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The Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens is no country for old (-minded) men

by / Friday, 18 April 2014 / Published in Blog ΕΝ

A visit to the Byzantine and Christian Museum does not resemble a solemn pilgrimage or an intrusion into a holy of holies, in spite of the churchy and otherworldly connotations ascribed to its name and collections. Sculptures, wall paintings, icons, objects of minor arts, ceramics, textiles, manuscripts and early-printed books, paintings, mosaics and other opulent artifacts of the Byzantine legacy are the contents of this arc of treasures, whose secrets -unlike those of other treasuries of the past- become unravelled before the eyes of its visitors.

Upon arriving at the museum and its surroundings, a historic complex of buildings and gardens (the latter still being under construction) originally pertaining to Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance (1785-1854), the visitor descends to its ample semi-underground exhibition space for a time travel into the Byzantine and post-Byzantine era. Its clerical, artistic, decorative and everyday life objects are displayed in loose chronological order and grouped in units that place them dashingly and comprehensibly in the socioeconomic, intellectual, spiritual and artistic milieu of their time; different aspects of the religious and secular life of Byzantium unfold as the exhibits mark the

course of a narrative that starts from the early Christian period and moves through the medieval, post-byzantine and later periods up to the 20th century.


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This state-owned museum managed to complete the redisplay of its collections only a few years ago after a long, carefully-planned procedure during which all kinds of complex financial and red tape difficulties had to be overcome.


The accompanying texts and graphic commentaries reflect the new museological planning which aims to make its collections accessible and stimulating, both aesthetically and intellectually.


The suggested interpretation stands critically against elitism, distances itself from national master narratives and refrains from reproducing certain stereotypic and univocal readings of the past.


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Another pole of attraction are the unceasingly rotating temporary exhibitions which may be directly related to or completely independent from its collections, or may engage them in a dialogue with pieces of modern art.


The central building of the complex, Villa Ilissia, also serves as a venue for temporary exhibitions (usually two or even more are on show simultaneously) as well as for various artistic events. Amidst other exhibitions, the museum is presently hosting until January 2014 the collection of artists' books of the Museum-Library Stratis Eleftheriadis-Tériade(Mitilini) which is currently under restoration, undertaking at the same time the conservation of the exhibits in its paper objects conservation workshop; it is worth mentioning that the museum's conservation department consists of nine workshops and operates as an exemplary center for research, conservation, documentation and training in systematic conservation techniques.



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Planning a visit which will include everything is a very ambitious aspiration that demands a significant amount of time and energy and it would be no exaggeration to say that some certain visitor's fatigue is quite likely to be experienced.


Last but not least, the access to the museum is very easy and the wider boulevardan unofficial "museums quartier" in the center of the city, can offer a museum-hopping experience for those who have little time but want to catch a brief glimpse of different-themed collections.


*Sailing to Byzantium is a poem written by W.B. Yeats

- See more at: http://www-en.elculture.gr/elcblog/article/byzantine_museum-685567#sthash.XIpWXgZ9.dpuf

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