Visiting the Benaki Museum in Athens

The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture is one of the very best museums in Athens to get a complete overview of the beauty of Greek civilization, from prehistory to the 20th century. Think of this as a boutique museum – the collection is large, but the rooms have an intimate mood. This is a place to truly connect with the displays. 

Benaki Museum in Athens
Benaki Museum

The Benaki Museum –  A Beautiful and Central Cultural Destination

The Benaki Museum is housed in one of the loveliest historic buildings of Athens, at the edge of the Kolonaki district, and just across the street from the National Gardens.

The museum is housed in one of Athens’ most impressive neoclassical residences. Originally constructed in 1895, it was altered and greatly enlarged by the same architect who designed the Panathinaiko Stadium (Anastasios Metaxas), in preparation for the Benaki family. This was – and is – the elite section of Athens, close to the Parliament building (then the palace) and the National Gardens. The Benaki Museum is within very easy reach from Syntagma, Kolonaki, the Zappeion, the Kalimarmaro stadium, and Mt. Lycabettus. 

The Metro stops Syntagma and Evangelismos both serve the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture.

Meet the Benakis

The Benakis family figures prominently in the history and culture of Modern Greece. The patriarch of the Benakis family, Emmanouil Benakis, was educated in England and then joined the large and prosperous Greek community of Alexandria, Egypt.

Benaki Museum

He worked with the Greek cotton industrialist Hormel and married into his family. Benakis was a close personal friend of the great statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, and he served as both the Minister of Agriculture and Industry and as the Mayor of Athens. He was a great benefactor to Greece.

Among his children was the noted collector Antonis Benakis. Born in Alexandria, he came to Athens permanently in 1926. Together with his three sisters – Alexandra, Penelope (the famous Greek author Penelope Delta), and Argine – he turned the Benakis mansion into a museum to house his vast collections.

Benaki Museum  2
Benaki Museum

In keeping with the philanthropic and patriotic values of their father, they donated the museum to the Greek state, and Antonis Benakis dedicated the rest of his life to improving the collection and seeing to the museums’ future security.

The Collections of the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

Antonis Benakis’ collections included Greek and Islamic art as well as Chinese ceramics. Today, the collections housed in the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture are all indeed related to Greece. Together, they narrate the great span of Greek culture throughout the ages.

Benaki Museum
Benaki Museum

The collections on display include Prehistoric, Ancient Greek, and Roman Art – with objects covering the dawn of civilization in Greece to the end of the Roman era. These are joined by Byzantine Art – a collection that includes icons, ceramics, coins, and exceptional jewelry. 

Next is Post-Byzantine and Neo-Hellenic Art- reflecting the high culture of Greece throughout the Frankish and Ottman occupations, covering the periods from the 15th to 19th centuries. The objects on display include examples of exceptional craftsmanship and artistry –  furnishing, jewelry, and magnificent traditional costumes, among other fascinating objects. 

Historic Heirlooms is another of the collections which narrate a more personal and intimate story of Greece. These date from the late 18th century onwards and mary are from families with a close connection to the birth of modern Greece. 

The Collection of Paintings, Drawings, and Prints includes works by European artists of the 17th through 19th centuries, as well as excellent examples of Greek art of the 19th and 20th centuries. The works by foreign artists are either from those who visited Greek lands, or who were inspired by Greek history and culture – these works feature ancient and modern monuments, landscapes, historic events, folk scenes, and portraits. Maps are also included in the collection.

The Benaki Museum Restaurant and Cafe

This is actually a destination in itself for many Athenians in-the-know. The cafe and restaurant occupy prime space on the second floor, overlooking the National Gardens. From the spacious terrace, one has fine views of not only the garden but also the Acropolis and Lycabettus Hill. There is a full menu, with many contemporary dishes featuring Greek flavors and regional ingredients. 

The Gift Shop of the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

The Benaki Museum shop is the first museum shop in Greece. It’s well with a visit in itself, for unique mementos and tasteful, high-style souvenirs. Here, one finds replicas of some of the collection’s most notable objects, objects inspired by the collection, books, images, and objects from Greek designers.

The Benaki Museum Collections

Some of the pieces from Antonis Benakis’ original collection are now housed elsewhere in the museums of the Benaki foundation, notably, in the museum of Islamic Art. Today, the Benaki Foundation operates a number of magnificent premises, including the Benaki Pireos Street, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Ghika Gallery, and the Toy Museum, among others.

Visiting the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

This is a fantastic destination for so many reasons. The location makes it a very convenient stop from many places in central Athens. The setting is beautiful. The collections acquaint the visitor with a full overview of what Greece truly is – historically, culturally, and spiritually.

Take advantage of the museum’s somewhat unique schedule – on Thursdays, it is open until midnight, for a truly novel experience. 

For complete information, please see here.

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