Connecting people and cultures: The case of the National Archaeological Museum – Athens, Greece

Ancient Civilizations Forum
Academic Forum

Second session: Civilization as a tool of soft and smart diplomatic power
Athens, 24 April

Operating and acting in the new era of globalization, Greek archaeological museums are experiencing new challenges and a growing public interest both from local communities and foreign visitors. People travel round the globe, communicate, get in touch with different societies, cultures and traditions, share knowledge and information.

Archaeological museums were traditionally seen as learning places, where visitors came to find expert knowledge and resources about ancient civilizations.

Yet, in the period of massive tourism and globalization, archaeological museums are expected to adopt a new, multidimensional role, to bring together the ancient past with the people of today, to build on social cohesion, inter-cultural dialogue, communication and international cooperation.

In the context of today’s conference, I will briefly refer to the global dialogues the oldest and largest archaeological museum of Greece engages in.

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens was founded at the end of the 19th century. Its exhibition space extends over 9,500 square meters – 11,000 artefacts from the 7th millennium BC to the 5th c. AD. are on display- 200,000 ancient artefacts are kept in the museum’s storage facilities – five conservation laboratories provide on a daily basis all the necessary conservation treatment.

At the same time, the NAM cooperates with the scientific community and actively promotes research and study of its antiquities on an international scale. To illustrate this, during the last year, 125 research projects from Greece and abroad have been implemented.

Temporary exhibitions, innovative thematic activities and events, educational programs, theatrical and musical performances by contemporary artists take place very often, aiming at motivating the museum’s visitors to:

  • Get acquainted with ancient Greek culture
  • Connect ancient culture with everyday experiences
  • Promote collaboration and a sense of collectivity and belonging.

In this way, the National Archaeological Museum is the most visited museum in Greece after the Acropolis Museum and welcomes annually a number of 470,000 visitors from Greece and abroad.

However, the National Archaeological Museum exceeds the boundaries of its facilities.
Ιt is worth mentioning that between 2009 and 2016 the Museum participated in 45 temporary exhibitions of major museums of the world by temporarily lending about 1.500 ancient artefacts. At the same time, it co-organized 6 temporary exhibitions in Europe, North America and Asia.

The exhibition “Heaven and Earth” traveled to Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago in the USA.
The exhibition “The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great” traveled to Montreal, Ottava, Chicago and Washington, in Canada and the USA.
In the exhibition “The sunken treasure – the shipwreck of Antikythera”, co-organized with the Antikenmuseum Basel und Sammlung Ludwig, in Switzerland, the National Archaeological Museum participated with 370 artefacts.

In the exhibition “Gods, Heroes and Athletes”, co-organized with the Regional Archaeological Museum in Alcala de Henares in Spain, the National Archaeological Museum participated with 36 artefacts.
In the exhibition “Golden Legend” which traveled to Tokyo, Sendai and Nagoya in Japan, the National Archaeological Museum participated with 147 artefacts.
In the exhibition “A Journey to the Land of Immortals”, which traveled to Tokyo, Nagasaki and Kobe, in Japan, the NAM participated with 109 artifacts.

Thus, the excellent collaboration between the NAM and other museums illustrates the potential of cultural exchanges to create long-standing friendship networks among different museums and countries.

It is noteworthy that on the 150th anniversary of the National Archaeological Museum the following major museums and institutions offered temporary loans of works of art as prominent “gifts”: Palace Museum of Beijing, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, Badisches Landesmuseum of Karlsruhe, University of Heidelberg.

It is also worth touching upon the emotionally moving reactions of the museum’s visitors, as these are expressed in the Visitor Comment Book.

Browsing through the thousands of comments written in different languages, we conclude that our visitors perceive very positively the contribution of the National Archaeological Museum in issues relating to history and culture, art and archaeology, beauty and aesthetics and maintenance of cultural heritage.

These heartfelt thanks expressed in the languages of the world underline vividly the power of inter-cultural communication to bring mutual understanding and respect among people, countries and cultures.

Dr Maria Lagogianni-Georgakarakos
Director of the National Archaeological Museum

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