Athens | City and Museums

Archaeology, Architecture, Athens, City Life, GREECE & TURKEY, Museums

We spent a full morning in Athens on a walking tour of the city, and  explored a variety of museums in small groups–the Archeological Museum, the Byzantine Museum, and the Benaki Museum.  


The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece and one of the worldʹs great museums. Although its original purpose was to secure all the finds from the nineteenth century excavations in and around Athens, it gradually became the central National Archaeological Museum and was enriched with finds from all over Greece. Its abundant collections, with more than 20,000 exhibits, provide a panorama of Greek civilization from the beginnings of Prehistory to Late Antiquity.

The museum is housed in an imposing neoclassical building of the end of the nineteenth century, which was designed by L. Lange and remodelled by Ernst Ziller. The vast exhibition space ‐ numerous galleries on each floor accounting for a total of 8,000 square metres ‐ house five large permanent collections: The Prehistoric Collection, which includes works of the great civilizations that developped in the Aegean from the sixth millennium BC to 1050 BC (Neolithic, Cycladic, Mycenaean), and finds from the prehistoric settlement at Thera. The Sculptures Collection, which shows the development of ancient Greek sculpture from the seventh to the fifth centuries BC with unique masterpieces. The Vase and Minor Objects Collection, which contains representative works of ancient Greek pottery from the eleventh century BC to the Roman period and includes the Stathatos Collection, a corpus of minor objects of all periods. The Metallurgy Collection, with many fundamental statues, figurines and minor objects. And, finally, the only Egyptian and Near Eastern Antiquities Collection in Greece, with works dating from the pre‐dynastic period (5000 BC) to the Roman conquest.



The Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens is one of the most important public institutions in Greece, established in the early 20th century (1914) in order to collect, study, preserve and exhibit the Byzantine and Post‐Byzantine cultural heritage in the Hellenic territory.

The museum collection contains an important number (approximately 30,000) of works of art such as icons, sculptures, ceramics, ecclesiastical textiles, paintings, jewelries and architectural elements (wall paintings and mosaics). The permanent exhibition is divided in two main parts: The first is devoted to Byzantium (4th ‐15thc. AD) and contains 1200 artifacts and the second entitled “From Byzantium to the modern era” presents 1500 artworks dating from the 15th to 20th century.



The Benaki Museum ranks among the major institutions that have enriched the material assets of the Greek state. It is also the oldest museum in Greece operating as a Foundation under Private Law. The Greek Collection, housed in a neoclassical building, comprises many distinct categories totaling more than 40,000 items, illustrating the character of the Greek world through a spectacular historical panorama: from antiquity and the age of Roman domination to the medieval Byzantine period; from the fall of Constantinople (1453) and the centuries of Frankish and Ottoman occupation to the outbreak of the struggle for independence in 1821; and from the formation of the modern state of Greece (1830) down to 1922, the year in which the Asia Minor disaster took place.



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We visited the following churches:

Illysos Basilica

Early Christian Basilica (5th century), today in ruins, was built on an Ilissos islet, in the east of the Olympiion. It is three‐aisled with a transept, a narthex and an atrium. The martyrium of Hagios Leonidis, bishop of Athens, lies in the northern wall. It is a 4th century building anterior to the basilica, which is dated to the first half of the 5th century based on the floor mosaics.

Soteira Lykodimou or “Russian” Church

The church is a domed octagon. It is best known as Russian church, since it was bought by the Russian community of Athens in the 19th century. An inscription places it around 1031. It is situated in Filellinon Street. No wall paintings are preserved, while the more recent ones are painted by Loudovikos Thirsios (1847). The high bell‐tower was added at the time the Russian community obtained it for its religious needs

Panayia Gorgoepikoos

(End of 12th century?). The church is also known as Hagios Eleutherios or the Small Metropolis. It is situated next to the southern side of the Cathedral of Athens, in Mitropoleos Square. It is a cross‐in‐square church. The monument incorporates in a unique way 90 sculptures of different eras in its external walls. It resembles an open‐ air exhibition of sculptures, which are dated to the ancient, roman, early Christian centuries, but also to the middle Byzantine period. M. Chatzidakis associated the church with the bishop of Athens, Michael Choniates. The wall paintings are dated to the 20th century.

The Cathedral of Athens

Construction of the Cathedral began on Christmas Day, 1842 with the laying of the cornerstone by King Otto and Queen Amalia. Workers used building material from 72 demolished churches to build the Cathedralʹs immense walls. Three architects and 20 years later, it was complete. On May 21, 1862, the completed Cathedral was dedicated to the Annunciation of the Mother of God. The church incurred considerable damage in the 1999 earthquake and is still under restoration.

Inside are the tombs of two saints killed by the Ottoman Turks during the Ottoamn priod: Saint Philothei and Patriarch Gregory V. Saint Philothei was martyred in 1559. She is honored for ransoming Greek women enslaved in Ottoman Empireʹs harems. Gregory V, Patriarch of Constantinople, was hung by order of Sultan Mahmud II and his body thrown into the Bosphorus in 1821, in retaliation for the Greek uprising on March 25, leading to the Greek War of Independence. His body was rescued by Greek sailors and eventually enshrined in Athens. (


Dating from the middle of the 11th century, this is one of the most well‐known Byzantine churches of Athens, saved from demolition in the 1830’s because King Ludwig of Bavaria admired this church. It is situated in Ermou Street and is dated to the 11th century. It is a complex, four‐columned, cross‐in‐square church. The exonarthex extending all over the western side of the church was added in the third quarter of the 11th century. A chapel has been incorporated in the north of the church. It is dedicated to Hagia Barbara and is dated towards the end of the Turkish domination. The name may derive from the tax kapnikon. Therefore, it may be related to the founder, a tax collector, the kapnikarius. However, it could be related to the valuable textile, kamouha. The iconography of the church is also if interest, as the narthex has 19th century western style paintings, while the main church was painted in the 20th by Fotis Kontoglou, the person credited for the revival of Byzantine style iconography

St. Eirene on Aiolou Street

Its foundations were laid in 1847 and was completed in 1892 on the site of a smaller church that served as the Cathedral of Athens. Its architect was Lysandros Kaftanzoglou and its style represents an effort to combine neo‐classical and Byzantine elements, the end result being the so‐called “neo‐hellenic” style. It was recently restored.


Panagia Chrysospeliotissa

Its foundations were laid in 1863 and was completed in 1892. Built on the site of an older church, it also belongs to the “neo‐hellenic” style.


Roman Catholic Cathedral of Athens

St. Dionysios the Areopagite Roman Catholic Cathedral was built between 1853 and 1891, although services were first held in 1865. The original plans were of Leo von Klenze but Lysandros Kaftanzoglou oversaw the completion of the church. The vitraux windows were made in Munich in the 1890s