The gift shops operating at Greece’s museums and archaeological sites sum up the Culture Ministry’s idea of promoting the country’s cultural legacy, says archaeologist Mimika Giannopoulou, a member of the board at the Archaeological Resources Fund (TAP). Over the past few months, Giannopoulou’s job has been to freshen up the products available at these shops, as well as the spaces themselves. Until recently, visitors looking for a decent Greek souvenir found empty shelves, limited choice, stock shortages, old-fashioned designs, badly lit stores and idle staff. That is when the shops were actually open.
Things have certainly changed at the National Archaeological Museum (NAM) in Athens. The basement shop now has more light, more color and more products, including a selection of painted sculptures that have gone on sale for the first time. The museum launched Greece’s first reproductions workshop in 1893, but the systematic production of casts and replicas didn’t start until 1970, at the capital’s Epigraphical Museum. Then, in 1999, production moved to a bigger facility in Rendi, western Athens, where today a group of talented painters and sculptors make copies of artifacts, mostly using plaster.
The public is mostly a stranger to the craft. Interestingly, the NAM gives visitors an idea of what is involved. “I wanted [to create] a narrative that would make it stand out from other museum shops,” Giannopoulou says. “You need to explain to visitors that what they are seeing is not just a plaster cast, but a piece of art in its own right. After years of neglect, I wanted to offer people at the TAP workshops an incentive,” she says.
The next step will be the production of a short film depicting the various stages of the process that will also be screened on commercial flights.
The NAM shop has seen a spike in sales. “The first items to run out were the small doves,” Giannopoulou says. Demand is also high for decorative scarf holders. Other items include Antinous wearing a gold laurel wreath around his head, the stele of Aristion, and the sculptured form of a hoplitodromos (a hoplite race in armor).
Pencils cost 2 to 3 euros, mugs, plates and so on for around 14 euros and T-shirts start from 10 euros, but scarves are more pricey. Figurines are no longer in fashion. Visitors seem to prefer the heads of gods, priced at between 30 and 40 euros. The Charioteer of Delphi, also known as Heniokhos, is the most expensive item on sale, at 4,000 euros. Such items are purchased mainly by foreigners.
The shop at the Acropolis Museum still needs work, while more items need to be added to the shelves of the store at the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The aim, Giannopoulou says, is for each museum shop to have its own, emblematic souvenir. Efforts are under way to kick-start work at the workshops in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, on the islands of Crete and Rhodes, as well as at Olympia and Delphi.
“Certain people inside TAP are against change. We are stirring the pot and parts of the [TAP] administration are resorting to bureaucratic obstacles to hold us back. In order to overcome such hurdles, people at the National Archaeological Museum even bought some materials out of their own pockets,” she says.
Giannopoulou is determined to reach her target. “Those who stand in the way will be held accountable.”