The Benaki Museum in Athens displays important historical artifacts from across the ages found in Greece and other nearby countries. Explore an excellent collection from antiquity to the mid-20th century housed in a Neo-Classical mansion once belonging to the Benaki family. The museum is located in the heart of the city at number 1 Koumbari St. & Vas. Sofias Ave. – a short walk from Syntagma square and the Syntagma metro stop.
What follows are ten unusual and intriguing objects I stumbled upon at the Benaki Museum:
1) Neolithic Stones and Pendants
On the ground floor of the Benaki Museum you’ll discover glass exhibits of artifacts of Neolithic origin. Take for instance the stone pendants below representing human figures in a stylized manner. These pendants are of Paleolithic origins and date from early Neolithic culture from between 6500 – 5800 BC. That’s a really, really long time ago for people to be wearing pendants!
2) A Guilded Wood-Carved Iconostasis
This iconostasis (Greek for screen bearing iconographic images) has two Christian paintings dating from the 16th century. Its doors date from the 19th century and originate from a church in Caesarea, a town in Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa. The dark wood relief carvings and intricate detail make this object particularly interesting to look at both up close and from far.
3) A ‘Frying Pan’ Shaped Mirror or Astrolabe
Another unusual object to be seen is this round clay piece resembling a patterned frying pan (with possible side handle). Although its exact use was unknown it may have been used as a mirror or astrolabe (for astronomical measurements) between 2800 and 2700 BC. The ‘frying pan’ object is decorated with beautiful patterns and spirals denoting an age of undoubted elegance and attention to detail using the simplest of materials.
4) Mid-Bronze Age Pregnancy Sculptures
These clay female figures, one with her hands under her breasts, denote pregnancy. They were sculpted in Cyprus during the mid-Bronze Age with a possible near East influence. Little bit odd looking aren’t they?
5) Mycenaean Bodies in the Shape of Greek Letters
These Mycenaean female figurines with modeled breasts and painted faces have bodies that resemble Greek letters and were mostly found in children’s graves or in shrines to the dead.
6) Strange Flat Bowl with 3 Heads
This round vase or flat bowl with three heads comes from Sicily, Italy and belongs to the Ragusa group named after the region of the same name where it derives.
7) Happy Sun-Shaped Terracotta Relief
This happy sun face made of Terracotta resembles the large eyes and mouth of African masks and this relief dates from the late 6th century BC.
8) Archaic Jewelry Resembling Snakes
Incredibly detailed jewelry from the archaic period forms part of the Benaki Museum collection. Gold, silver or bronze overlayed with gold leaf were used as materials in jewelry design (and still are of course!). Furthermore, morphological elements were present in the design of jewelry from these times. In fact, these shapes are still present in modern day women’s jewelry.
Take for example the gold snake bracelets – a symbol of the cult of Isis. The cobra was seen as a sacred source of power from Egypt and the bracelets date back to between 1 BC – 1 AD and are originally from Alexandria, Egypt. Other fascinating objects on display include a gold leaf necklace and gold detailed earrings with tiny people from 4 – 3 BC in Greece.
9) Odd Glass Mask-Shaped Pendants
Two little objects I found astonishing were glass pendants resembling apotropaic masks dating from around the 5 – 4 century BC. The animated male faces are a little odd looking and were evidently once brightly painted and probably quite a talking point for the wearer.
10) Gold Medallion Bust of Athena Doubles as Possible Snood or Headpiece
This incredibly detailed bust of Athena is from the 2nd century BC. It comprises a sculpture of Athena whose eyes are inlaid with blue enamel. The gold mesh shows that the artifact was once worn as a kind of headpiece or even snood, over the woman’s hair at the nape of her neck. Very elegant and sophisticated and worn 2016 years ago!
Have you been to the Benaki Museum in Athens? What was your favourite part? Tell us in the comments section below.
How to get to the Benaki Museum from Syntagma Metro Stop, Athens: