the post-Byzantine samples are influenced by western and popular art and are embossed in imitation metalwork.

The exhibits of the Byzantine and Christian Museum also include manuscripts, wall paintings of the 13th and 14th century, mosaics, woodcuts, anthiviolia, copper engravings, lithographs and copies painted by famous Greek painters such as Fotis Kontoglou. The museum has a conservation department and, since 1989, it has been organizing education programs aimed mostly at schoolchildren to familiarize them with the Byzantine world.

Opening hours Opening hours and admission
Locaton map Vassilis Sofias avenue, 22
Nearest metro stationEvangelismos
For typical words, please consult our Greek Glossary


Add to Favit Add to Digg Add to Add to Simpy Add to StumbleUpon Add to Netscape Add to Furl Add to Yahoo Add to Google Add to Blogmarks Add to Ma.Gnolia Add to Netvouz









































   © 2004-2009 - Athens Info Guide - All rights reserved - Disclaimer