Impressions from the Numismatic Museum of Athens

I had often heard of the Numismatic Museum in Athens (dedicated to the study of coins and money) but I had never felt the urge to walk inside it till now. I like money as much as the next person but the thought of a museum about coins brought one word to my mind: Boring! So, what finally got me to enter the Museum was not the collection itself (even though that turned out to be interesting as well) but the Museum’s garden and cafeteria, together with a guided tour of the building that houses the Numismatic Museum, kindly arranged by the Museum’s staff as a means of drawing more visitors.

A secret corner
My first approach to the Museum (within breathing distance…) was via a very tasty milkshake I enjoyed at the beautiful garden found at the side and back of the building! I’ve been here 2-3 times, this year, and can attest to the cafeteria’s overall good quality. Surrounded by an abandoned old building, offices, blocks of flats, the back of the museum building and lush greenery, the back yard is your archetypical “hidden corner”. An ideal place to take a pause while walking in Athens, hidden from the hustle of the city even though you can still hear the noise as it’s located right at the city center. On special occasions, live concerts are held here in the evening.

The garden and cafeteria of the Numismatic Museum

Iliou Melathron (i.e. the Palace of Troy)
The ground floor of the building housing the numismatic museum is kind of inconspicuous from the outside, and as people walk hurriedly up and down Panepistimiou St. they tend not to notice it, except for its… unusually themed iron gates (more on that below). 

Swastikas in the iron gates of the museum?

The Numismatic Museum of Athens has only been housed here for the last 13 years or so. The building was originally constructed in 1878-80 and used as the residence of German speculator/merchant-turned-archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, associated with the discovery of the ancient cities of Troy and Mycynae. Schliemann commissioned the building of the residence to Ernst Ziller, noted German-Greek architect whose works can be found all over 19th century Greece and stand out to this day. The building, named Iliou Melathron (Palace of Troy) was an exquisite one for its age, employing many state of the art techniques such as the presence of a ventilation system, the innovative use of window-shades, the installation of gas heating and the use of passive fire protection measures. 
From an artistic point it shines even more and is a reason in itself to visit the museum. Wooden door frames were painted to look as if they were made of marble, ceilings and walls feature paintings by Slovenian painter Jurij Subic, floors are adorned with mosaics created by Italian artisans, in themes borrowed by ancient Greek ornaments and symbols while furniture crafted by Ziller himself holds, even today, part of Schliemann’s coin collection (1st room to the right of entrance).

Ceiling painting, over the dining room of the Schliemann residence - Iliou Melathron. A servant was charged with reciting passages from Homer's works during dinner time while Schliemann lived here!

NOT a portrait of Freddie Mercury! Coin collector and donor Nikolaos Zosimas, by  Greek painter Nikiforos Lytras.

Floor mosaic with right and left facing swastikas
Our guide-host deliberately avoided calling this decorative symbol by its tainted name. In ancient Greece it was called gammadion, tetra-gammadion or tetra-skelion. This is a symbol found in many ancient civilizations, representing the sun, eternity, well-being, a lucky charm, a comet or other things, depending on each civilization and the interpretation given by modern day scholars. It still has a religious meaning for Hindus and Buddhists. Schliemann's archaeological discoveries might have helped popularize it in Germany only to have it usurped by the Nazis.
End of parenthesis.

The ground floor, which now houses the museum’s offices, used to be the servants quarters and auxiliary rooms, while the 1st floor was dedicated to social gatherings and the 2nd floor housed the family’s private quarters. The roof-terrace, which is still closed to the public, and the garden featured a number of copies of ancient Greek statues.

Statue of Artemis(?) at the garden of the Numismatic Museum, Athens
In 1926 the mansion was sold to the Greek State which abused it by housing the Greek Supreme Court (and lower courts) in its premises from 1929 till 1983. If you ever find yourselves inside a Greek court you’ll probably understand what I mean… The extensive restoration programme that followed was finished in 2003. 

The Numismatic Museum has been in operation since 1834, that is almost since the founding of the modern Greek State, but was only transferred into this building in 1998 (the permanent collection at the 1st floor) and 2003 (temporary exhibitions, library and offices at the rest of the building). 

Among the shiny coins and informative signs and displays you will most certainly find some exhibits of interest to you, even if you are no coin or medal specialist or collector. 
Hoards of ancient coins are displayed in the Numismatic Museum

A beer stein (to the right) adorned with encased coins

A piggy bank in the Numismatic Museum! Who would have guessed...? :)
Coins, medals and other exhibits from ancient to modern times, from Greece to Japan, to the Byzantine Empire and the EU are on display here!

A display of medals given at the 19th century "Zappas' Olympics" and the 1906 Intercalated Olympics, hosted in Athens' Panathinaiko Stadium.

Address: 12 Panepistimiou St. (a.k.a. Eleftheriou Venizelou St.), Athens [Syntagma Metro Station]
Opening Hours: Museum: Tue-Sun 08:00-20:00. Mon:13:30-20:00. Cafeteria: Mon-Sat: 09:00-23:00, Sun: 09:00-15:00.
Ticket Prices: 3€. Reduced admission of 2€ for >65 and non-EU students. Free for EU students and <19.
Closed on: Jan. 1, Mar.25, Orthodox Easter Sunday, May 1, Dec. 25-26,
Photography: You are allowed to take non-flash pictures, even though the stares of guards will follow you closely...
Accessibility: An elevator provides access to handicapped visitors and there's an accessible WC on the 2nd floor.
Entrance Ticket for the Numismatic Museum, Athens

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