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Benaki Museum

Member: Society Premium
Since: 11.07.2013

1, Koumbari Street, GR-106 74 Athens, Greece


The Benaki Museum was founded in 1930 by Antonis Benakis and was donated to the Greek state in 1931, converting his paternal home, one of the handsomest Neoclassical buildings in the capital, into the first private museum in Greece. The public responded immediately to Antonis Benakis’s initiative and as a result of its exceptional impact, the Museum’s treasures quickly proliferated. Thanks to the constantly increasing number of benefactors and donors, the Museum continues to be endowed daily with valuable artworks which reinforce the research role of the Museum.

The rapid growth of the Museum's holdings and activities necessitated the enlargement of its facilities, the hiving off of certain collections and their re-housing in new annexes; this entailed the overall review of the museological thinking behind the foundation. The new millennium marked the expansion of the Benaki Museum and its development into a complex museum organisation!

In 2000, the central building re-opened after years of renovation. Its mission is to present the historical and cultural development of Hellenism through a geographical and evolutionary context, from prehistory to the present.

Its collections depict masterpieces from the Neolithic Age, the Antiquity and the Roman era to the Byzantine Age, from the fall of Constantinopole, the period of Frankish rule and the Ottoman Occupation, to the outbreak of the Greek War of Independence in 1821, and from the time of the formation of the Modern Greek State until the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922. By virtue of its collections, the Benaki Museum cannot be classified as just another historical museum or an art museum or a museum of decorative arts; it is rather, the museum of Greek civilization, in all its pertinent manifestations.

The temporary exhibition gallery hosts exhibitions and other diverse events each year, thus enriching the visitor's image. The, first in a Greek Museum, Department of Educational Programmes offers its services to thousands of children and adults. The Museum Library, the largest collection of books operating in a Museum in Greece, remains open to the public for study with 130.000 volumes to date as well as a significant number of rare manuscripts. The Shop of the Benaki Museum offers high quality replicas of exhibits, while the Restaurant on the Museum terrace has become a very popular venue. All the above elements ensure the successful accomplishment of the Museum’s mission.

Four years later, in 2004, the Benaki Museum inaugurates, in a Neoclassical building complex in the Kerameikos neighbourhood, the Museum of Islamic Art; the only such museum in Greece featuring a unique collection of world-renowned artefacts and one of the top-ten collections worldwide!

During the same year, the multidynamic Cultural Centre at 138 Pireos Street officially opened its doors: an industrial building of the 1960's has been transformed into a modern museum space, including a central atrium and a 400-seat amphitheatre, designed to accommodate multiple events.

Part of the Benaki Museum’s decentralization program is the establishment of two other museum annexes –the Yannis Pappas Studio and the Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery– as well as the rehousing of its three major and active Archival units (Photographic Archives, Historical Archives, Archives of Neohellenic Architecture). Among the Museum's future plans is the remodelling of the Kouloura Mansion into a Museum of Toys and Childhood.

MENTIS, the Center for the Preservation of Traditional Textile Techniques became part of the museum in 2012 in the renovated building of 6 Polyfimou street. The goal of the center is to offer visitors an opportunity to learn how a historical workshop functions; follow every step involved in silk processing and the crafting of textile masterpieces, for which the company was renowned. At the same time this new space aims to become a center for the conservation of traditional crafts and techniques related to thread processing, weaving, and embroidery.

The Benaki Museum is already established as one of the most active museum organizations at national and international level, focusing on the dissemination of knowledge, research, ideas exchange, cultural sensitivity, freedom of expression and educational recreation, continuing the routes set out by its founder, Antonis Benakis.