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Museums

2003 will be a year of transition, with Athens' major museums undergoing renovation and modernisation in order to be ready for the 2004 Olympics. When construction of the new Acropolis Museum is complete it will provide a symbol of the 21st century metropolis of Athens, one uniting ancient tradition with contemporary architecture. The Athens of today boasts more than 70 museums, whose powerful appeal lies not only in the wealth of their archaeological exhibits but also in the sheer range of their other collections, covering the whole spectrum of historical periods and subject matter.


There are several museums all around the world which are renowned for their collections of classical treasures, but no student of ancient Greece can claim to have experienced the full range of ancient remains unless he has visited the archaeological museums of Attica, contemplated the enigmatic smile on the faces of the archaic korai of the Acropolis, and the restrained melancholy of the tomb reliefs from the Kerameikos Cemetery. The most important of these museums is the National Archaeological Museum, a veritable treasure house of exhibits from all the most important archaeological sites in Greece. Unfortunately - or fortunately in the long term - the museum is currently closed to the public. But there are also much smaller locations which offer unique experiences to the visitor - at the isolated archaeological site at Ramnous, for example, visitors can marvel at the extraordinary artistry to be seen in the sculptures from the temple of Nemesis, authentic masterpieces from the 5th century BC, the work of Agoracritus, a pupil of Pheidias.


But the museums of Athens are not confined solely to the treasures of the ancient world. There are more than 70 museums and collections located all across the region of Attica: public and private, small and large. There are active and enterprising institutions, which are charting the future course of museums here in Greece, as well as sleepy, old-fashioned institutions, where the collections remain for years gathering dust in their display cases. What they share is an extraordinary range of subject matter: there are museums of archaeology, history, technology and natural history, appealing to almost every interest one can imagine, from numismatics to railways, from the Museum of Popular Musical Instruments to the battleship Averof.


The museums of Athens are currently experiencing a major period of transition, with the most important among them undergoing renovation. As we mentioned earlier, the National Archaeological Museum is closed for a total renovation of its buildings, to be accompanied by an overhaul of the exhibition lay-out. Extension work is being carried out at the Byzantine Museum, which will involve a ground-breaking network of underground exhibition rooms, allowing the museum to extend its range of exhibits and introduce more up-to-date display systems. Perhaps the most ambitious innovation of all, however, is the construction of the new Acropolis Museum already in progress.


Visitors to the city should not be disappointed however; there are still plenty of other things to see. Some of these are the result of private initiatives: the impressively renovated Benaki Museum, the enterprising Museum of Cycladic Art (with its unique collection of the characteristic prehistoric figurines from the Aegean), the Goulandri Museum of Natural History in Kifisia (recently extended with the new Gaia wing, devoted to environmental education and equipped with state-of-the-art interactive systems) or, finally, the Foundation to the Hellenic World, which introduces the visitor to the ancient world through a range of sophisticated virtual reality systems. All these collections have their own shops selling superb replicas and tastefully designed souvenir and decorative items, as well as elegant cafes or small restaurants - another excellent reason to devote some time to a thoroughly enjoyable museum visit.

SOURCE: ATHENS 2004 - ATHENS GUIDE