CULTURE

A cultural boost for the town of Argos

During peace time they hosted hospitals, schools and market places. In the darker periods of history they served as a camp for Turkish prisoners of the Balkan Wars, as interrogation and torture chambers, as well as temporary living quarters for Asia Minor immigrants.

The history of the Kapodistrias Barracks in Argos are intrinsically linked to the history of Greece and this landmark is finally being put to use as the first Byzantine Museum in the Peloponnese, scheduled to open its doors in one-and-a-half years. The museum will showcase the cultural wealth of the largely unknown medieval Argolid and will complement the cultural puzzle formed by various ancients sites in the area, including the Acropolis of Argos, neighboring Mycenae, Tirynth and Epidaurus.

The museum is expected to bring a breath of much-needed fresh air into the town of Argos, once mentioned in Homer?s epics and the writings of ancient poets, and now living in relative obscurity. According to Ioannis Maltezos, president of the Argos-Mycenae town council, the town?s existing Archaeological Museum welcomes less than 1,000 visitors a year.

?Unfortunately, we don?t have landmarks and sites that are sufficiently promoted,? noted Maltezos. ?We wish to change this.?

Erected by the Venetians in 1690, the barracks were originally used as a hospital by the Sisters of Mercy, while under Ottoman rule the building housed a bazaar and the town?s postal services.

?The building suffered extensive damage during the Greek War of Independence and according to foreign travelers? accounts was reduced to ruins,? said Anastasios Tsangos, founder and general secretary of the Argolikos Archival Library of History and Culture. It was rebuilt under Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first leader of independent Greece, as it was his government?s initial intention to use it for the country?s first university, a project that never materialized.

In the 1970s the Argos town council?s decision to demolish the barracks created an uproar, leading eventually to the Ministry of Culture listing the building for preservation. More recently and following a proposal by the Department of Archaeology, the municipality agreed to concede the premises for the establishment of the Byzantine Museum.

Stemming mainly from excavations held in Argos and its environs, the museum?s 670 pieces tell the story of Argolid?s prosperous Byzantine era. The museum?s permanent collection, which has never been put on display before, further includes impressive pre-Byzantine mosaics. Also going on display are findings from the ongoing excavations at the Andritsa Cave, where a group of Christians sought refuge in the late 6th century.

The funding for the display area of the permanent collection comes from the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) at a budget of 996,000 euros. Besides the building?s west wing, which will house the museum, the municipality has also ceded other parts of the compound for use as storage space and to host temporary exhibitions, while a municipal library is also in the pipeline.