2011-07-23

Pigs at the Acropolis Museum!

In an effort to make the Acropolis Museum more enjoyable and welcoming to children, the museum’s management has come up with an interesting game: Children are challenged to discover 12 different representations (statues or others) of the Goddess Athena found throughout the museum. They are marked with bright red signs, all 12 of them, so that kids can spot them more easily.

As this is a pig-friendly blog (it is, trust me!) I’ve come up with a different version of the game! There are 3 depictions or statuettes of pigs among the artifacts presented in the museum! They serve as reminders of the fate and role of pigs throughout history: to serve and benefit humans and their needs! But I'm sure you don't need the pork philosophy! So, challenge your child (or the child in you) to find these ancient pigs! Happy rooting! Below are their descriptions (and “solutions” to the “game”):


-The first piggy is found on the ground floor, at the window case to the right as you enter. It is Exhibit No. 125 : “Wild boar figurine 1st cent. BC – 1st cent. AD)

-Pig no. 2 is also found on the ground floor, but this one on the left side. It is included in a fairly large mable “Dedication to Asclepius” and the sign reads as follows: “A young slave at the beginning of the procession leads a pig to sacrifice. – Mid. 4th. cent. BC.”

-Pig no. 3 is on the first floor: “Relief of the sacrifice of a pig” – “A family consisting of the parents and three children advances towards the Goddess Athena, offering a female pig for sacrifice. 480-490BC – Marble from Paros (Acr. 581)”. Only the snout and tail of this pig are preserved.


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2011-07-17

National Archaeological Museum vs. new Acropolis Museum (pt.2: Detailed Impressions) (Last update: 2013-03-24)

Following my short crash-test of Athens’ two major museums, here are my fairly detailed impressions from them: Athens' National Archaeological Museum and the new Acropolis Museum.

National Archaeological Museum

The neoclassical building of the museum, at 44 Patission St. (aka 28 Oktovriou St.), is a listed building itself, dating back to the late 19th century – gradually expanded in the 20th century with additional wings. If you come across old photos of late 19th or early 20th century Athens you will see it standing out, almost alone, at what was then the outer edges of the city!

Problematic surroundings: Up until a year ago, scores of drug addicts had made a permanent joint out of the pedestrian Tositsa St. at the sidewalk of the National Technical University of Athens, ocassionaly extending till the sidewalk of Patission St. So, visitors to the Museum had to walk close to scores of junkies, with their erratic behavior, to access Greece’s most important museum! This has partly changed now as they had been pushed further away, (but not too far...) and Tositsa St. is guarded most of the time. I even occasionaly see tourist buses parked outside! What a shock...! (Last update: 2013-03-24). Furthermore, front banners hanging from the flag poles are covered with pigeon sh*t for years now, serving as a warning sign of neglect. Patission (aka 28 Oktovriou) St. itself has been on a long downward spiral but there are some minor signs of recovery. Just to be clear, this is a location in the center of Athens with lots of people walking and driving nearby.

The day I first wrote this post (in early 2011) some drug addicts were sitting at the shade of the garden as I entered, but as I exited there were kids playing soccer right outside. Let's hope this will be a permanent change one day.

Accessibility & Access: You may approach the museum from either Omonia or Victoria Metro Stations.
From Omonia Metro Station, get out of the Station following the Panepistimiou St. Exit, walk up Panepistimiou (aka Eleftheriou Venizelou St.) for just 1 block and turn left on Patission (aka 28 Oktovriou) St. You will see the Museum’s big lawn after 7-8 blocks (7-10min walk).
From Victoria Metro Station, which may be the safer choice, walk upwards at Heyden St. and turn right on 28 Oktovriou / Patission St. Walk for about 6 blocks until you see the Museum’s big lawn, across the street (7-10min walk).
There’s a bunch of bus-stops right at the front (Patission St.) and on the side (Vassileos Irakleiou St.) of the Museum. Buses and Trolleys No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 13, 15, 18, 19, E6.

People on wheel-chairs need to enter from the north side street (Vassileos Irakleiou) which has a corridor taking you to a side door. Otherwise, from the main entrance / big lawn go left and then right to reach a ramp that takes you to the same side-door. The museum shop and toilets are also accessible.

Museum exhibits: Now that new guards have finally been hired (and all exhibit halls are open), “the Museum” (to Mousseio), as Athenians often refer to it, is again a must go destination for foreigners and Greeks alike. It is a virtual treasure trove of ancient Greek art, the most important museum of ancient Greek art in the world and the country’s top museum. Your visit to Athens won’t be complete without it.

To prepare myself for the visit I used the museum’s website but mainly Rick Steves’ “Athens & The Peloponnese” Guide and I’m glad I did. The Guide’s chapter on the Museum is just excellent (right length, right amount of detail and very well-written) and helps put things into perspective in a concise way, bypassing archaeological jargon that dominates most museum signs. If only our school books were of such high quality! I guess it’s no accident it’s such a popular guide [You may buy it here from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk and help maintain this blog]. Two other guide-books that I own (these two generally on Greece) had very limited info on the Museum.

Almost anything and everything you’ve ever heard of regarding Ancient Greek art can be found in this Museum at some form, although emphasis was initially placed in artifacts found around Athens, and exhibits from southern Greece still dominate the collection. From prehistoric times around 6,000BC to 5th century AD, artifacts covering the whole ancient Greek world are here on display (bronze statues, marble statues, ornaments and sculpture of all sizes, vases, coins, jewels and various instruments, frescoes from the island of Thira (Santorini) and even a couple of perfectly preserved skeletons found in the Keramikos cemetery in Athens. The Museum’s interior was redesigned 2-3 years ago and is much more appealing nowadays from what I remembered. Aside from the permanent collections there are at least a couple of temporary exhibitions each year. The upper floor houses the vase collection, Cyprus collection, ornamental figurines collection, Egyptian collection and jewel collection. As it’s impossible to concentrate on everything I suggest just picking a few random artifacts in each room (aside from the major ones) and concentrating on appreciating their details. Trying to “see everything” will simply give you a headache.

Visitor experience: I must admit I came with a negative predisposition. David (mentioned in the previous short post) had visited the museum twice (in spring 2011) and was still not able to see everything he had wanted as the museum was understaffed at that time and many halls were closed. And if that was not enough, visitors were shooed out of the building half an hour before the official closing time! So, I was pleasantly surprised to see that things have more or less normalized now. All rooms were open, the museum shop seemed to be (more or less…) stocked with its very interesting gifts (like replicas of ancient coins and artifacts), the museum was not annoyingly crowded (on a Monday afternoon) and the antiquated but shaded café in the basement garden downstairs was operating [However, famous food blogger Peter Minakis, a.k.a. Kalofagas, informs me that Greek coffee here is prepared using an espresso machine, which sounds hideous for this type of coffee!]. Some among the personnel could have been a bit politer and more professional but for the most part things are cranking along. Visitors were asked to leave 20 (not 30) minutes before closing time which is according to rules posted on the website but still not very user-friendly when people are coming from the other end of the world to see this! It shouldn't take a genius to figure out a solution to this problem. 
The best thing is that people are allowed to take no-flash, portable camera photos (except for in the section housing the jewel collection).
Overall, the museum has a slight “civil-service”, sterile atmosphere but you don’t have any major distractions on your visit either.

Length of visit: 2-6 hours, or a lifetime, depending on your level of interest. I stayed for 4 hours and I was already tired at the end. If you concentrate strictly on the artifacts highlighted by the Rick Steves’ Guide (read above) you could possibly do this in a frantic 1.5 hour.

Museum Hours: Mon: 13:00-20:00, Tue-Sun: 08:00-15:00 [Updated 2013-03-24, hours may change in the summer].

Admission: 7€. Reduced 3€ ticket for EU seniors (> 65) and non-EU students with ID. Free entrance for <19, EU students with ID. Free on select dates for everybody (see here)





New Acropolis Museum


The new Acropolis Museum, located at 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou Promenade, is the result of a long-term planning process, which started in the mid-1980s and culminated in its inauguration, in June 2009. The modernist building was designed to provide direct view to the Parthenon itself on the Acropolis hill across the street and to remind people of the need to bring back the Parthenon marbles gruesomely carved out by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century. Natural light smoothly entering the building from all sides gives it an almost ethereal feel, besides its huge volume, and you probably won’t get the usual “museum fatigue” feel that you may associate with other large museums.

Ideal surroundings: Situated right next to the Dionysiou Areopagitou Promenade, which is a real carnival, especially if it’s sunny and a day off, the museum benefits from the overall festive atmosphere of the area. Furthermore, it has direct visual contact to the Acropolis hill and is in the middle of the archeological and tourist area of the city, thereby facilitating visitors and being easy to combine with other nearby monuments and sights.


Accessibility & Access: Ramps and elevators are incorporated into the design, so as to facilitate access by all visitors, from both entrances. I especially like the meandering ramp, left of the main entrance at Dionysiou Areopagitiou, as it is surrounded by plants typical of the Greek and Mediterranean flora which look and smell wonderfully nice, esp. during the spring and summer time. Last, the museum is right next to the Acropolis Metro Station, itself also accessible to people w/ disabilities.

Museum exhibits: Having direct visual contact from the 3rd floor of the museum, which houses the Parthenon marbles (friezes, metopes and pediments), to the actual monument itself is priceless. Make sure you spend ten minutes to watch the short film, continuously projected on the 3rd floor, before seeing the actual Parthenon marbles. This film (in Greek w/ English subtitles and vice-versa) is so good that it alone is reason enough to first visit the Acropolis Museum and then the Acropolis itself (if their hours fit with your schedule and if it’s not too hot to climb up the Acropolis at noon-time).

The ground and first floor also provide the unique experience of walking around the beautiful statues and marbles, not just in front of them as in most archeological museums, and thus creates a sense of intimacy between the visitor and the exhibits. However, I would have liked to have seen a few more explanatory texts, giving a better overall description of the historical and artistic context of the time these artifacts were created, especially at the start of the 1st floor where statues and marbles seem to almost come out of nowhere. [And yes, I visited after the recent addition of the explanatory signs in May 2011]. To complete my… critique, let me say that I occasionally felt a bit uneasy about the way some exhibits are positioned, with people passing hurriedly and heedlessly by, at a dangerously short distance. On the other hand, unlike the Archeological Museum, the Acropolis Museum hires archeologists as guards so they are in a position to give you more explanations if you wish so – and seem to enjoy their job more. There are special mini-presentations ("gallery talks") in Greek and English on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Check website or info desk for schedule.

It’s also worth saying that even visitors who don’t have time to enter the museum may take a peek at the excavations still taking place at the museum’s foundations, as there’s a glass flooring and a hole that allows you to check out the ongoing works.

Visitor experience: Besides the care taken to make the museum accessible to all and to bring the visitor as close to the statues and marbles as possible, there is a very good restaurant (presentation here), cafeteria and bookstore on the 2nd floor, free Wi-Fi internet access on the 2nd floor balcony, a small café and shop on the ground floor and toilets everywhere (the toilets could be better equipped but in good overall condition anyway).

There are books –mostly on the 2nd floor bookstore– on the museum, the Acropolis and Athens in various languages (although most are understandably in Greek). I did a quick browsing of several ones and particularly liked the one called “The New Acropolis Museum – A guide for young people” (or something like that). I may not fall into its target group but it contained several interesting bytes of information; enough to excite your curiosity without causing a headache to non-archeologists! There also was a coffee-table book titled “Athens” (Militos Editions) with very nice photographs of the city and a small, spiral-bound booklet, in many languages, with pictures of the ancient monuments as they were in their prime and as they are now.

Length of visit: 2 - 4 hours

Museum Hours: Summer hours (1 April - 31 October): Tue-Sun: 08:00-20:00, last Entrance: 19:30. Fri: 08:00-22:00 w/ restaurant open till midnight. Winter hours (1 November - 31 March):   Tue-Thu: 09:00-17:00, Fri: 09:00-22:00, Sat-Sun: 09:00-20:00. Visitors are reminded to start leaving 15 minutes before closing time but this is done through a P.A. system and not by “throwing people out”…
Admission: 5€. 3€ reduced ticket (see website for eligibility). People w/ disabilities and their companions enter for free. The ticket for the museum is separate from the one you’ll need for the Hill of the Acropolis itself and / or the Ancient Agora.

Last update: 2013-03-24 


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2011-07-15

National Archeological Museum vs. new Acropolis Museum: Clash of the Titans! (update 2013-03-24)

A couple of months ago I had the chance to meet David, a reader of the “Athens Walker” blog, and he was the one to first alert me about the operating problems of the National Archeological Museum of Athens. I’ve since heard and read about them on the news and I often pass by that area myself, although they are now partly solved. Anyway, that gave me the idea to run a short of a “crash test” between Athens’ two major museums and see which one fares best for different kinds of visitors, since many tourists choose to stay in Athens for just a couple of days. It had been ages since the last time I’d been to the Archeological Museum and visiting the new Acropolis Museum still remained on my “to-do list”. So, it was the perfect opportunity to visit both of them (on separate dates), from the fresh perspective of a tourist (with a watchful eye!) and to run a sort of comparison between the two, summarized in the table below.


Types of visitorsAcropolis MuseumNational Archeological Museum
Deeply interested in archeologyGreat museum and adjoining site but only gives you partial view (Athens and Acropolis hill) of ancient GreeceHands down winner, as exhibits take you through a tour of 6500 years of Greek history and pre-history from most areas of the ancient Greek world
Mostly wanting to have a good timeHands down winner as the Acropolis Museum is more inviting, w/ better amenities for visitors and smaller. Great surrounding area of Acropolis and Plaka.Problematic surroundings. May give you “museum–fatigue” if you are not passionate about ancient times.
Short on timeBest choice. You can easily combine w/ visit to Acropolis hill, Plaka and other adjoining sites.Only if you are willing to run through it in 1-2 hours. Otherwise, you will spend half your day in here.
FoodiesGreat restaurant on 2nd floor, especially on Fridays.You will have to search elsewhere for your lunch or dinner.
Mobility challengedBoth museums are accessible but Acropolis Museum is right next to Metro Station and offers better surroundings.Accessibility options added, post-construction.
Suffering from the heatBoth museums offer wonderful, air-conditioned chill!


You may find fairly detailed descriptions of my impressions from both the Archeological Museum and the Acropolis Museum in a separate post, here.


Extra question 1: Can you do both the Acropolis and the Archaeological museums in one day? Some readers have been asking that so here's my answer: Typically yes, but you have to be really committed to it! If you are hit by museum fatigue it won't be my fault! Take notice of the opening hours, as they are not the same for the 2 museums. The Archaeological Museum stays open late only on Mondays while the Acropolis one every day except Monday (closed) and gives you 2 extra hours on Friday (till 10:00pm). Here's what I would do: Go to the Archaeological Museum early in the morning and spend some 4 hours there; go for a light lunch  in the city center (or even a short break/nap in your hotel if it's nearby) and then continue with the Acropolis Museum in the afternoon / evening for another 2-3 hours. If it's a Friday stay in the Acropolis Museum for dinner and then for an evening stroll in the Plaka or towards Thission / Monastiraki.
Extra question 2: How far are the 2 museums from each other? Three (3) Metro stations away (on Metro Line 2): Omonia Metro Station to Acropolis Metro Station. If you want to walk that's both doable and advisable (remember that museum fatigue I keep mentioning?); they are about 2.5-3.5kms away (1.5 - 2.3 miles) depending on which route you follow.



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2011-07-10

Impressions from the Acropolis Museum Restaurant

Acropolis Museum Restaurant
Address – Area: 15 Dionysiou Areopagitou Promenade, 2nd floor of the Acropolis Museum, Athens
Tel: 210-90.00.915. Reservation needed for Friday night only.
Date: 2011-06-20
Cuisine: Greek modern
Overall Opinion: Positive
Methods of payment: cash / Visa, Mastercard only
Working hours: Sat-Thu: 08:00-20:00, Fri:08:00-24:00
Accessibility: Yes. Fully accessible just like the rest of the museum

Our order (2 persons):
1 Wild greens w/ goat cheese (appetizer)
1 Grilled filet with potato puree
1 fresh sea-bass in salt-crust w/ steamed vegetables
1 330ml bottle of Piraiki Bio Pils beer
1 lemon sorbet w/ ice-cream
Price: 50€

Presentation / Ambience:
The restaurant is “isolated” from the rest of the museum, on the 2nd floor, with the bookstore right next to it. It has the style of an upscale cafeteria but don’t let that give you the wrong impression as everything seems to be in top form here. Yet, no strict dress code, as the place caters to tourists. You get a great view of the Acropolis Hill w/ the Parthenon and, if you sit in the huge outdoor balcony (smoking permitted outdoors), you also get a great view of the Hills of Lykavittos and Philopappos (and the neo-classical house of Vangelis between you and the Acropolis J ). Combined with excellent food and reasonable prices the restaurant of the Acropolis Museum seems to offer one of the best values for money in Athens.
On Friday nights (and special nights announced in advance), the restaurant stays open till midnight and offers an expanded menu, including the 3 dishes mentioned on its site (fresh sea-bass, pasta w/ shrimps and rooster w/ noodles). The rest of the week they offer traditional Greek appetizers (salad, octopus, fava beans puree, eggplants) and a dish of the day. Friday or not, I highly suggest you put the restaurant (and museum!) on your itinerary.

Food / Drinks:
Overall, the restaurant has a small menu and tries to incorporate Greek ingredients in its dishes or to present traditional Greek tastes in a modernized version (read above).
The fresh sea-bass was brought by our waiter on a portable table and then de-crusted, deboned and served for me, so if you worry about cleaning the fish this is a non-issue. The taste was to die for, as it was sea-fresh and as tender as it gets. I also very much liked the, slightly bitter, wild greens which in this case were armyrikia. The dish was accompanied by 2 sauces: béarnaise and ladolemono (olive oil and lemon).
The grilled filet was very tender but not really tasty on its own (the sauce made it much better); the puree on the other hand was  excellent.
The lemon sorbet w/ ice cream was also great and they were nice enough to bring us two spoons [although I was going to have it on my own, but then I had to act like a knight and share…J ]

Service:
We went on a special night (“European Day of Music” – 1st day of summer) when the museum offered a cheaper ticket, there was music playing outdoors and there were throngs of people coming in till late at night. The tables leave plenty of room to move around and the staff was all very efficient; they only messed up a bit at the end when they forgot about our desert and we had to re-order it, but it was real panic that night so I won’t hold that against them.

Location / Getting there: Athens center, below the Acropolis and on the grand walking promenade (Dionysiou Areopagitou). Acropolis Metro Station is right next door.
See map of Athens restaurants at the bottom of this page.


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