Founded in 1837, the Archaeological Society of Athens was not only one of the first institutions to be set up in the newly established Greek state, but also among its most productive. The archaeologists, excavators, scholars, politicians and scientists who served in its ranks were driven by a commitment to protecting Greece’s most valuable assets. And, indeed, the organization succeeded in salvaging a range of archaeological remains ranging from fragments to monuments and, most importantly, writing one of the most important chapters in the nation’s history, shaping its identity.
Currently on display at the ASA’s headquarters is “Chronography,” an exhibition of photographs taken by Robert McCabe in regions of archaeological significance during the American’s first trips to the country between the mid-1950s and early 1960s. Running until the end of March, the exhibition represents an homage to the society’s important work.
“I remember the first time I saw Sounio with its wonderful temple. I was with my good friend Petros Nomikos, who had a boat, and we were admiring the view. A coast guard patrol approached us and told Petros they were looking for a group of escaped convicts. One of the officers pointed to me and said: ‘That’s him!’ Thankfully Petros explained that I had nothing to do with their case and I didn’t have to go in for interrogation,” McCabe tells Kathimerini.
McCabe’s shots show Greece at a time when there were few cars and infrastructure was basic. The photographer toured the Peloponnese with British philhellene and distinguished archaeologist Alan Wace, who rented an old taxi with a Greek driver for the occasion. What was especially enchanting to McCabe was the fact that he could explore places that are impossible for the public to access today, like the interior of the Parthenon or the Athenian Treasury at Delphi, which were open to all at the time.
The most fascinating photographs are those of places that have changed dramatically, such as the island of Santorini. One shot of the island taken from Ancient Thera shows rows of cultivated land where today there is nothing but concrete.
The Archaeological Society of Athens (22 Panepistimiou, Omonia, tel 210.362.6043) is open Mondays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free of charge.