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  • Writer's pictureWill von Behr, MA

A Brief History of the National Historical Museum in Athens

What’s in the National Historical Museum?

The National Historical Museum in Athens is a collection of varied artefacts that chart the history of the Greek mainland and islands in a fine Neoclassical building, which once hosted the Hellenic parliament.

The National Historical Museum in Athens at the old parliament house.

George E. Koronaios, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

National Historical Museum History

The Old Parliament House has been home to the National Historical Museum since the 1960s, but as the building’s name suggests, its original purpose was political rather than cultural: it was the seat of the Greek parliament between 1875 and 1935.

There originally stood another building here, an impressive mansion that belonged to a wealthy Athenian businessman named Alexandros Kontostavlos. In 1854, the residence, whose large octagonal banquet hall had served as a meeting place for the Greek parliament, sadly burned down after a chimney caught fire. Following the fire, the Kontostavlos mansion was demolished and replaced by the parliament building you see today, a Neoclassical structure designed by French architect François Boulanger that served as the seat of Greek democracy for 60 years.

The most infamous event in the building’s history is the assassination of the 85-year-old Prime Minister, Theodoros Deligiannis, in 1905. Deligiannis was a divisive figure in his day. His Nationalist party was preoccupied with expanding Greek territory by claiming land from their Ottoman neighbours and former colonial rulers. Deligiannis moved in and out of power: in the last years of his life, he was Prime Minister five times. He was stabbed on the front steps of the Old Parliament House by a gambler, Antonios Gerakaris, in revenge for his recent introduction of legislation against gambling dens. A marble statue of Deligiannis stands near the spot where he was killed.

In the 1960s, the National Historical Museum, which had been established 80 years prior, moved in. It explores the history of the Greek mainland and islands, largely from the 15th century to the 1940s, through a series of fascinating artefacts. These include the ceremonial sword of Byzantine Emperor Leo V, several elaborate figureheads from various ships, an excellent collection of paintings that depict Greek military scenes, and a wing containing regional costumes and spectacular jewellery.

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