This is the first of a series of posts by ArtTrav’s new Greece correspondent, Zoe Mouchritsa.
Athens has a lot of tourists, and a lot of art. The trick is spreading them out. After seeing the unmissable Acropolis Museum next to the landmark ruins of the Parthenon, here are a four lesser known locations that culture-hounds should check out in the Greek capital.
The Benaki Museum has possibly the best permanent collection of prehistoric, Ancient Greek and Roman objects in the city. Over 40,000 pieces occupy this former mansion creating a panorama of life over hundreds of years from the prehistoric, Byzantine and Ottoman eras to the formation of the Greek state. There’s a real mix here from the results of archaeological digs, to weapons and costumes through the time that offer a slice of Greek life. Coptic, Chinese and Islamic Art also features heavily in the exhibitions and its rotating temporary collections are usually very good. The summer’s photography project by Constance Kratsa was a lovely focus on six cities. The relaxed café makes a surprisingly good choice for lunch or a coffee.
The Frissiras Museum
The Frissiras Museum is the only contemporary European painting museum in Greece. It is in the scenic and central Plaka area, in two adjacent neoclassical buildings. First, go to Monis Asteriou 3 for an introduction to an excellent permanent collection of paintings and drawings of Greek artists as well as European painters such as Pat Andrea, John Morali, Chronis Botsoglou, Costas Tsoklis, John Kirby and Peter Howson. The second building is in Moni Asteriou 7, which houses temporary exhibitions of Greek and European paintings. Its current temporary exhibition, which runs until early 2014, showcases the art of influential Greek painter Dimitris Tzamouranis. [Editor’s note – a jaunt on their facebook page indicates painting of questionable quality IMO.]
Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum
The Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum is a sumptuous look at the work of artistic jeweler Ilias Lalaounis. Just a couple of minutes walk from the Acropolis, it houses over 4,000 pieces dating back to the 1940s.The collections are separated into six loose themes such as pieces inspired by nature, space, and the golden age of art. Temporary exhibitions feature work donated by artists from all over the world and there are regular opportunities to learn prehistoric jewellery making techniques and goldsmithing as part of its cultural program.
Angelos & Leto Katakouzenos House Museum
Finally, the Angelos & Leto Katakouzenos House museum is worth stopping by. The couple took it upon themselves to spearhead the intellectual progression of Athens in the 1930s. Their home was host to artistic ‘salons’ from the 1930s up until the 1990s. In 2008 it was transformed into a working museum with a sharp focus on community and education. The house museum is filled with paintings, prints and sculpture as well as a collection of 18th-century French and Greek furniture, all of which was donated to the couple by the artists, never purchased. A sizeable collection of manuscripts, books and letters by famous Greek and international artists such as Nikos Hatzikyriakou-Gikas or George Gounaro, Spyros Vassiliou, Yannis Tsarouhis and Marc Chagall are scattered throughout the house. The aim here is not simply to examine historic artefacts but to understand the way of life of the time, resulting in a collection display that looks somewhat like your grandma’s house. You can find opening hours and more information at their website.
Where to stay: While I often favour boutique hotels, in Athens you want to be as central as possible in order to quickly access museums like these, as well as other cultural sites. The Crowne Plaza Athens Hotel has great facilities and an excellent location close to the city centre.