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Greece's best small museums
From art to archaeology, Robin Gauldie offers his pick of the best smaller museums in Greece.
Most museums operated by the Ministry of Culture are closed on Mondays. Admission is normally free on the first and second Sunday in September and the last weekend in September, first Sunday in October and national holidays. A useful guide to opening times and admission charges can be found at www.culture.gr but it’s not 100 per cent reliable as there is no longer the budget or staff to update it properly.
All museums are suffering from budget and staff cuts, so opening times may be curtailed without notice; many may also be affected by public-sector strikes.
Samos Archaeological Museum, Samos
All the archaeology, none of the crowds. Housed in a fine neoclassical building and a modern wing, this museum has a fine collection.
The centrepiece is the colossal marble kouros (statue of a youth), wearing a serene, Buddha-like smile and a hairdo that is irresistibly reminiscent of Rasta-style locks. Seek out other gems: the defaced but sensuous wooden figurine of a nude woman, dating from the seventh century BC, and the marvellously intact 18-inch tall ivory image of a kneeling youth.
Best of all, the place is often deserted (Iroon Polytechniou, Vathy; 0030 2730 27469; http://odysseus.culture.gr/index_en.html; €3/£2.65; under-18s and students free; over-65s €2/£1.75).
Vori Folklore Museum, Crete
Of all the islands, Crete is the place where tradition lingers longest. It’s only one generation since many of the household and farming implements on show here were in everyday use.
The museum brilliantly shows how life was for villagers within living memory: tough but not necessarily unhappy. Chaffing sleds, rakes and picks used to wrest a living from rocky soil, wooden looms, but also walls hung with graceful lyras and other musical instruments (Vori village; 28290 91392; http://odysseus.culture.gr/index_en.html; €3/£2.65; under-18s and students free).
Museum of Modern Greek Art, Rhodes
A reminder that Greek art isn’t all marbles, icons and traditional embroidery, this little museum has just six rooms hung with prints and paintings by 19th- and 20th-century artists.
The black-and-white engravings which make up around half the collection are the best part, and Second World War history buffs will enjoy the room incongruously packed with historic maps donated by the family of Noel Rees, commander of the clandestine MI9 operation in the Aegean and a forgotten hero of the war (Plateia Symis 2, Rhodes Old Town; 22410 23766; www.mgamuseum.gr; €3/£2.65; over-65s €1/88p; under-18s, teachers and academics free. The ticket also gives entrance to the New Museum of Modern Art at Plateia G, Haritos, in the New Town, which opened last year and is dedicated to works by 20th-century Greek artists).
Aegean Maritime Museum, Mykonos
This museum celebrates the vessels and seafarers of Greece with charts, paintings, photographs and, best of all, a flotilla of models of ships, from the cockleshells of the archaic Cyclades and the Athenian battle triremes that saved democracy from Persian hegemony to the trehantiri, the broad-bottomed workhorse of the Aegean to this day. A classic full-size example, the Evangelistria, is moored in the Old Harbour, a five-minute walk away (Enoplon Dynameon 10, Tria Pigadhia, Chora; 22890 22700; www.mykonos.gr; €3/£2.65; under-18s €2; £1.75).
Bouboulina Museum, Spetses
There’s a great, colourful painting of Greece’s own Pirate Jenny, the renowned female admiral of the War of Independence, hanging in the hall of her former home, a grand 17th-century mansion. Gesturing grandly – and displaying a considerable embonpoint – she is ordering the assault on the Turkish fortress at Navplion.
Born in 1771, the twice-widowed Laskarina Bouboulina, against the odds, became first a prosperous fleet-owner, then an admiral in the War of Independence. The struggle bankrupted her, and in 1825 she was murdered in a family feud.
The highlight is the grand salon, with its carved Florentine ceiling, Ottoman rugs and fine French and Italian furniture. Bouboulina’s gold-plated pistol hangs on the wall (Dapia, Spetses; 22980 72416; www.bouboulinamuseum-spetses.gr; €6/£5.30; under-18s €2/£1.75; over-65s €4/£3.50).
Archaeological Museum and Vouvalis Mansion Museum, Kalymnos
From cave-dwellers to millionaires, this great little museum covers a much greater span of Greece’s past than many bigger rivals.
Draped in bronze, the Lady of Kalymnos faces the entrance to the stylish new wing, which houses archaic finds from the island’s limestone caverns, as well as the usual bronzes, marbles and pottery.
But jump two millennia to the other wing, the Vouvalis Mansion, where the lifestyle of a 19th-century trading dynasty whose sponge-diving empire stretched from the Aegean to North Africa and the Caribbean and Florida, is preserved in all its maroon plush and gilt-mirrored glory (Enoria Aghias Triadas/Plateia Kyprou, Pothia; 22430 23113; €3/£2.65; under-18s €2/£1.75).
Theofilos Museum, Lesbos
The eccentric Theofilos Hatzimichail (1870-1934) wandered the hills of his native Lesbos (and of Pilion, on the mainland) dressed in the fustanella costume of a fighter of the War of Independence, paying his way by adorning the walls of local tavernas with his vivid murals of battles and island life. His naive genius was eventually recognised by a fellow-Lesbian, the remarkable Statis Eleftheriadis (aka Teriade).
The collection is an inspiration for all would-be artists to throw away the rule book and just do it (Varia, Mytilini; 22510 41644; http://odysseus.culture.gr/index_en.html; adults €2/£1.75; under-18s €1/88p).
Alonissons Museum, Alonissos
Lots of great piratical stuff in this husband-and-wife museum opened by Kostas and Angela Marikis in an old island mansion in 2000.
Cannon, cutlasses, maps and ship models abound, along with relics of Second World War resistance and traditional island life.
Bringing things up to date, there are also exhibitions of contemporary sculpture and photography (Patitiri; 24240 66250; www.alonissosmuseum.com; €4/£3.50; under-8s free; 8-18 €2/£1.75; over-65s €3/£2.65).
Cycladic Art Museum, Athens
Head straight for the first floor of this under-visited museum for a glimpse of a culture far more ancient (and less well known) than Athens or Sparta. Dating from 3000-2000BC, these small, highly stylised marble figures hint at an artistic mindset far distant from the Classical world. It is easy to see why they inspired Modigliani, Moore and Picasso (Neophytou Douka 4; 21072 28321; www.cycladic.gr; €7/£6.15; free under-18s and students; over-65s €3.50/£3).
Jewish Museum, Thessaloniki
This is one of a few Greek museums that act as a reminder that Greece was once much more multicultural than it is today.
Go straight to the third floor to step back in time to one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe in its day, with displays of elaborate costumes and paraphernalia; then visit the fourth floor for the story of that community’s demise at the hands of the Nazis, when almost all Thessaloniki’s Jewish residents were deported and killed.
Moving, and grim (Agiou Mina 13; 23102 50406; www.jmth.gr; free admission).
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