Byzantine and Christian Museum

Location: Vasilissis Sofias Ave   

The Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens, Greece: The Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens is located in the centre of Athens, just 5 min walk from Syntagma Square. It is housed in a 19th century Neoclassical building called Villa Ilissia. This villa was the winter residence of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, commonly known in Greece as the Duchess of Plaisance.

The duchess was a wealthy American-born lady (1785) was had got married to a French military in 1804 and had moved to Athens in 1830. At first, she lived in Nafplion and contributed financially the Greek War of Independence. When Athens became the capital of the country in 1834, she moved there and constructed Villa Ilissia behind the Royal Palace. The villa took this name by river Ilissos that used to flow that time at the south side of the gardens.

The Duchess of Plaisance died in 1854 and was buried in the mountain of Penteli, northern Attica. After her death, her fortune was inherited by her French nephew who later sold them to the Greek State.

The building of the villa started in 1840 and was completed in 1848. The designs were made by Stamatis Kleanthis, a distinguished architect who had also constructed many other private and public buildings in Athens that time. Distinguished by simplicity and strict symmetry, the exterior of the villa is all covered with marble. The central building, that was the residence of the Duchess, has two storeys and a basement. This imposing building stands at the far end of the yard and has a gatehouse at the entrance. Carved on the arch of the marble vaulted entrance is the name of the complex: Ilissia. In the mid 20th century, some additional buildings were constructed in the garden of the villa.

The Byzantine and Christian Museum was established in 1914 and at first it was housed in a room of the National Archaeological Museum. In 1930, the Byzantine Museum was transferred to Villa Ilissia, after the necessary architectural changes were made, particularly in the basement, to host the exhibitions. The collection of the museum contains more than 25,000 exhibits, including unique icons, sculptures, wall frescoes, ceramics, textiles and manuscripts dating from the 3rd century AD till recently. Occasionally it also hosts many permanent exhibitions.

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