Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki - by Pol. Adam-Veleni

Archaeological Museum
of Thessaloniki

by Polyxeni Adam-Veleni


            The Museum of Thessaloniki and the Macedonian Ephorate of Antiquities were founded in November 1912, only fifteen days after Central Macedonia, which in antiquity comprised the heart of the Kingdom of Macedon, was annexed to Greece.

            Until 1925, antiquities found scattered through the entire city and province were gathered together/collected in the Dioikitírio (today, this building houses the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace), while antiquities already collected from the period of Ottoman administration of the city were gathered in the Ottoman Idadié School.

            Antiquities were also collected during the period of the First World War by the Armée d’Orient (= Army of the East) in the Rotunda, the intact Roman building dating to the age of the Tetrarchy (early 4th c. A. D.) which formed an integral part of the imperial complex of the tetrarch Galerius. In 1918, the then-Ephor of Antiquities, in order to unite antiquities and services, installed the offices of the Archaeological Service in rooms added on to the courtyard of the Rotunda.

            The large number of antiquities from all of Greek Macedonia that quickly gathered both inside the Roman building and outdoors in its courtyard soon raised the question of identifying another building for their storage and protection.

            Meantime, indeed as early as the period 1914–1918, repairs were being made to the Early Christian church of Acheiropoiitos so that it could be employed as a museum space. But this building was never used for this purpose, since the Greek-Turkish war of 1922 and the Asia Minor Catastrophe (katastrophē) that followed led to the necessary conversion of the church into a temporary shelter for Greek refugees, who flowed by the thousands into the city of Thessaloniki.

In 1925 the Yeni Tzami, the modern – as its name in Turkish makes clear – mosque of formerly Turkish-held Thessaloniki was turned over for use as a museum. This building became the city’s first museum. In 1931, a large number of objects, primarily sculptures coming chiefly from objects turned over to the authorities or chance finds (given that systematic and rescue excavations had not yet begun), went on exhibit in the central room of the tzamí. The Archaeological Service’s small staff was installed in the side rooms and upper story of the building, and the first conservation workshops and storerooms were organized in a number of spaces both within and outside the building.

            In 1940, many antiquities – chiefly, sculptures – were buried in ditches/pits in Thessaloniki, and valuable metal objects were transferred to the Numismatic Museum in Athens in order to rescue them from the turmoil of the Second World War. The antiquities were removed from the ground in 1951, and in 1952 they were exhibited for the first time in the main room of the Archaeological Museum (Yeni Tzami).

            However, the need to expand the exhibition and create better conditions for conservation and storage, imposed by a continually increasing number of antiquities, soon rendered urgent the demand on the part of the Ephor of Antiquities for a new, self-standing, and large museum. This view had been expressed as early as 1923/24, but it only began to assume concrete form around 1949, after the Second World War and the ensuing Greek Civil War.

            In 1950, a large plot of land located at a central location in Thessaloniki – XANΘ (YMCA) Square – and next to the large expanse of land where the International Trade Fair (the most important economic event in the city, even today) had been organized as early as 1926. The design for the new museum was entrusted to the prominent Greek architect Patroklos Karantinos, an important representative of modernism in Greece.

            The new museum was inaugurated in 1962 with all due formality, in conjunction with the celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary of Thessaloniki’s liberation.

            This spare, simple and functional building, inspired by the inward orientation of ancient Greek residences, had two interior courtyards onto which all its galleries opened, to allow the antiquities on exhibit to be bathed in dazzling natural light.

            The re-exhibition of the antiquities in the Museum was undertaken by Giorgos Despinis, who
at the time was a young epimeletís of antiquities and who is today an Emeritus Professor of Archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Re-exhibition of the sculptures required that many statues be set up anew, and that others be conserved and set on bases for the first time. The museological views of that period and the building’s architecture made it essential that full advantage be taken of the natural light, so as to show off the marble statues to best advantage – as if they were in an open or outdoor space, just as in antiquity.

            The first addition to the building was made necessary by the splendid finds of Professor Manolis Andronikos in excavating the royal tombs of Aigai at Vergina. In 1979, an exhibit was organized around the general theme of metalworking in Macedonia. This exhibit included objects from the royal tombs at Aigai. It was awarded First Prize by the Council of Europe’s – the first time a Greek Archaeological museum had been so honored.

            In 1980, the exhibit entitled “Alexander the Great: History and Legend in Art” was inaugurated in the New Wing, a (new) building designed by the architect A. Voyatzis next to the existing museum. In 1982, in accordance with new views about museums, the openings in the three interior galleries around the central atrium in the building designed by Karantinos were closed to serve the requirements of the exhibit of funerary assemblages from Sindos.

            In 1985, the year in which Thessaloniki celebrated 2.300 years from its founding by Kassandros (Cassander) in 315 B. C., in the first major exhibition devoted to the history and archaeology of the city, the outside windows of the large exterior galleries were closed. And in 1996 the new building designed by Voyiatzis (1980) hosted the first extensive exhibition dealing with prehistoric Macedonia.

            At the dawn of the 21st century, contemporary museological dictates and the need to renovate the building led to the decision to carry out radical alterations. The study and realization of the interventions made on this listed building were assumed by the architect N. Fintikakis. The shell of the building remained untouched, while on its interior there were drastic changes, chief among which was that involving the covering of the central atrium with a light space frame. Work on the building and new exhibits was funded by the Third Community Support Framework. Following four years of interruption in its operation, the inauguration of the now-restored Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and its five new permanent thematic exhibits took place in September 2006.

            The Prehistory exhibit on the ground floor begins from the era preceding the appearance of man with casts of skull fragments from the “Macedonian Uranopithecus, a proto-hominid, and continues with archaeological finds from the Paleolithic era and the famous skull from Petralona. Next, with the commencement of the stage of systematic production, of agricultural and animal husbandry, there are presented individual thematic assemblages, including “hunting”, “fishing”, “agriculture and animal husbandry”, “cooking and storage”, “weaving”, “metal-working,” and “exchange”. In parallel, there are exhibited objects relevant to the metaphysical and ideological concerns of prehistoric man, such as Neolithic figurines and burial practices.

            In the south antechamber to the upper floor, in the exhibit entitled Towards the Birth of Cities, evidence for settlements of the Iron Age (1.200–700 B. C.) in Macedonia is presented. During these centuries, settlements with centrally-located buildings and a great many storerooms for agricultural products were reorganized or founded. These early organized cities were characterized by self-sufficiency, and they controlled the sources of wealth coming from the lands surrounding them. At the same time, commercial contacts and communication with central and southern Greece and with the coast of Asia Minor became more frequent. Southern Greek cities founded colonies along the shores of the Thermaic Gulf and the Chalkidiki. These inhabitants’ experiences with settlements would be put to good use by the Macedonian kingdom of the Argive dynasty of the Temenidae, which in the meantime had established itself in the area north of Mt. Olympus and east of the Pindus, from which in the course of the 7th century it would expand its control over all of Macedonia.

            In the first gallery of the large «Πει» (the shape of greek letter Π, or double L) in the Archaelogical Museum, in the exhibit entitled Macedonia from the 7th century B. C. until Late Antiquity, objects from the public and private life of ancient Macedonians are presented, starting from the creation of the independent Macedonian kingdom and continuing until approximately the 4th century A. D., a period during which Macedonia was a province of the Roman Empire. Various aspects of public and private life in the region are covered through eight large thematic assemblages related to political, military, social, and economic organization, the arts and letters, religion, worship, and the customs of Macedonian cities.

            Τhe exhibit Thessaloniki, the Metropolis of Macedonia, located in the gallery following the large «Πει» (or double L), includes historical and archaeological information about the city. Thessaloniki, which from its founding was connected with the family of Alexander the Great, managed during the period of Roman rule to evolve into an important center in the province of Macedonia, while preserving the language, culture, and memory of its illustrious Macedonian past. The thematic units developed in the preceding exhibit (devoted to Macedonia) are here repeated in relation to the city’s sites and monuments.

            In the large north anteroom opposite the exhibit dealing with the Birth of the Cities are exhibited the architectural sculptures from an Archaic Ionic temple whose original location is unknown, but which during the period of Roman rule was transferred to the sanctuary area of Thessaloniki and adorned with statues of emperors.

            The exhibit entitled The Gold of Macedon is presented in the three interior galleries surrounding the Museum’s light space frame. It includes items of exceptional artistry from various places, coming primarily from Archaic and Classical cemeteries. Simultaneously, this exhibit describes the entire procedure for processing noble metals, from their mining through to the intricate techniques for working them and decorating precious objects for both the public and private lives of the ancient Macedonians.

            The restored building, complete with full systems for providing special air and temperature controls for exhibitions, storerooms, and entirely modernized workshops, in addition to its new program for re-exhibiting its holdings, has made the Museum of Thessaloniki one of the most modern museums in Greece. Nevertheless, the modernization and renewal of a museum never cease. And of course, in addition to its permanent exhibits, a museum must continually ensure that it offers interesting periodic exhibits as well.

            Thus, during the summer of 2007, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki hosted the periodic exhibit concerning the activities of the foreign archaeological schools in Greece. This was a photographic exhibit by the sixteen archaeological schools active in Greece, and was organized by the Greek Ministry of Culture’s Directorate for Archaeological Sites. Each school was represented by what it considered to be its most significant excavation. The related text and excavation photos were incorporated into large-scale posters shaped like an open, or half-open, book – a clear reference to the excavation notebook, a fundamental and very characteristic element of every excavation.

            In the same year (2007), a new institution was inaugurated, that of the “New Find”. The Museum selects a new find from its own collections or those of the Ephorates of Antiquities in Macedonia and Thrace, and immediately puts on public exhibit for a short period. This is a periodic exhibition, repeated every six months. Also in 2007, young artists from all over Europe, drawing their inspiration from the Archaeological Museum’s exhibits, created and then exhibited within the museum their works, within the framework of the first Biennale of Visual Arts, organized by the Thessaloniki State Museum of Contemporary Art.

            In 2008, the Museum hosted three periodic exhibitions: 1) first, Kalindoia, an ancient city
in Macedonia;
2) second, Alexander the Great, with works from Macedonian collections and illustrations of his myth from Italy, and 3) finally, an exhibit on Plants and Culture. The first exhibit, dealing with Kalindoia, included recent finds from the excavation that has been ongoing for six years in a city of the Macedonian kingdom, identified through an inscription from the age of Alexander the Great, and which was not one of the many city-colonies of southern Greece known along the coasts of the Chalkidiki and the Thermaic Gulf. Since only a very small number of cities of the Macedonian kingdom are known to us through excavation, the contribution of research in this area is obvious, and it is decisive for determining the physiognomy of the Kingdom of Macedon in antiquity. A basic innovation in this exhibit, since it was presenting an ongoing excavation by the Thessaloniki Ephorate of Antiquities (not without some scholarly risk), was that new sculptures were gradually added throughout the year in which the exhibit remained open, as soon as their conservation in the workshop was completed. It was thus an evolving exhibit, and resulted in creating a clear motive for the public to pay repeated visits.

            The core of the exhibit on Alexander the Great was composed of photographs of works of art, many life-size, from Italy. These described in a highly enjoyable way the dissemination of the myth concerning the great leader, even to places he himself never visited. In addition, this photographic exhibit was enhanced by a small number of genuine but unique works from Macedonia from the age of Alexander: a bronze shield and a javelin from the Macedonian army, a gold wreath, coins, and portraits of Alexander.         

            The exhibit Plants and Culture represented the collaboration of eleven European countries sharing their knowledge and finds on topics related to the use of plants in various eras, from antiquity to the medieval period, as well as particular properties and characteristics of plants and their use in various manifestations of human life (athletics, personal adornment, birth, marriage, death, etc.). Identical photographic posters were exhibited at nearly the same time in all eleven countries. The exhibit was enhanced at the Museum of Thessaloniki with a video including excerpts from Greek and non-Greek literature concerning the role of plants in our daily lives.

            In September 2008, an older institution of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki was reinaugurated: “Storerooms in the Light”, in which antiquities from our storerooms that have never seen the exhibition light of day go on display. The theme of “fragrances in antiquity” was selected, and we pulled from our storerooms vases that had been used for perfumes and (aromatic) oils for cosmetics and body care.

            Among the exhibits in the modernized Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki are applications involving many new digital technologies, to ensure that the information provided is direct, pluralistic, attractive and simultaneously easy to comprehend. Thus, in parallel with the exhibits and accompanying texts for individual units, there are scattered throughout the Museum various modern technology applications, to offer the opportunity for additional information and greater variety for more demanding visitors. Short films related to thematic assemblages are shown on digital screens or via acoustic systems, or provide the opportunity for greater in-depth thematic learning, supporting the visitor’s historical and archaeological knowledge in a quick, intelligible and visually impressive way.

            There are a total of twelve digital applications both in the permanent as well as periodic exhibitions of the Museum. These offer additional information and enhance the content of exhibits by giving visitors eager to learn more the opportunity to do so while enjoying themselves. Five films, five touch-screens, a digital system for producing an ancient piece of music, and a digital system for incidental music at another point in the Museum comprise audio-visual “oases” amidst the palimpsest of the exhibits themselves.

            Throughout the world, museums today address themselves to everyone. They are acquiring a more anthropocentric character, and distancing themselves from the idea of the incomprehensible work of “high art”, a view rightly considered outmoded, since every object, be it ever so humble, has evidence to offer concerning its era when correctly “read” within the stromatographic contexts of its age. Furthermore, a modern archaeological museum should be an active “cell” for the production of culture and artistic experiences. It is obliged to pay close attention to the demands of its time, and to offer its public aesthetic pleasures that will make their visit a significant and unique experience.

            Within this framework, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki has not confined itself only to its entirely modern exhibition role, but has expanded its activities into other areas of the contemporary cultural scene. Through collaborations with various local bodies from Thessaloniki, with foreign Institutes and Cultural Foundations, and with international groups, it has organized a network of activities representative of our contemporary culture that take place regularly, and repeatedly, so that for many of these initiatives the Museum has become the place where they are held, and by extension, a stable reference-point for the public who attend such events.

            One may observe from the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki’s “Events Calendar”, which circulates every six months, that it is the site for a range of events, with two to three scheduled on average each week, so that on the one hand, the Museum may constitute a center for the production and dissemination of the culture of our own era, and on the other hand, it may draw an audience of all ages and interests.

            Thus, beyond its permanent and periodic exhibits, the Museum offers the public classical and jazz concerts, concertos, and performances by singers, lectures by Greek and foreign scholars involving classical antiquity, archaeological or other conferences, scientific workshops on conservation and museology, presentations of scholarly publications, evenings devoted to the telling of Greek folktales, one-day events dealing with ancient cuisine, theatrical activities with masks, and theatrical evenings devoted to the memory of the city and its history.

            In parallel, it hosts selected visual arts exhibits, chiefly involving works by young artists connected with, or inspired by, antiquity, and photographic exhibits within the framework of the “Fotobiennale”, organized by the Museum of Photography. And of course the Museum serves as a venue for film showings during the International Film Festival, a major artistic event each fall in Thessaloniki.

            In conjunction with the above-noted activities, the Museum conducts five educational programs: four for children and one for adults (special groups, families, groups of friends, etc.), seminars for primary and secondary school teachers, and assessment/evaluation programs for tracking the trends, preferences, and opinions of the public in an effort to improve, to change, and to renew itself. And of course, in raising its international profile it has organized a small exhibit in Budapest, and is participating in the organization of another three international exhibits planned for the upcoming three-year period.

            The presence/existence of an archaeological museum in an excessively technological age such as our own is a challenge. And the renovated Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is creating new expectations among the public in the city, as well as among its Greek and foreign visitors. The public has shown that it reacts positively to a museum’s challenges and interactive proposals. The ever-increasing number of visitors – which last year, and the year before, reached 30 % an exceptionally encouraging indicator for continuing, and intensifying, our initiatives, so that the new expectations created by the Museum’s new exhibits may find fertile ground among a public in search of the very best in a creatively irresolute age, and a generally arid, cold, and remote environment.

            In an international community which is entirely technology-oriented, in which humanistic studies are continually losing ground, an archaeological museum cannot offer only the knowledge of antiquity, even if it does so in the fullest manner possible. It must be ready, and able, to persuade others that a knowledge of antiquity can be combined with contemporary reality, with the production of contemporary culture, that it can be incorporated into contemporary life and exert influence as a place for didactic narrative, as a space for conducting an ongoing dialogue between past and present, with the simultaneous challenge of various and alternating emotions, so that passing through a museum will not be recorded by the cerebral neurons as a mere visit, but as an experiential process, a unique experience that will form an inseparable link in the chain of life of every visitor, who will under conditions like these be eager to repeat their visit. The Museum will thus become a place that is familiar, friendly, and hospitable; it will constitute a point of reference and for the pursuit of a better quality of everyday existence, so that intercourse with antiquities will comprise a spring-board for more intellectual/spiritual functions, more anthropocentric occupations, creating an environment of psychic well-being for all visitors, who so often seem completely lost in the “well-being” of globalized consumerism.



            The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki opened its gates to the public at September 2006 after a four-year long break of operation. Six permanent exhibitions are on display since then. In 2007, it hosted the temporary exhibition on the activities of the Foreign Archaeological Schools in Greece. During 2008, two more temporary exhibitions are available: Kalindoia, an ancient city in Macedonia and Alexander the Great, through artefacts from the collections across Macedonia and the iconography of his myth in Italy and the Plants of Europe.

            In 2009 we are preparing a new permanent exhibition about the afterlife in Thessaloniki (ancient cemeteries of the city) and a Graeco-Roman urban villa with authentic mosaics, and two more temporary exhibitions about Glass in Antiquity and the magical Amber.

            Many aspects of digital technology found their place at the renovated Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, as the global trend mandates, making data more direct, pluralistic, as well as accessible to as many people as possible. So, together with the exhibits and the accompanying texts, various applications of modern technology offer additional information for the most demanding visitors. Short films and audio applications enhance the visitors’ historical and archaeological knowledge in a quick and accessible way either by introducing the main topics of the exhibition or by emphasising on certain aspects.

            In the same time the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki offers his visitors a variety of cultural events, connected to modern aspects of Greek and international culture. Pieces of theatre, concerts, recitals, educational programs, lectures, congresses, films of the International Film Festival of Thessaloniki, and exhibitions of modern art, are only part of the daily programme of the fully reconstructed Museum of Thessaloniki, a programme which aims to give to the Archaeological Museum a new character and to integrate it to the social and cultural life of the city.



Archeologické muzeum v Soluni bylo otevřeno pro veřejnost po čtyřleté pauze v září roku 2006. Od té doby je zde šest stálých expozic. V renovovaném muzeu jsou využívány různé digitální technologie, které se staly celosvětovým trendem a přispívají k většímu zpřehlednění a lepší přístupnosti údajů co největšímu množství lidí. Společně s exponáty a průvodními texty nabízí různé aplikace moderní technologie doplňující informace pro ty nejnáročnější návštěvníky. Krátké filmy a audio nahrávky zlepšují historické a archeologické znalosti návštěvníků rychle a srozumitelně, buď představením hlavních témat výstavy, nebo zdůrazněním určitých aspektů.



·        J. Vokotopoulou, “The first 50 years of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Thessaloniki”, Acts of Colloquium “Thessaloniki after 1912”, 1-3 November 1985, Thessaloniki 1986, 1-65.

·        K. Romiopoulou, “The chronicle of the archaeological Activities in Northern Greece”, (1912-2000), Archaeology in Greece, edition of “Corpus” 2, 2002, 174-176.

·        E. Trakosopoulou-Salakidou, “Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki”, Archaeology in Greece, edition of “Corpus” 2, 2002, 188-191.

·        A. Chourmousiadi, The Greek Archaeological Museum, The Exposer, the Exposed and the Visitors, Athens 2006.

·        A. Giakoumacatos, Elements of modern Architecture in Greece. Patroklos Karantinos, Athens 2003.

·        Chr. Zarkada, The Archeological Museum of Thessaloniki: Innovation and Renewal, Museum and Change III, International Congress, Prague 17-19 February 2009 (Acts in press).

·        D. Grammenos, Archaeology and Arts 102, Mars 2007, 73-82.

·        L. Stefani, “The new permanent exhibition for the Prehistory in Macedonia in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, AEMTh 20, 2006, 391-401.

·        S. Galliniki, E. Kefalidou, A. Koukouvou, E. Melliou, K. Xanthopoulou, K. Soueref, “The new exhibitions of the Archaeological Mouseum of Thessloniki, The Historical Era, AEMTh 20, 2006, 403-412.

·        A. Gazi, “Lets open a vocabulary, or finally texts comprehensible!”, Writing texts about the exhibitions of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki”, AEMTh 20, 2006, 381-390.

·        P. Adam Veleni, “The multimedia applications and the digital Museum of Macedonia in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, 12ο International Congress of Multimedia Applications, (28-30/9/2006), 617-628 (2007).

·        P. Adam Veleni, Multimedia applications at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Multimedia Gongress, October 2009, 90-94.

·        P. Adam Veleni, “A Museum, an experience, a memory. Multi-actions in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Conference of the Master of Museology of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, October 2008, (acts in press).

·        P. Adam Veleni, “Educating Rita” The Communicative Policy of a Museum AEMTh 22 (2008), (acts in press).

·        P. Adam Veleni, K. Xanthopoulou, P. Georgaki, “Educational programs of the Archaeological Museum of Thessloniki, Panellenik Conference, Volos November 2007, (acts in press).

·         P. Adam Veleni, E. Solomon, P. Georgaki Two visitors’ rechearchs about the activities of the Archaeological Museum of Thesaloniki, Notebooks of Mouseology 6, 74-77.

Αρχαιολογικο μουσειο Θεσσαλονικης, Θεσσαλονικη

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