The Athens Archaeological Museum is bursting with myths and stories. We know. We visit it nearly every day in the course of our National Archaeological Museum of Athens Tour. Although inspiring, the collection can also be overwhelming. So, we sat down with the docents who lead this tour and got some quick, high-level insights into what makes the Athens Archaeological Museum so fantastic.
Sculptures in the Athens Archaeological Museum
What catches your eye might depend on where your interests lie. Georgia, a classicist who leads our tour here, is taken with the scope of the museum. “My favorite thing about this museum,” she says, “is that it gives you a great overview of the development of Greek and Roman sculpture over the centuries. There are only a few places around the world where you can see a great collection of everything – from the archaic, through the classical and Hellenistic, all the way to Roman art! You can actually observe how styles change. The austere archaic kouroi (male statues) provide a sharp contrast to the statues of the Classical period, for example, which are full of motion! I also love the grave stelai, which decorated Greek tombs. Many of them are incredibly moving.”
The vastness of the museum, however, doesn’t overwhelm smaller discoveries. Our docent Vassilios, a historian and archaeologist, is taken by a smaller and more specific item in the museum: a wine jug. “The small oinochoe of the Late Geometric Period (circa 740 BC), known as the ‘Dipylon oinochoe,’ is so important because on its surface there is one of the earliest of the earliest inscriptions of the Greek alphabet, which reads ‘To the one who dances most delicately.’ It is on display at the Geometric Period gallery of the museum, just to the left of the museum’s tickets office.”
One of the museum’s most prominent artifacts is a massive statue of Zeus, and this is what interests our docent Kelly. “It’s from 460 BC, and it’’s the first bronze statue that survived from the classical era of Pericles! The glory of the god is depicted in a unique position, the balance of the statue is amazing, and the body is perfect. One should see this statue from different sides to understand why the person presented is a god and not a human!” The Zeus statue commands the center of an airy room in the museum, and it’s hard not to be impressed.
Personally, the item that captured my imagination is one of the smaller and stranger items in the collection. At first glance, the Antikythera Mechanism looks like a worn hunk of metal; upon closer examination, though, it reveals itself to be much more. The ghost lines of gears reveal that this artifact from roughly 100 BC is an ancient analog computer. Discovered in a shipwreck in 1901, the technology of the mechanism is unexpectedly complex; at some point, this ancient knowledge slipped away and similar mechanisms and clocks didn’t appear again in Europe until 1600 years later.
The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is open every day except December 25-26, January 1, March 25, Orthodox Easter Sunday, and May 1. Admission is 10 Euro, with a reduced fee of 5 Euro for visitors under the age of 18.