Kifissia museum holds its own

As thousands of prospective land developers have found out the hard way, the discovery of antiquities in your backyard can have highly tiresome repercussions. Communities, however, which can afford to take a more enlightened view, tend to get very upset when locally unearthed artifacts get carted off by state archaeologists to join thousands of other ancient finds in storage, with next to no chance of ever making it into crowded museums’ display cases. Too often, the story ends there. But occasionally, local communities, backed by excavators, are tenacious enough to secure the repatriation of their antiquities, to be displayed in purpose-built museums. Over a century after systematic excavations began at the most impressive Bronze Age site in mainland Greece, Mycenae now has its own museum. Which makes it all the more remarkable that, less than four years after the discovery – just down the road from the Kifissia railway station – of a rich cemetery dating from the eighth century BC to the fourth century AD, the leafy northern Athens suburb now boasts its own small museum. The modestly named Archaeological Collection of Kifissia occupies a listed 1930s villa on the corner of Kassaveti and Georganta streets, that provides about 150 square meters of exhibition space, as well as a conservation lab, offices and storerooms. The museum only came into existence after a five-year campaign by Culture Ministry archaeologists – spurred by Dimitris Schilardi, who was in charge of the cemetery excavation as well as several other digs in northern Athens – backed by Kifissia municipal authorities and a dogged group of local residents who formed the Society of Friends of the Archeological Museum of Kifissia (EFAMK) in early 2002. «Over the past decade, excavations in the northern suburbs and Kifissia, together with the large number of digs conducted more recently due to construction work for the Athens 2004 Olympics, have forced the state archaeological service to seek novel ways of storing and showcasing all the new finds,» Schilardi said. «There were a lot of artifacts which had to go somewhere. Kifissia had several museums, but none dedicated to antiquity. The Archaeological Collection will now fill that void.» While the ministry provided the antiquities and specialized personnel, the Municipality of Kifissia contributed the museum building, paying the rent and the monthly bills. And EFAMK, headed by architect Pavlos Calligas, undertook to renovate the building using funds from subscriptions, private and state sponsorship as well as members’ voluntary work. While the display – around 160 antiquities are exhibited – is weighted in favor of the artifacts from Kifissia, other areas of northern and northeastern Athens are also represented. The northernmost peak of the Tourkovounia hills produced remains of a shrine dating to 700 BC that is associated with ancestral worship, while in Classical times the spot was dedicated to Zeus Ombrios, the bringer of rain. In Maroussi, the ancient deme of Athmono, excavations in 2001-02 revealed a large ancient cemetery used from the sixth century BC to Roman times. Several fine pieces of Classical pottery were unearthed (associated with the workshop of the Achilles Painter), while the grave of a youth was found to contain a collection of 55 knucklebones, used in a game that was popular among boys and teenagers in antiquity. Pallini, once a country village that now lies on the eastern fringes of the modern city, provided a group of impressive marble funerary monuments – a large relief sculpture of a seated woman with her slave, and several urns – from a cemetery built on the western bank of the Panaghitsa streambed. Kifissia is represented by the finds from the cemetery, as well as a number of pieces of second century AD sculpture associated with the area’s most famous ancient resident, the philosopher and public benefactor Herodes Atticus. Herodes, who built the odeum under the Acropolis that is still named after him and the marble stadium at Ardittos, as well as several public buildings in Corinth, Delphi and Olympia, had a tumultuous relationship with his fellow Athenians. This is graphically demonstrated by a curse Herodes had inscribed on a marble slab, now in the museum, to deter vandals from attacking his property (a series of imprecations culminating in an ill death for the vandals and their families). Among the earlier exhibits is a marble head from a male statue, discovered in Kato Kifissia, dating to around 420 BC. «This shows that there are masterpieces hidden under Kifissia, which future archaeological excavations may reveal,» Schilardi said. The ancient cemetery of Kifissia, excavated in a plot on the corner of Socratous and Aharnon streets, contained some 200 burials and, according to Schilardi, is one of the most important in the whole of Attica. The finds on display include a bronze urn and a 90-centimeter-long iron sword that date to the eighth century BC. «These funerary offerings attest to the wealth and power of Kifissia’s aristocratic families during Geometric times, while the burial customs show that they sought to imitate the heroic traditions described by Homer,» said Schilardi, who is now pushing for a larger venue for the artifacts. «Since 2000, there has been a huge flow of finds. This creates the need for a larger museum,» he said, adding that the Municipality of Kifissia has expressed willingness to provide an 8,000-square-meter plot on which a suitable building can be erected. The Archaeological Collection of Kifissia, 30, Georganta & Kassaveti, tel 210.801.2116. EFAMK can be contacted at the e-mail address [email protected].

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