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The Benaki Museum



The Benaki Museum


The Benaki Museum was founded at the home of Emmanouil Benakis after his dead in (1842-)1929. It was left to the Greek nation by his heirs to house the collection of his son, Antonis Benakis. The museum opened to the public in 1931.

The building

The neoclassical building between Vasilissis Sofias avenue and Koubari street was built in 1867-1868 for the merchant Ioannis Peroglou. In 1895 it was bought by the businessman Panagis Charokopos and it was remodelled by the architect Anastasios Metaxas who designed and supervised all the alterations which were completed by 1931.

The Charokopos Mansion, as it was also known, was sold to Emmanouil Benakis in 1910 and was redesigned so as to accommodate his social needs and those of his family. These alterations gave the building a grand entrance and a luxurious interior. In 1929-1931, the mansion was extended to the west and was redesigned again, this time as a museum.

The construction for a new museum’s wing started in 1988 and it opened in 1997. This additional wing, designed by Alekos and Stefanos Kalligas, was needed to enable the wealth of the museum’s collections to be displayed and to find a home for its numerous activities so that it could become a complete cultural institution. The extension also houses a library, rooms for temporary exhibitions and events as well as a marvellous coffee-shop.

After Antonis Benakis’s dead (1873-1954), and particularly after 1974, the initial collections which included works of Ancient, Byzantine, Post-Byzantine, Islamic and Folk Art, were supplemented by new material. Today, the museum’s collections include the Historical and Photographic archives, the neo-Hellenic Architecture archives, the Department of Childhood, Toys and Games as well as numerous works of modern and modernist Greek art.

The Benaki Museum also incorporates the Museum of Islamic Art in Kerameikos, the Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas Gallery in Kolonaki and the new exhibition building near the old Gas factory (Gazi) on Pireos Street. Top

Antiquities collection

Golden cup from the Treasure of Euboea – Benaki MuseumIn room 1 of the museum one can see Paleolithic and Neolithic finds from various areas of Greece and Cyprus, mostly axes, figurines and ceramics with inscribed decorations. In room 2 are items from the Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations and excellent examples of pottery and metalwork from the Geometric and the Orientalising periods. Among these are two very important and rare golden cups and a silver cup, known as the Treasure of Euboea, from the early Helladic period. Other noteworthy pieces are a large Attic Geometric urn and a golden crown from the Orientalising era from Kos. It is decorated with images of sphinxes.

Statuette of Heracles from Boeotia – Benaki MuseumIn Room 3 objects are displayed with ceramics from workshops of Attica, Boeotia and Corinth, jewels from northern Greece and Ionia (mostly ornate brooches) and sculptures from Cyprus, Naxos and Attica. In rooms 4, 5 & 6, around the museum’s main columned area, are items from the Classical period. These include re-figure pottery from the 5th century BC, white lecythi, copper helmets from Trace and Corinth together with other weaponry items, an excellent inscribed figurine of Hercules from Boeotia, sculptures from the 5th and 4th centuries BC and Roman copies of works from the same period. Finds from tombs among which terracotta figurines from Attica, Boeotia and Alexandria, copper mirrors, golden jewellery and wreaths as well as marble funerary monuments can be admired here also.

Works from the Hellenistic and Roman periods can be seen in room 7. The exhibits are proof of the wealth and luxury of those times with the best example being the so called Treasure of Thessalia, a group of valuable golden jewellery, much of which is decorated with semi-precious stones. There also is a uniquely crafted hair net with the bust of the goddess Athena.

Among the rest of the items on display, one can see Attic red-figure pottery, metal vessels from Macedonia and Asia Minor, votive and funerary reliefs, Roman copper figurines as well as glass and ceramic vases from the same period.

The contents of room 8 forms a bridge between the Ancient and the Byzantine worlds as they include works from late Antiquity, such as a small golden statue of Venus, a marble head of Paris from Crete, jewels and small ivory ornaments, Roman portraits and bas-reliefs from Syria and Phrygia. Top

Byzantine collection

Abstract from the Gospels on parchment – Benaki MuseumThe Benaki Museum’s Byzantine collection documents the development of art in the Byzantine Empire during its thousand-year history. In room 9 there are numerous items, mostly from domestic houses, which cast light on everyday life during late Antiquity (4th-7th century BC). There is a large number of particularly interesting terracotta and copper lamps on display as well as silver plates with decorations inspired by the Greco-Roman tradition, ceramic plates and ecclesiastical artefacts (incense-holders and challises).

From the same period there also are examples of the art of the first Egyptian Christians, the Copts. The Coptic collection includes silk and linen fabrics which are influenced by the artistic preferences of the great cultural centres of that era as well as items of metalwork and wooden sculptures that testify to Egypt’s great economic growth, mostly during the 5th and 6th century BC.

Karavella, golden religious medal with polychrome email and pearls from Patmos island – 17th century – Benaki MuseumThe mid-Byzantine era (8th-12th century AD) is represented in room 10 by a limited number of significant samples of paintings (mosaics taken from Italy and Constantinople, manuscripts and small bas-reliefs made of steatite and ivory) and metalwork such as numerous amulets and glazed pottery from Constantinople, Cyprus and Thessalonica.

In rooms 11 and 12, visitors can admire excellent examples of late-Byzantine painting (1204-1453) and famous post-Byzantine icons, many of which are signed by or attributed to great painters of that time (Angelos Akotantos, Nikolaos or Andreas Ritzos, Emmanouil Lombardos, Domenikos Theotokopoulos). Also on display is Byzantine jewellery from all periods in which one can see stylistic and thematic influences from the Greek-Roman jewel-making traditions as well as coins which offer valuable information about the history and culture of Byzantium. Top

Modern Times collection

The Benaki Museum’s collections of religious and secular art from the 15th to the 19th century, reveal Greek material culture during Ottoman rule. The collections of secular art in rooms 13 to 24 include decorative objects and items of practical use from mainland Greece and the islands, Cyprus View of Athens from the Ilissos River – Aquarelle of John Michael Wittmer, 1833and Asia Minor. The rooms with the woodcut and painted internal decorations from houses of Kozani from the mid-18th century (rooms 17 & 19) and Hydra from the 16th century (room 24) are particularly interesting.

Other important parts of the collection are the wooden painted and sculpted items, ceramics with rare decorations, metalwork, textiles and embroideries, as well as the ornate traditional costumes from various areas. There also is a very important collection of jewellery with familiar motifs such as ships with three masts and stone sculptures from the islands.

In rooms 25 to 28 religious artefacts of the post-Byzantine era are on display. They originate from areas in Greece and the Greek communities of the diaspora mainly from the Black Sea, Asia Minor and Thrace. These collections have been brought by the refugees who came to Greece during the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. Among these items visitors will especially enjoy the woodcut screens (room 27) and epitaphs, liturgical clothes depicting the Lament and used during Good Friday services (Rooms 25 & 26).

Rooms 29 to 32 show musical instruments, books, weapons, offerings and tools which portray aspects of everyday life before the Greek War of Independence of 1821. Among them there are the books of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Chrissanthos Notaras, as well as a domestic distillations flask.

Rooms 33-36 offer relics from the Greek War of Independence and from the foundations and expansion of the Greek State during the years of Kapodistrias, King Otto, King George I and Elefetherios Venizelos. Apart from weapons, emblems and depictions of the War of Independence, the collection also includes personal belongings, documents, maps and clothing of the 19th century royal court.

Of particular historical and emotional value are the manuscripts of great Greek literary figures and the Nobel pizes of the poets Giorgos Seferis and Odysseas Elytis. Additionally, along the corridors and the staircase, visitors can admire paintings, drawings and lithographs showing Greece and especially Athens. They are just a few of the museum’s total of almost 6.000 paintings and engravings. Top

Coptic art collectionLinen and woolen screen curtain (velum) with a representation of a couple praying beneath an apse and a Coptic inscription written in Greek script. It comes from a monastery at Antinoe in Egypt and dates to the 5th-6th century BC - Benaki Museum (photo: Makis Skiadaressis)

The Benaki Museum's collection of Coptic art includes a uniquely rich group of textiles. These fabrics recently received international exposure through the European program Tissus, when specialists and researchers from all over the world were able to gain access to them following their publication on the Internet.

The blending of elements derived from local Egyptian tradition and Greco-Roman civilization with vigorous newer elements of the Christian religion, is very clearly reflected in the items of this collection. The stress on ornament, the stylization of the human figure, the emphasis on depicting local subjects such as Nile landscapes and, above all, the expressive immediacy of the scenes themselves, are all distinguishing features of Coptic art.

Some of the textiles in the collection reproduce the subject matter and aesthetic tendencies of the great artistic centers of that time. These fragmentary objects are the only evidence available of the appearance of luxurious silk cloths which, for the most part, haven been lost.

Articles of metalwork and wood carved objects are representative of Egyptian products, once widely traded, mainly in the 5th and 6th century, thus providing valuable historical evidence of the daily life of the period. They also reflect the composite nature of their date and provenance. Egypt, a wheat-growing land that played an important role in the economies of both the Roman and the early Byzantine Empires, was a crossroad of peoples and cultures.

Semi-circular bone plaque from Egypt. The incised depiction of a winged female figure holding a sheaf of flowers. It is an allegory of Spring. (6th century BC) - Benaki Museum (photo: Makis Skiadaressis)These circumstances led to the emergence of a local artistic idiom which is most clearly expressed in the collection's numerous bronze vessels, including lamps and jugs decorated with zoomorphic handles and depictions of dancers and divinities that had the power to prevent evil or bad luck. These articles are evidence of the advances made in the major artistic centers of the time, while simultaneously representing the foundation upon which Islamic art developed in Egypt following the Arab conquest of 642 AD. Top

Chinese art collection

This collection mainly comprises the gift of George Eumorphopoulos, one of the most important connoisseurs of Chinese civilization. The gradual evolution of Chinese Ferghana horse, Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). Gift of George Eumorphopoulos - Benaki Museum (photo Makis Skiadaressis)ceramics from the third century BC up to the 19th century is represented by more than 1.300 objects of the highest quality, all of which attest to the magnitude of China's contribution to the cultural history of humanity.

Of especial importance are the magnificent Neolithic vases decorated with geometric patterns, while the funerary sculpture from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) are some of the most splendid creations of their type. The collection also includes elegantly proportioned and finely decorated ware dating to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), porcelain of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1644 and 1644-1911), snuff bottles and other objects in semi-precious stone. Top

Museum of Islamic Arts

The Museum of Islamic Arts is part of the Benaki Museum situated on 22, Assomation and 12, Dipilou Streets – Kerameikos. It used to be the residence of Lampros Eftaxias, honorary president of the Benaki Museum’s governing board. The residence actually consists of two houses, one three-storey, the other two-storey.

Gold Turban ornament – Museum of Islamic Art (Benaki Museum)In 1989 they were declared as listed buildings and their restoration began in 1996. The new museum opened in June 2004. During restorations parts of an ancient wall and tombs were discovered at foundations level and a number of spaces in the buildings were adjusted in order to display these finds.

The Museum of Islamic Arts is the only museum of Islamic art in the Balkans. It has a rich collection of artefacts covering a period of thirteen centuries. The collection was initially acquired by the museum’s founder, Antonis Benakis, and by later donations and purchases. It includes ceramics, metal objects, textiles, wood engravings, glasswork as well as seals, weapons and golden ornaments.Ceramic hanging ornament. Iznik, Turkey. Middle of the 16th century. Benaki Museum (photo: Spyridon Panayiotopoulos)

There are four display areas:

• Objects from the 7th to the 12th century are displayed on the
  first level.
• Objects from the 12th to the 16th century are displayed on the
  second level.
• The third level has a marble inlaid interior of a 17th century
  mansion in Cairo as well as treasures from Iran and Turkey.
• Level four has a collection of weapons and jewels from Iran
  dating from the Qajar period (1796-1925) Top

Other activities

The museum’s Photographic Archives, founded in 1973, are in a building on 15, Filikis Etaireias Square in Kolonaki, not far from the main building of the Benaki Museum. These include around 300.000 negatives and 25.000 original photographs, a study area, a conservations lab and a dark room. Among the collections are the archives of Konstantinos and Petros Moraïtis, Nelly’s, Voula Papaionnou, Dimitris Charissiades and others.

The Neo-Hellenic Architecture Archives are stored on 138, Pireos & Andronikou street. They include the archives of important Greek architects such as Ioannis Despotopoulos, Solon Kidoniatis, Dimitris Pikionis ect. From 1994, the Benaki Museum’s Historical Archives have been housed in the Stefanos and Penelopi Delta Residence in Kifissia. They include material donated by private organizations and individuals and are considered to be one of the best organized and most important sources for the study of modern Greek history with collections that begin just before the Greek War of Independence of 1821 up to World War II.

The Historical Archives of the Benaki Museum include the collections of Eleftherios Venizelos, Georgios Karaiskakis and Anastassis and Andreas Lontos as well as the archives of the Resistance during World War II and those of Greek composers (Nikolaos Mantzaros, Nikolaos Skalkotas, Giannis Papaioannou), poets and writers (Dionyssios Solomos, Konstantinos Kavafis (Cavafy), Grigorios Xenopoulos and Angelos Sikelianos). Top

The Benaki Family

The Benaki family was one of the most prominent families in the Peloponnese before the Greek War of Independence. They held on to their wealth and status after the war and contributed greatly to the cultural and political life of Greece.

Emmanouil Benakis was born in Syros in 1843. He became a cotton merchant in Alexandria. He went into politics in 1910, became a member of the Greek Parliament and later a minister and Mayor of Athens. He was a supporter of Venizelos and was later imprisoned and exiled Emmanouil Benakisfor his political beliefs. He died in 1929.

Emmanouil Benakis and his wife, Virginia Choremi, had five children, two of whom, Antonis and Penelopi, played a significant part in the cultural life of the country. Antonis Benakis was born in Alexandria in 1873 and came to live in Athens in 1926. From a young age he was interested in collecting. He was in friendly relationship with eminent scholars of his time whom he consulted to develop his collections.

He founded the Museum in 1929, naming it after his family, and ran it until his dead in 1954. His sister Penelopi was one of the greatest Greek writers, writing mostly children’s books on patriotic-national themes. She was married to the businessman Stefanos Deltas. Among her best know works are the “Story Without a Name”, “The Secrets of the Swamp” and “Mad Antonis” (inspired by her brother Antonis Benakis). On the day the Germans invaded Athens in the spring of 1941, Penelopi Delta took her own life, unable to endure national humiliation.

Benaki Museum
Locaton map Opening hours and admission
1, Koumbari street & Vas. Sofias avenue
Nearest metro stationSyntagma or Evangelismos

Benaki - Pireaos Street Annexe
138, Pireos street & Andronikou street
Nearest metro station Thissio

Benaki - Museum of Islamic Art
Locaton map 12, Dipylou street & 22, Asomaton street, Kerameikos
Nearest metro staton Thissio

Benaki - N. Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas
Locaton map 1, Koumbari street & Vas. Sofias avenue
Nearest metro statonSyntagma or Evangelismos

Benaki Photographic Archives
Locaton map 15, Filikis Eterias square
Nearest metro staton Syntagma or Evangelismos

Benaki Historical Archives
Locaton map 36, EM. Benaki street & St. Delta - Kifissias
Nearest metro staton Omonia

Benaki - Yannis Pappas Studio
38, Anakreontos street - Zografou
Nearest metro staton Acropoli

Benaki Neo-Hellenic Architecture Archives
138, Pireos street. & Andronikou street
Nearest metro staton Thissio

For typical words, please consult our Greek Glossary Top

   The building
   Antiquities collection
   Byzantine collection
   Modern Times collection
   Coptic art collection
   Chinese art collection
   Museum of Islamic Arts
   Other activities
   The Benaki family

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