Summer. Athens is melting in the heat, thermometers show 40 degrees in the shade. You can, of course, spend all your time on the beach, but it is unforgivable for Greece. Even if you rest on the islands, muster the courage and make a day trip to Athens. Agree with me, it is better to look at ancient Greek artifacts with your own eyes than read about them in travel blogs.
However, an assault of the Acropolis in summer is a real horror. Yes, the Parthenon is majestic and caryatids are beautiful, but Athens has the one place where you can find the most important Greek artifacts and enjoy them in very comfortable conditions. I’m speaking of the biggest museum in Greece—the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. It has some rare sculptures and ceramics dated to as early as the 11th century B.C.
Sure, during the last two hundred years, many masterpieces of ancient art migrated to the Louvre, the British Museum, or the Hermitage, but you will not be disappointed by a visit to the Athens museum. Its collection of ancient statues is great. At first, classic sculptures, then artifacts retrieved from sunken ships, then Schliemann’s gold…. Having reached the second floor, we were tired as hell and needed a break.
Here, I’m going to tell you about a surprising meeting with my own childhood in the inner garden of the Athens Archeology Museum, but first a small prologue….
Well, how could a civilization step forward so dramatically from the grotesque and showy–albeit majestic–ancient Egyptian statues to the almost perfect stony image of a human and human movements?! Just look at these faces! You can hardly find such a face nowadays.
You look at this face from the bottom up and think: It is very good that the master did not cut pupils in the eyeballs, otherwise it would be rather mystical. Even without them, the face seems so alive that you are ready to start a conversation with a statue. What about the knowledge of anatomy for which Michelangelo is so famous? Just look at this one! This wonder was created hundreds of years before his time.
Even the fragments of statues strike you! You look at this arm and realize it is yours!
After several hours of wandering among the ancient statues, vases, gravestones, and bas-reliefs, we came down to a cozy little café located on the ground floor of the Athens museum. Its windows face the inner garden which is obviously used as a sort of storage space—fragments of statues, bas-reliefs, and columns….
Tired and happy, we sit near the huge window with our tea and tasty apple pie and…. Wait a minute, what is there in the garden?! A statue in the shadow…
When I was about ten years old I was really keen on antique things—myths, heroes, gods, architecture, and statues—but I did not read ancient philosophers, that started later. I even redrew the photos of statues. For that I put two chairs back to back, put a big glass plate on them and a lamp under the glass. After that, I put an album sheet with the photo of a statue of Aphrodite or Apollo on the glass, put a transparent paper on it, and traced their perfect bodies with a pencil.
I could not just draw it freehand. I do not have artistic talent. That is why I used such a method. The ancient Greek statue of Hercules was my favorite one, and I had no idea that one day I would become a personal fitness trainer who would be trying to create such physiques on people and on himself in real life.
One day my mom caught me during the work and asked strictly, “Why are you drawing naked women?” (Well, it was a common mode of dressing among the Goddesses). But Mom was smart enough to keep this theme undeveloped.
…I left my tea and pie, and came to see. HERCULES. Here he is—my pencil silhouette, the very same Hercules that I drew no less than 100 times as a little boy. Tears welled up in my eyes.
Immediately, my childhood returned—chairs, glass plate, lamp, transparent paper, mother, “Why are you drawing naked women?”
Here he is, the hero and icon of my childhood, as old as time, but still mighty; a piece of art which determined standards of a powerful man’s figure for many hundreds of years to come and was copied all over the world thousands of times. And I lived long enough to see the original and even touch it.
After numerous halls with Hellenic ceramics, we skipped the Egyptian halls (excluding only the Fayum mummy portraits) and almost before the closing of the museum, we decided to go down to the hall of the early classic which turned out to be a real discovery for us. There was a meeting with the statue which outshone, in Irina’s eyes, many great works of art of the Louvre, the Vatican, and the Capitoline Museum in Rome.
If you ever visit the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, you will see that ancient Greeks could work with bronze as skilfully as with marble. I’m speaking about the statue of Poseidon recovered from the sea at Cape Artemision and dated to 460 B.C.
Breathtaking for its reality, the two-meter statue is one of a few surviving original bronze antique statues. Experts still argue over who it is, Poseidon or Zeus, but for us tourists, it is a miracle from which you cannot look away. This beautiful giant was found in 1928 in the place of a shipwreck near the island of Eubea. The calm and stern face, athletic physique, powerful hands… Some scientists think his right hand was clutching a spear. How many similar masterpieces lie under the sea? Sometimes, we regret we are not divers.
Another strong impression is this galloping bronze horse. Can you imagine your small son riding on this beauty?
Don’t hesitate to give the National Archaeological Museum of Greece a whole day. Moving from one hall to another, you will notice how statues have improved, how ancient Greeks have searched for a style which later would become a classic for every European civilization.
Athens is an oasis of cultural communications, and being in Europe, you have no excuse for missing out on this happy opportunity. You will return home not only with a chocolate tan after the Greek seas, but with a lot of bright impressions for all life.