Athens: 2 Museums (Benaki and Cycladic), a View, and A Stadium

Unlike yesterday and the day before, today was not a ruins day for me. Instead, I visited two museums (the Benaki and Cycladic museums), took in the view from atop a mountain or hill as the case may be (Mount Whatever (Hill), see below), and toured a stadium (the Panathenaic Stadium).

Sounds like fun, right? I can’t hear you! I said, right? Right. Good, let’s get started.

Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

Various artifacts in one display case at the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture
Various artifacts in one display case at the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture

The ground floor of the Benaki Museum of Greek Culture holds artifacts dating from about 5000 BCE. Displayed pieces include vases and flint flakes. I know the above because the text, always in both Greek and English, on the small placards that accompany all of the items in the museum state what the item is and its vintage.

The rest of the ground floor displays pottery, jewelry, statues (often with their heads and/or arms no longer there), busts, urns, a stone door, paintings, tapestries, mosaics, books, religious items, and funerary steles, reliefs and other markers.

After starting with items from several millennia BCE, the ground floor then displays pieces that date up to the 17th century CE. That’s practically yesterday relative to the oldest pieces, which date from the Neolithic Age. The ground floor offers several artifacts from most of the intervening centuries between a few hundred years BCE and the 17th century CE.

A mosaic at the Benaki.
A mosaic at the Benaki.

(Several centuries between 5000 BCE and a few hundred years BCE aren’t represented well, or at all at the Benaki. There are only so many artifacts available from all those centuries. And the Benaki, which limits itself to pieces from what is now Greece, isn’t the only museum in the world that wants to display them. What’s more, the Benaki doesn’t have infinite space. So, let’s not ask for too much from it. Wait. You didn’t ask for unrepresented centuries to be filled in, did you? I was the one who mentioned it. Never mind.)

The first floor, i.e., the one above the ground floor, displays more modern artifacts. It includes paintings, tapestries, a loom, clothing, lavishly decorated woven cloth, furniture, household items, jewelry, coins, and a couple of roped-off mock rooms decorated as if from the mid-18th century.

A "mock" room at the Benaki
A “mock” room at the Benaki

That is, the rooms aren’t mock. What is a mock room anyway unless it’s a movie or theatre set? What I referred to as mock rooms are spaces with only three walls so people can look in. Ropes stung across those non-walls keep visitors from going into the rooms. Wait. Is having a rope where one wall would normally be enough to make it a non-room or, as I called it, a mock room? Or is it just a room? And more importantly, does any sane person care about such a trifling point? I do go on sometimes, don’t I? Never mind.

When I said “more modern” above, I hope you didn’t misunderstand. I didn’t mean the Electronic Age. I didn’t see anything in the Benaki Museum that dated from more recent than the 19th century. At least, not any artifacts. I think all of the visitors and staff there were considerably younger than that. The display cases, equipment, chairs for sitting in, etc. were probably much newer than that too. But, again, I do go on, don’t I? Again, never mind.

The stairway between the first and second floors has a display with a few books, musical instruments, and farming and commercial implements.

The second floor contains a restaurant and temporary exhibit space. There was no temporary exhibit when I was there.

The Benaki Museum is Part of the Conspiracy 

I believe the third floor currently provides space for a convention of the tourist officials conspiring to keep me from seeing the full extent of many interesting sights. (See my notes on this conspiracy in my post from a couple of days ago on the Acropolis and the Temple of Olympian Zeus.) The third floor was closed to the public today. The museum staff said it was being renovated, but I’m convinced I’m right about it being closed to host a block-Joel conspiracy convention.

According to the map handed out at the museum entrance, when it’s not hosting the block-Joel conspiracy convention, the third-floor houses exhibits on events in Greece from 1821 through 1941. The map didn’t mention the convention, but I imagine they want to keep it secret from me.

Mount Lykavittós vs Lycabettus vs Lycavitos Hill

Remember the entry from yesterday where I talked about the lack of standardized English names for sights in Athens? Here’s another example of that.

One of the two tour books I have for Greece calls it Lykavittós Hill. The other calls it the same thing but without the accent over the o.

The ticket for the funicular to and from the top called it Lykavittos. The absence of the accent in the previous sentence isn’t a typo. The ticket lacked it. But a sign in the funicular station avoided the question of the accent by calling it Mount Lycabettus.

People, people, people. Let’s at least make a cursory attempt at consistency, shall we? I can almost understand inconsistencies between independent sources. But it was a ticket I bought at the funicular station.

Google Maps also goes with Mount Lycabettus.

A view from Mount Whatever (Hill)
A view from Mount Whatever (Hill)

The tour books I have mention Mount Whatever (Hill) (my new name for it, not theirs) only in passing, not as a place worth a visit. So, I hadn’t planned to do so.

I saw the mountain/hill from atop the Acropolis. It looked interesting. And it looked more like a mountain than a hill to me—a dunce-cap-shaped mountain that comes to a sharp point, with a small church balanced precariously on the pinnacle.

In a reply to a previous post, a friend recommended that I might want to take the funicular to the top because she knew I greatly appreciate great views. In her reply, my friend referred to it as Mount Lycavitos, i.e., a “c” rather than a “k” and a single “t.” That probably wasn’t a typo on my friend’s part. (Although, if it was, as you’ve no doubt seen, I make my share of typos. So I try not to fault others for theirs.) She’s usually very meticulous about that sort of thing. And a Google search for “Mount Lycavitos” does return pages with that spelling, although it’s not the dominant form used in the returned pages. So her spelling probably was one she got from a usually reliable source.

Whatever. As I said in my previous post, it would be helpful if someone came up with universally accepted English standardizations for the names of places here.

But, never mind that.

When I saw Mount Whatever (Hill) from atop the Acropolis, it looked very far in the distance, probably outside the city. I figured getting to the funicular base would involve a bus or train. I used the Rome2Rio app to find a route. It did offer a bus I could take there from vaguely close to my hotel, but it suggested that the better and faster option was to walk from my hotel as it was only about fifteen minutes away on foot, faster than the bus. I walked.

Apparently, my depth perception is not very good when it comes to vistas.

The Visit

The church at the top of Mount Whatever (Hill)

The plateau at the summit, while not large, was big enough for a small viewing terrace, a restaurant, and the church. The church, which appeared tiny when viewed from the Acropolis, looked even smaller up close. It’s one small room.

Despite the plateau not being large, it is more than large enough for the church to sit firmly on it rather than balance precariously. 

The views are spectacular. You can see all of the sprawl of Athens, the mountains forming a horseshoe shape around it, and the sea on the open side. I learned that Athens continues a considerable way behind Mount Whatever (Hill). I didn’t think it did when looking in that direction from the Acropolis.

This brings up the need for a correction to a previous post. In my entry on the Acropolis, I said that I thought the Acropolis hill was probably the highest point in the city proper. I said that only because of my mistaken perception of the distance of Mount Whatever (Hill). I thought it was outside of the city. It’s not. And it’s almost twice as tall as the Acropolis hill.

Panathenaic Stadium

Panathenaic Stadium
Panathenaic Stadium

The large, horseshoe-shape seating area of the Panathenaic Stadium, comprised of countless rows (countless if you’re as lazy as I am and can’t be bothered to count to more than about ten—20 on a good day—for these sorts of things), is constructed entirely of marble.

Lykourgos, an Athenian statesman, built the original stadium in 330-329 BCE. The Romans rebuilt it during Hadrian’s reign in the second century CE. The Romans used it for gladiatorial contests. It was rebuilt again later in the second century, this time in white marble. The marble stadium was used for the Panathenaic Games, hence the name.

When the Christians took over, the stadium fell into disuse. Folks back then quarried the marble of the stadium and put it to other uses.

In 1895, the stadium was reconstructed in white marble. The version that stands today hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

View of Mount Whatever (Hill) from Panathenaic Stadium. (The picture is zoomed somewhat. It's not that close.)
View of Mount Whatever (Hill) from Panathenaic Stadium. (The picture is zoomed somewhat. It’s not that close.)

According to the audioguide provided with the price of admission, when they excavated the old stadium in preparation to reconstruct it as the current one, they found a few (a very few) of the old marble architectural elements intact. Not only did they use them to help get the marble recreations right, but they also used those few original pieces in the construction of the recreated stadium. The audioguide directed me to where two of them are. I could tell which they were because, as the audioguide told me, they were a slightly more off-white colour than the new marble, I assume because of greatly more weathering. Although, the difference is so slight that I doubt I would have noticed if the audioguide hadn’t pointed it out to me.

Once the stadium was reconstructed and used for the first modern Olympic Games, the rest is history. History, in this case, being every four years, a few cities and their national governments compete fiercely for the right to spend astronomical sums to build facilities and host the Games. But it’s all worth it because the Games bring together the nations of the world to play contrived contests in peace and good sportsmanship, free from violence. Free from violence, that is, except when they’re not. (See: Munich Olympics Massacre, 1972.) And, while I haven’t checked, I doubt the world has always universally put its wars on hold throughout the Olympics as an Olympic Truce theoretically says it’s supposed to do. And, even if it has, the Olympic Games only last a couple of weeks. Then it’s back to war they go.

View of the Acropolis from Panathenaic Stadium. (The picture is zoomed as much as my phone allows. It's not that close.)
View of the Acropolis from Panathenaic Stadium. (The picture is zoomed as much as my phone allows. It’s not that close.)

Come to think of it, maybe I was wrong. Maybe it’s not all worth it.

But I digress.

The white marble Panathenaic Stadium is stunning as stadiums go. Climbing partway up into the stands on one side provided a terrific view of Mount Whatever (Hill). Climbing partway up the stands on the other side afforded a terrific view of the Acropolis. So, it would be a great venue for me to watch sporting events as long as I don’t get a seat on the bottom of the horseshoe, which doesn’t have those views. Sporting events bore the heck out of me. At least I’d have something nice to look at while I was there.

(I resisted until this point mentioning that some sources refer to this stadium as the Kallimármarmo Stadium, although not a fault of transliteration this time. Harrumph.)

Museum of Cycladic Art

An almost life-size figurine at the Museum of Cycladic Art
An almost life-size figurine at the Museum of Cycladic Art

The Museum of Cycladic Art is small. In fact, despite having more floors, it’s tiny compared to the Benaki Museum. And the Benaki isn’t huge either. In other words, the Cycladic Museum is my kind of museum. It provides exhibits on four floors, but each floor is just a single, small room.

The museum presents mostly ancient art from the Cyclades, a group of Islands in the Aegean Sea. I didn’t mean to be pedantic there in saying what the Cyclades are. Truth is, I didn’t know before I saw it in the museum. My four readers are all very knowledgeable people. They, unlike me, probably already knew. But this is the worldwide web. One never knows when someone as ignorant as I am might, against all odds, stumble on this page. I want to help them because I can relate.

Despite the museum’s name, its works are not exclusively from the Cyclades. It also displays some Cypriot pieces. (I know that Cyprus isn’t part of the Cyclades. That is to say, I know that now. I just checked.)

A sculpted head at the Cycladic Museum
A sculpted head at the Cycladic Museum

And it’s questionable whether one should call all of it art. That’s not an aesthetic comment. It’s the age-old question that I imagine turns art historians’ (you know who you are) stomachs. I.e., what is art? Is it proper to call functional pieces, such as jugs and vases that are decorated, but were still intended to be primarily functional, art? If not, then not everything displayed at the Museum of Cycladic Art is art.

Unless I missed something, the first floor of the museum does display only Cycladic pieces. Probably more than half of the collection on that floor are figurines, mostly of women. The figurines vary in size from tiny to one that’s almost life-size. (Although, I say “almost life-size” as someone who never attained full adult height.)

In almost all of the figurines, the arms are folded. I don’t know why. Maybe an art historian can tell me. The funny thing is, without being conscious of when I did it, after spending a short time in that room I noticed that I was walking around with my arms folded. I don’t know what being so open to the power of suggestion says about me. Probably not something positive.

Again, unless I missed something, I think everything on the first floor was from the BCE times, including some from more than 1000 BCE.

The collections on the other floors varied more. And some, but not all, came from, not BCE, but the first half of the CE years so far.

The top floor displayed fewer artifacts. Instead, it used illustrations, text and a video to portray the life of the people and their gods from the BCE times of the artifacts in the museum’s collections.


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