Antonis Benakis, the scion of one of the leading families of the Greek diaspora, was born in Alexandria in 1873. He was witness to the vibrant tradition of national benefaction which, from the earliest years of Greek independence, was so clearly manifest amongst the Greek communities abroad. Antonis Benakis in front of a showcase with an ancient vase. 1940-1950. © Benaki Museum, Historical Archives. Benakis began his career as a collector in Alexandria, gradually reaching the decision to donate his collections to the Greek state, an idea that became reality after he settled permanently in Athens in 1926. The world in which Antonis Benakis moved was shaped in a period when the drive to extend the boundaries of the Greek state was as much an element of contemporary society as the parallel ideologies of urban development and enlightenment through education. Benakis' proverbial generosity towards other cultural institutions and undertakings was indicative of this. His personality was formed within a family environment which nourished such ideals, and which also fostered the exceptional literary talents of his sister, Penelope Delta (1874-1941), whose stories have been familiar to generations of Greek children. It is certain that Antonis Benakis, the founder of the Benaki Museum, was also influenced by the example of his father Emmanuel Benakis (1843-1929). A close friend and colleague of the great statesman Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936), Emmanuel Benakis placed his fortune at the disposal of numerous charitable foundations and likewise contributed to the settlement of refugees in the aftermath of the catastrophe in Asia Minor. Within this context, the nature of Antonis Benakis’s benefaction becomes self-evident. Its most salient feature remains the fact that during his own lifetime Benakis donated the museum he created to the Greek state. Of equal importance was his continuous involvement, until his death in 1954, in enriching and improving the organization of the museum’s holdings, and his role in ensuring its financial security.
Main Building History
The Benaki Museum of Greek Culture is housed in one of the most beautiful neoclassical-style buildings in Athens, near the National Garden and the Hellenic Parliament. It was converted into a museum in order to shelter the collections of Antonis Benakis and was donated to the Greek nation by himself and his three sisters, Alexandra, Penelope and Argine. Following its most recent refurbishment (1989–2000), the building houses a unique exhibition on Greek culture arranged diachronically from prehistory to the 20th century.
A modest edifice was the original core of the building complex. The first enlargement, including substantial alterations, was designed by Anastasios Metaxas in 1911 after the building was purchased by Emmanuel Benakis, Antonis’s father. Additions included an external staircase and a Doric porch in marble leading up to the Vass. Sofias Ave. entrance front as well as the main façade ornamentations. The next extension was done in 1930 with the aim to convert the building into a museum housing Antonis Benakis’s Greek and Islamic art collections as well as a collection of Chinese ceramics. Further extensions in 1965, 1968 and 1973 proved necessary for accommodating the ever-expanding body of donations. After its 1989–2000 expansion and remodelling, the building houses the Benaki Museum collection of Greek art and material culture, the ‘Spyridon & Eurydice Costopoulos Gallery’ for temporary exhibitions, the Library and various museum operations and offices.
When to go
- Monday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday: 10:00 – 18:00
- Tuesday: Closed
- It is closed on some national holidays.
- The Museum will remain closed for the public until further notice
- Full Admission: € 12
- Temporary Exhibition: € 8
- Full Admission: € 9
- Temporary Exhibition: € 6
- Journalists: €1
For the Main Exhibition Building, visitors in wheelchairs or with baby strollers can use the entrance on Vas. Sofias Avenue.
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