I’m sitting in a beautiful garden surrounded by classical sculptures and exotic foliage. Brazilian jazz is playing as I sip my glass of sangria. Who could imagine I am in the middle of downtown Athens or that this garden is at the former home of the explorer Heinrich Schliemann.
This “Garden of the Muses” is part of what was the Schliemann estate, located just a few blocks from Syntagma Square. Now it houses the Numismatic Museum of Athens, but during the summer months every Thursday in the Garden visitors are treated to an evening of music: classical, jazz and traditional. Or, you can just stop by for a refreshing cafe frappe and relax in the serenity of the lush surroundings.
As long as I lived in Athens, and as many times that I have visited, until this summer I never ventured past the front gate of this neoclassical mansion, known as the Iliou Melathron (Palace of the Lion) where the famous German businessman/archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, once lived. But this summer, as I passed by, I noticed a sign advertising a jazz evening in the garden so I invited my friends to join me and we attended.
Schliemann was a pioneer in the study of Aegean civilizations during the Bronze Age. A devoted fan of the Greek poet Homer’s works, he set out to seek and excavate the ancient sites of Ithaka, Mycenae and Troy. The fabled “Mask of Agamemnon’ discovered by Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae is exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
The house, where he lived with his young Greek wife, Sophia Engastromenos, and their two children, was built by the famous German architect Ernst Ziller, and completed in 1881. It is one of the few buildings of that era still remaining in Athens. The house has an Italian Renaissance style later adapted to the late 19th century neoclassicism. It was considered one of the most elegant mansions in Athens.
That evening, as I sat in the Garden of Muses, I made up my mind to return the next day and take a look inside. The house has been turned into a museum and now displays important collections of coins, medals, precious stones and books.
The building is surrounded by the garden on three sides with a curved marble staircase leading up to the entrance. The arched portico facing the street is painted with a mural as are many of the interior walls and ceilings, depicting scenes that are copies of those found in Pompeii. The mosaic floors were inspired by Schliemann’s excavations of Mycenae.
The museum exhibitions start in the old reception rooms where visitors can learn about the various metals used in the coinage and how they used to cut the ancient coins. This is one of the most important museums in Greece with one of the greatest collections of coins in the world. I was thrilled when I entered the Literary Salon, to find gold staters from King Philip II of Macedonia and Alexander the Great. An even bigger thrill was finding a silver tetradrachma of Alexander exactly like the ring I wear. Besides the hordes from the 6th century BC, Hellenistic and Roman times, there are also Byzantine and Medieval collections from Western Europe, the East and the Ottoman Empire. Most of the collections have been donated by wealthy Greeks. The museum contains 600,000 objects from the 14th century BC until modern times. The museum also houses a library of 12,000 books on the study of coinage.
I spent a fascinating hour wandering around looking at all the exhibits, especially admiring the gorgeous architecture and trying to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a luxurious mansion!
My visit to the Numismatic Museum was well-worth the time I spent there. Even if you’re not interested in coins, you’ll still enjoy the ambience of the Schliemann house. And don’t forget to drop by one evening to enjoy some music in the Garden of Muses.
Written by and photos by W. Ruth Kozak for EuropeUpClose.com