Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

Antonis Benakis was a politician's son born in Alexandria, Egypt, in the late 19th century. After decades of collecting, in 1930 he turned the family's house into a museum. Now three storeys and many rooms larger, the museum presents all facets of Greek culture through the ages, with just the right amount of everything, and all of it beautiful.

Flint Flakes

In room 1, these shards of flint chipped into tool shapes date from 50,000–40,000 BC, in the Middle Paleolithic period – maybe the oldest human-made thing you'll ever see.

Cretan School Painters

In the last room on the ground floor, gallery 12, are masterpieces from Venetian-held Crete (15th–16th centuries). These include works by Domenikos Theotokopoulos (later known as El Greco, 1541–1614), and several by Theodoros Poulakis (1622–1692). The Cretan School developed techniques still used in icons today: sharp outlines, a geometric depiction of fabrics, and subtly highlighted skin tones.

Kozani Rooms

The rooms dedicated to the wealth of 18th- and 19th-century Epiros, themselves quite dazzling, lead into two reception halls that have been relocated from mansions in neighbouring Kozani, Macedonia. They are confections of carved and painted wood and stained glass.

Folk Costumes

Also on the 1st floor is room upon room of the finest and most intricately fashioned traditional clothing, showing the diversity of the islands and the various regions of the mainland, including the Peloponnese, Epiros, Macedonia and Thrace. The spacious displays are interspersed with other priceless objects, such as carved marble door frames and jewel-encrusted Ottoman crowns.

Don't Miss

  • Flint flakes
  • El Greco icons
  • Kozani rooms
  • Folk costumes

Top Tips

  • The ground floor is organised chronologically, up through to the Byzantine era. The first floor covers regional history and traditions. The second floor covers dance, agriculture and the establishment of the Greek state.
  • Thursday is a prime day to visit: free admission and the museum is open till midnight.
  • A €25 pass is valid for one visit to each of the Benaki museums – including the modern/contemporary 138 Pireos St and the Museum of Islamic Art, plus six other smaller sites – over three months.

Take a Break

The Benaki's cafe is renowned for great food in an open dining room, stretching out onto a terrace overlooking the national gardens and the Acropolis.

Otherwise, pop over to one of Plateia Kolonakiou's cafes like Da Capo.

Getting There

Metro Syntagma (red and blue lines) station is about a 10-minute walk.

Strapline

Private mansion turned public treasure.

POI