These have been the 5 most popular museums over the last 10 years. Their collections include priceless finds, statues cast in bronze or fashioned from marble that broke the conventions of the Archaic period, such as the Charioteer of Delphi, treasures from royal tombs, Linear B tablets, enigmatic Cycladic marble figurines, the snake Goddess, the original Caryatids, the Antikythera Mechanism, a mechanical miniature of the Ancient Universe…
1) The Acropolis Museum
Why: Let yourself be tempted to enter the glorious world of ancient Athens and admire every priceless artefact that has been found on the sacred rock of Acropolis- the landmark of ancient Greece – spanning a period from the Mycenaean times up to the Roman and Early Christian Athens. The finds are exhibited in an amazing state-of-the-art building – worth visiting in itself– whose design has actually been dictated by the site itself. It is rather impressive that the Museum, situated almost opposite Acropolis, is a multi level structure around a concrete core that has the same dimensions as the perimeter of Parthenon, whereas the tour inside the museum in a way resembles the ascension to the Acropolis rock.
The Museum also boasts an innovative interior design: a glass floor on the ground level encourages visitors to view the excavations below; they are also able to see Parthenon from the glass gallery; solid glass walls allow the exhibits to bathe in natural light whereas the building has been structured so as to incorporate a number of on-site excavations. The museum has been voted as “the best museum in the world” by the British Guild of Travel Writers.
What you will see: A wide glass-floored gallery houses finds from the slopes of the Acropolis rock. The occasionally transparent floor provides a view of the archaeological excavation. In the Archaic Gallery, for the first time, visitors have the opportunity to view exhibits in a three-dimensional form. On the south side of the Gallery, statues of young ladies (Korai), the horse riders (Hippeis) and many others provide a striking picture of the Acropolis in the Archaic Period. In the impressive Parthenon Gallery you can observe the metópes, depicting themes from legendary battles, symbolising the victories of the Athenians against the Persians; the pediments, the triangular spaces formed by the horizontal and raking cornices of the roof at each end of the temple, comprised colossal statues sculpted in the round, their themes drawn from Attic mythology. On the Parthenon frieze, which consisted of 115 blocks, Pheidias chose to depict the Great Panathenaia, the greatest festival of the city in honour of the goddess Athena. For the first time ever, it is possible to view the coffered ceiling of Propylaia and the sculptures from the parapet of the temple of Athena Nike, and finally, Caryatids –or Korai of Erechtheion– overlooking the Gallery of the Acropolis slopes. The main monuments that constitute the Classical Acropolis are Propylaia, the temple of Athena Nike and Erechtheion.
Highlight: the original Caryatids from Erechtheion and all the exhibits in the Parthenon Gallery, including the original sculptures from the Parthenon frieze shown alongside plaster casts of the pieces removed from Greece by Lord Elgin in the early nineteenth century. From this gallery visitors take in unob¬structed 360-degree views of the ancient temple and the surrounding city.
Extra tip: The program “A day at the Acropolis Museum” invites visitors to spend a day at the Museum enjoying a wide range of activities:
• Watch conservators do the delicate work of cleaning the Caryatids using advanced laser technology.
• The Museum invites families to look for the 12 different representations of the goddess Athena amongst the exhibits of the permanent collection. Look at the new virtual application www.acropolis-athena.gr.
• Brief presentations by Museum Archaeologists-Hosts are held in Greek and English every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
• Visitors can learn more about the Parthenon’s sculpted decoration from a video projected on the third floor.
• Have a meal or refreshment at the second floor restaurant that offers a panoramic view of Acropolis (children’s menu available).
Every Friday the Museum is open until 10 p.m. and the restaurant is open between 8 p.m. and 12 midnight. Enjoy a special menu as well as the beautiful night views of the Sacred Rock.
Official website: www.theacropolismuseum.gr
2) Archaeological Museum of Delphi
Where: Delphi, Area of Fokida
Why: The Archaeological Museum of Delphi is one of the most important in Greece since it exhibits the history of the Delphic sanctuary, site of the most famous ancient Greek oracle. Its rich collections comprise primarily architectural sculpture and statues donated to the sanctuary reflecting its religious, political and artistic activities from its early years in the 8th century BC to its decline in Late Antiquity.
What you will see: The permanent exhibition of the Archaeological Museum of Delphi focuses on the history of the Delphic sanctuary and oracle, covering a long time span from prehistory to Late Antiquity. The exhibits are presented in chronological order and by context: Sanctuary of Pronaia, votive pit of the Sacred Way, Temple of Apollo, Siphnian Treasury. These groups are part of larger exhibition units, which allow the visitor to understand the periods of prosperity and decline of the sanctuary. The exhibition focuses mainly on the art of the Archaic period, on metal and marble offerings rather than on pottery; on monumental architectural and sculptural groups rather than on domestic or funerary assemblages. Some particularly impressive exhibits, such as the famous bronze Charioteer, are displayed separately. Texts, models, maps, sketches and digital reconstructions complete the exhibition.
Highlight: the Charioteer of Delphi ( he who holds the reins) of course, one of the best known ancient Greek statues and one of the best preserved examples of classical bronze cast! It is the sculpture of a driver of a chariot race at the moment when he presents his chariot and horses to the spectators in recognition of his victory; he stands with admirable modesty and faces the crowd in total control of his emotions, a token of civilization in Classical Greece. Iniochos was originally part of a complex of statues that included four horses and a chariot. With the exception of his missing left arm, the bronze statue is preserved in a remarkable state.
Extra tip: The Museum is situated on the wider archaeological site of the Delphi Pan-Hellenic sanctuary, which used to be for many centuries the cultural and religious centre and a symbol of unity for the Hellenic world. Set within a most spectacular landscape at the foot of Mount Parnassos, within the angle formed by the twin rocks of the Phaedriades, Delphi was regarded as the centre of the world. The archaeological site of Delphi includes two sanctuaries, dedicated to Apollo and Athena. Admire also the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, the famous Tholos –the symbol of Delphi today–, the gymnasium, a place for exercise and learning, the palaestra, the baths and votive monuments dedicated by Greek cities or wealthy individuals. The central, most important part of the site was the sanctuary of Apollo. From here visitors entered the Sacred Way, the street that led to the temple of Apollo and to its famous adyton, where Pythia delivered her oracles.
3) National Archaeological Museum
Where: Athens, 1 Tositsa St.
Why: The National Archaeological Museum is the largest museum in Greece and a fascinating one! Although the original purpose was for the museum to house all nineteenth century excavation finds from inside and around Athens, it gradually became the central National Archaeological Museum and was enriched with finds from all over Greece. The rich collections on display, comprising more than 11,000 exhibits, provide a panorama of Greek civilization from the dawn of Prehistory to Late Antiquity.
What you will see: The exhibition area houses five large permanent collections: The Prehistoric Collection, which includes items dating to the great civilizations that thrived in the Aegean from the sixth millennium BC to 1050 BC (Neolithic, Cycladic, Mycenaean) and finds from the prehistoric settlement at Thera. The most important exhibits are the treasures from the royal tombs at Mycenae, the Linear B tablets, the enigmatic Cycladic marble figurines and the superbly preserved wall-paintings from Thera with their large-scale compositions. The Sculptures Collection, which showcases the development of ancient Greek sculpture from the seventh to the fifth centuries BC. The Vase and Minor Objects Collection contains items representative of ancient Greek pottery from the eleventh century BC to the Roman period and includes also the Stathatos Collection, a corpus of minor objects of all periods. The Metallurgy Collection numbering many original works of art such as statues, figurines and minor objects. There are also significant arrays of vases of all types, tools, weapons and finds from the shipwreck at Antikythera. Finally, the only Egyptian and Near Eastern Antiquities Collection in Greece, with works dating from the predynastic period (5000 BC) to the Roman conquest.
Highlight: the famous Antikythera device, a scientific instrument of the 1st century B.C. used for astronomical and calendrical calculations!
Extra tip: The museum boasts a unique library with rare editions and an excellent archive with rare photographs and manuscripts.
Official Website: www.namuseum.gr
4) Herakleion Archaeological Museum
Where: Herakleion Crete, 2 Xanthoudidou St. and Xatzidaki
Why: The Herakleion Archaeological Museum is one of the largest and most important museums in Greece; comprising unique exhibits of Minoan art, it is considered as the museum of Minoan culture par excellence worldwide. It houses representative artefacts from all the periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering a time span of over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to the Roman times.
What you will see: The permanent exhibition includes unique works of Cretan art, found in excavations across the central and eastern part of the island, which roughly span 5500 years, from the Neolithic (5000 BC) to the Late Roman period (late fourth century AD). Most objects date to prehistoric times and to the so-called Minoan period, named after the island's mythical king, Minos. They include pottery, carved stone objects, seals, small sculpted items, metal objects and wall-paintings discovered in palaces, mansions, settlements, funerary monuments, sanctuaries and caves. The Museum is unfortunately closed due to renovation works but thanks to a temporary exhibition you can still admire 400 of its most important artefacts. Shortly it will re-open in its complete renovated form.
Highlight: Phaistos Disc, a round clay disc with hieroglyphics and ideograms inscribed on it, is certainly one of the most impressive artefacts of the Museum. The snake goddess, the Minoan Frescos, like “La Parisienne”, the King Minos ring and the famous “Bees” jewel are among the most mesmerising exhibits.
Extra tip: Combine your visit to the Museum with a visit to the Palace of Knossos, 5km southeast of Herakleion, in an idyllic location among olive groves and cypresses. Knossos is the largest one of the preserved Minoan palatial centres and the site of the most important palace of Minoan civilization. According to tradition, it was the seat of the legendary king Minos. The Palace is also associated with thrilling legends, such as the myth of the Labyrinth with the Minotaur, and the story of Daidalos and Icaros.
5) Palace of the Grand Master
Where: Rhodes, Old Town (at the end of the Street of the Knights)
Why: the impressive palace of the Grand Master is located at the highest point of the Castle of the Knights, at the end of the Street of the Knights- one of the best preserved stone paved medieval streets in Europe. The palace was first built by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem on the site of the 7th c. Byzantine fortress in order to be the official residence of the Grand Master of their order. Apart from being a palace, it was also an administrative centre of the government of the Knights and an important fortress.
What you will see: mosaic floors of ancient Roman and Byzantine Art brought by the Italians from the island of Kos; an impressive furniture collection of Western Art of the 16th and 17th century; luxurious rooms equipped with beautiful furniture, oriental vases, statues, carpets, paintings etc. The waiting room, the room of the Medusa mosaic, the reception hall, the ballroom and the music room are among the most eye-catching rooms of the palace. The interior yard is adorned with many statues of the Greek and Roman period.
Highlight: the Medusa mosaic; the statue of Laokontas and his sons, creation of the Rhodian sculptors Agisandros, Polydoros and Athinodoros; the halls with the dolphins, Erotas and the 9 Muses; the trophy from the Mithridatic Wars (1st century BC) brought from the cemetery of ancient Rhodes and the 16th and 17th century furniture collection are among the most impressive masterpieces you will marvel at.
Extra tip: The exhibition “Rhodes from the Early-Christian Period until the Turkish occupation” is displayed in the Grand Master's Palace presenting 24 centuries of Rhodes’ history. There are objects on display that illustrate the history of Rhodes going as far back as the Prehistoric period: vases and figurines from the Minoan site at Trianda, pottery, grave stelai and jewellery from the Geometric and Archaic tombs in Lindos, Kamiros and Ialysos. Don’t forget to stroll around the old town of Rhodes, one of the best preserved in Europe.