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  • Writer's picturevsigston

A gaggle of museums

I don't think any trip to Athens would be complete without visiting a museum or two, just like many other capital cities it's full of them.

I'm going to base this blog post on the three main ones we spent time in, but please do comment at the end with any others you have had experience with.

So first up, the Acropolis museum. There are not many parts of the museum that allow photos which although understandable was disappointing as both boys had been looking forward to putting together some photos to go with our pics from the Acropolis but the place is extraordinary. It's jam packed with treasures from the temples and buildings on Parthenon Hill and around ancient Athens.

As you enter the fairly new building, opened in 2009, you are greeted with a long glass floored corridor leading to a grand staircase. Under the floor here are pockets of space where they showcase jewellery, pots and other belongings found together on the slopes of the Acropolis over the years. Displaying the items together like this gives you a real sense of how archaeologists and historians unearthed their findings and how exciting new discoveries must be.

(If glass floors make you nervous you can stick to the edges and look over the artefacts displayed there instead).

As you make your way up the staircase you find yourself confronted with a huge sculpture known as "The Triple Headed Demon" (or Bluebeard), it's thought to come from the Hekatompedon, a temple that existed before the Parthenon as we see it now, it's 14 metres long and 1.5 metres high and is a real stop you in your tracks moment. It deserves some time spent looking at the fine detail.

After that the museum is spread over 2 more floors, including a walkway on the third floor which was especially designed to showcase the the friezes and sculptures of the Parthenon itself in real size (I mentioned in a previous post about visiting the Acropolis itself before the museum and this is a big reason, I think it helps you get a better sense of scale and atmosphere).

The walkway really pressed home to me the importance of artefacts being returned to their country of origin. This museum is missing pieces of really important historical art which are currently in other countries all around the world, including (but not limited to) the Marble decorations from the Acropolis housed at the British Museum. It is my understanding that among the reasons cited for these sculptures and pieces of temple not being returned before now was a worry about air pollution and care taking in Athens/Greece and a fear that these precious pieces would be damaged if not housed properly. Well now Athens has this modern, beautiful, purpose built museum and I can see no reason why these monuments can not be given back to the country they were taken from. I hope it happens soon.

We spent most of our time amongst the statues and carvings in the gallery on the first floor, which are shown in age order from oldest to most modern and just get more and more detailed the more you look. This gallery in particular they were very strict about photography, encouraging you instead to concentrate on what is in front of you.

We also really enjoyed the looped film found in a cinema room on the top gallery which shows the Parthenon friezes in more detail. It tells you the stories of the gods and the tales that the carvings tried to portray. It plays automatically cycling through a Greek version with English subtitles and then an English version with Greek subtitles and is well worth the 10 or so minutes it runs for (it also gives you a welcome seat to rest your weary legs).

Even if you are not going to eat in the museum cafe do go and take a look around the rooftop terrace for great views down over the city and, obviously, up to the Parthenon itself.

On your way out don't miss the newest section of the museum out in the gardens. When building the museum itself a huge ancient settlement was found in the foundations and archaeologists and historians have worked tirelessly to excavate and display as much as possible. You can see the remains of streets, houses, spas and workshops - some still under glass for protection but some open to walk around. It was finally opened in 2019 and is a real gem to visit - plus, it's all under cover so I imagine in the summer provides some much needed shade too!

The next museum was Jake's choice, and is the small but perfectly formed "Museum of Ancient Greek Technology", this was just a 5 minute walk from our apartment and would be easy to miss as it's sandwiched between offices and shops. It was less than £15 for us all to get in and showcases Greek invention and technology through the ages.

It really blew our minds, from the first automatic humanoids designed to serve wine at parties (yes really!), to complicated calculating devices and astronomy tools, it was amazing to see what the ancient Greeks had made.

The first floor you come to shows all the robotics, computing devices and time pieces. You can see Astrolabe's and Planet simulators made to calculate the movement of stars, Archimedes Screw, used to move large amounts of water and lifting machines thought to be responsible for helping with the construction of many ancient Greek monuments.

After all the tech you can also see a room filled with uniforms and weapons from Greek armies through the ages, a great place to look at how armour and weaponry has changed through the centuries and then it's up to a music and games room. This was great for our music mad eldest boy who enjoyed pointing out instruments he had heard of before. There were a few puzzles and games you could try too, and one was so frustrating we couldn't finish it and so I bought a version from the gift shop which the boys opened with glee Christmas morning (to this date it still hasn't been finished!).

The thing that really made our visit their stand out though were the staff, they could not have been kinder or more attentive. Talking us through the exhibits, getting the kids to be hands on to help demonstrate items such as torch telegrams and pulley systems. They were super knowledgeable and so giving of their time.

Finally a totally random but brilliant find was the Museum of Illusions. I stumbled across this while looking through Google for some market recommendations and I thought it would be a good visit, something different from all the history we'd had up to that point.

It gets really busy and is a good idea to book your tickets online ahead of time. You book a time slot and get 50 minutes in the museum as they try to limit numbers a little because of Covid protocols, I didn't think this would be enough time but actually it was just perfect.

It's full of hands on displays aimed to trick and confuse your brain, things like the infinity mirror room, the forced perspective display where the children appeared taller than their Dad and the headless box trick.

There are optical illusions on every wall and, as with the museum of tech, super helpful staff to point you in the right direction if you are struggling to understand a trick or to help you with the best place to stand to take the perfect photo of an illusion (or even take the photo for you so you can all be together).

It was fairly busy when we went during the Christmas break but the timed slots kept it manageable and once everyone was in and spread out a little it didn't feel overwhelming. I asked everyone their favourite part of this museum, Dexter (6) said the mirror room where he could see infinite reflections of himself. Jake (14) said the spinning walkway (guaranteed to make you feel dizzy so take it slow!), Kris (43) said the 3D/2D forced perspective displays and for me it was the less obvious photos, holograms and facts on the walls, I think we definitely all learned something.

There was so much we didn't get to see in the city, it's just not possible to fit everything in in one visit (we thought a month might do it!) but I'm glad we chose to prioritise these museums over others. I think we had a good balance of history, art, new information and fun which is a definite win in my book.

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