New life seems to have been breathed into Apostolou Pavlou, the pedestianized street stretching from Thiseio train station to the turnoff leading to the Acropolis ticket office in central Athens. On a recent stroll around the area I observed street sellers arranging their handmade jewelry and souvenirs on portable stands and waiters rearranging tables and chairs at the numerous cafes and restaurants that line the cobbled walkway. Before I turned down Irakleidon Street, my attention was drawn to a beautifully restored neoclassical building on the right-hand corner, at number 37.
This is the new annex of the Herakleidon Art Museum, which opened a few weeks ago just meters away from the flagship venue at 16 Irakleidon, thanks to Pavlos and Belinda Fyrou, Greek-American art collectors and the founders of the new museum.
“We waited seven years to get the license to renovate the building,” Fyros told me as we approached the entrance of the venue which officially opened on October 17 with a photography exhibition titled “Metamorphoses of Athens: A Photographic Itinerary 1839-1950,” which shows the transformation of the Greek capital through material from the archive of historian and photography collector Haris Yiakoumis.
The launch of the new space by the Herakleidon Art Museum, best known for its collection of works by M.C. Escher and Victor Vasarely as well as its education programs drawing links between the arts and sciences, comes as the institution celebrates its 10th anniversary. At the main building at 16 Irakleidon I met up with the museum’s director, Eleni Nomikou, who showed me around some interesting exhibits that are part of an upcoming education program on the sciences. I heard the sound of children’s voices coming from the courtyard, where a seminar was under way.
“When we came back to open the museum in September after the summer break we found that 12,000 children had made bookings for our educational programs in the new season,” Nomikou said.
I was very impressed by my tour of the annex at 37 Apostolou Pavlou and by the exhibition, a tribute to Athens on the 180th anniversary since it was proclaimed the capital of Greece. Fyros and his wife showed me around the exhibition, which points to the many significant changes that took place in the Greek capital from 1839, when King Otto first entered the city, to 1950, or the start of postwar reconstruction.
“We spotted this building 15 years ago. It was a residence, built in 1895. The owner had to leave it because he couldn’t afford the upkeep and, because he had asthma, suffered from being on a road that was at the time very busy with traffic,” explained Fyros.
“We bought it before the building on Irakleidon because we originally planned for the museum to be housed here,” he added. “But when we started working on it, we got a chance to purchase the other building. We continued with the renovations until we applied for a license, after which everything came to a halt. We turned our attention to the other building, transforming it into a proper educational institution, but we no longer had the space to hold exhibitions as the teaching programs needed to have illustrations of their own. In the meantime we were granted the license for the renovation and thought that [the Apostolou Pavlou venue] would be where we would hold exhibitions.”
Other than the exhibition that is currently on display at the annex, it’s also worth visiting the building to admire the interior of the neoclassical mansion and especially its ornate ceilings, which have been fully restored.
“We wanted our first exhibition to be a homage to Athens, to showcase how it has changed,” said Fyros. “The concept behind the new museum is exhibitions that have broad public appeal. To bring the big artists you need to charge the respective admission fee. Greece’s economic situation is not very good right now; nevertheless people still need good entertainment for their souls. We believe that thanks to the location of the venue and the affordable admission fee [4 euros], a lot of people will come to Thiseio, not just for a coffee, but also to visit the museum.”
“Metamorphoses of Athens: A Photographic Itinerary 1839-1950” will be on display at the new annex through the end of January. The exhibition consists of more than 100 original photographs, some of which date to the beginnings of photography. The journey through the transformations that Athens has undergone is complemented by large-scale aerial shots of the Greek capital, as well as a display of old cameras and stereoscopes, two of which date to the turn of the 20th century.
There is also a section containing photographs of present-day Athens taken by Kathimerini journalist Nikos Vatopoulos, bridging the gap between past and present.
Opening hours: Tuesdays-Fridays 5-9 p.m., Saturdays-Sundays 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.