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Byzantine Museum

Byzantine Museum (36)

The Byzantine Museum is a must-visit due to the important influence it has had on the city. 

Its location is unbeatable, in the beautiful Villa Ilissia mansion, inspired by the Italian Renaissance and, despite being an oasis of tranquillity, is very close to the busy and hectic Vassilissis Sofias Street.

Villa Ilissia was built between 1840 and 1848 by Stamatis Kleántis. It was not until well into the 20th century, in 1930, that this elegant villa became a museum. 

Do not think this happened overnight, considerable adaptation works had to be carried out first. Thus, side-by-side, the architect Aristotélis Zachos and the collector Geórgious Sotiríou opened a stunning patio at the entrance, where they placed a copy of a font from the Daphne Monastery on the outskirts of Athens. The museum grew around this courtyard, with impressive collections of statues, reliefs, icons, religious costumes, decorations and Byzantine frescoes. 

In recent years, and seeing the great importance the Museum had acquired as well as the growing number of people, it was decided to tackle a new phase of reforms, which ended in 2004. In these reforms, in addition to improving the facilities, a two-level basement was built underneath the courtyard to house temporary exhibitions. 

The museum's collection is structured in two parts, arranged chronologically. The first, called "the ancient Byzantine World" focuses on the artistic expressions from the beginnings of Christianity in Greece. Some examples of what you can find include remnants of stone carvings and mosaics recovered from some destroyed basilicas . In terms of content, in this section of the museum you can see how, gradually and shamelessly, pagan motifs and symbols were incorporated into Christianity. Good examples of these are the sculptures Shepherd carrying a lamb, and Orpheus playing the lyre, which are presented as religious sculptures.

The second part of the exhibition focuses on the period from the 6th century and the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It is called "The Byzantine World" and includes a vast collection of masterpieces in all the splendour of the era. 

One of the most important parts of this section is the original recreation, inside the museum, of the ground floor of the church of Episkopi. Thus, the frescoes found there are arranged in a room just as they were placed on the walls of the church, with square cross, narthex and dome. The icons, as religious images are so-called in Byzantium art, are the centre attraction of this part of the collection. Among them, look at those of St George and the Virgin, made in mosaic dating from the 13th century, or the beautiful and unspoilt San Miguel icon, 14th century.

Other religious items such as tombstones and costume pieces are set between the arches of the building. Treasury Mytilene, for example, is one of the most luxurious, because it includes coins and glasses recovered from a sunken ship in the 7th century, as well as silver and gold jewellery. 

Perhaps the Greek Byzantine period is not as well recognised worldwide as the Classical period, although it does have a special artistic relevance. Among the tourist itineraries offered by the city, the Byzantine route is one of the most acclaimed, and this museum should be a must. So, in between churches and more churches, go into the peace of the palace and enjoy the fantastic pieces of his collection.

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