Museum of Byzantine Culture (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Dr. Anastasia Tourta


Museum of Byzantine Culture

2, Stratou Ave, P.O.B 50047 Thessaloniki 54013 Greece

The Museum of Byzantine Culture is public, subject to the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. It was established in 1994. From the outset, we treated the Museum's three basic departments, namely the conservation department, the preservation department and the display department, as a whole, devoting equal attention to each. The Museum boasts seven well-equipped conservation laboratories, each specializing in the conservation of archaeological material of one kind, and storerooms in which archaeological material is stored in accordance with museum exhibit specifications.

The purpose of the Museum of Byzantine Culture, as is suggested by its name, is to present the rich diversity of byzantine culture casting light on as many aspects as possible, from the organisation of communal and religious life, contact with other cultures, art and intellectual development, production and trade relations, ways of thinking and preferences, to the infl uence which political events and historical realities had on people's daily lives.

We endeavoured to show breaks and survivals, some of which latter still run through modern Greek life today. In short, we tried to disprove stereotypes which narrowly associate Byzantium with religiousness. These guiding principles have also applied to the temporary exhibitions which we have organized, turning the spotlight on lesser-known manifestations of byzantine and post-Byzantine culture.

The fact that most of the material exhibited originates from Thessaloniki - one of the major centres of the Byzantine empire - has enabled us to present byzantine culture in the most coherent and integrated way possible, which could set a more general example. The museological approach which we implemented took us in a difficult - and for Greek museums of the 1990s, fairly novel - direction, with the visitor rather than the exhibits taking centre stage. Starting from the cultural-anthropological notion that all cultural records are important, archaeological objects were treated as a means of interpreting the culture from whence they came, to be used in the exhibition not merely as works of art, but as products of a culture. Hence the display of an object did not constitute an end in itself; instead, we took advantage of that object's potential to tell us about the historical process which created it, and the society which made use of it.

Of the 42,882 artefacts in the museum's collections 2,905 distributed among 11 galleries, recount a story with two parallel narrative threads, one thematic, the other chronological, running from the 3rd c. AD to the 19th. In the last gallery, where the visit route concludes, the visitor learns about how the Museum was created and how it operates, the information applying equally to any other archaeological museum, as an account is given of the intellectual and technical processes by which an excavation find becomes a museum exhibit.

In each gallery of diverse material, aspects of a specific historical period of Byzantium are highlighted. The exhibits are accompanied by informative texts and visual material, which make them easier to "read" and, by their context, recall the exhibits' original environment. There are never any reconstructions, but rather allusions to original sites and functions. The fact that most of the exhibits are displayed not in showcases but freestanding in the space assists this kind of association, while at the same time giving the visitor a sense of immediacy.

Special attention was paid to colour schemes and lighting, as it is these two factors that create the distinctive atmosphere of each gallery, according to the theme it treats.
To give the exhibits as much meaning as possible we also enlisted the help of modern technology and did not scruple to join "ancient" works with modern artistic creation. All our display choices have focused on creating exhibitions that are visitor-friendly, with an educational dimension that engages the visitor in a way that is not only scientifically valid, but also easy to understand, enjoyable, and entertaining; an approach that facilitates learning and promotes aesthetic culture.

It should be pointed out that the design and creation of the Museum of Byzantine Culture's permanent exhibition, and of the temporary exhibitions which it has organized, are the work of the Museum's interdisciplinary team, and that many of the structures used were devised by the Museum's architects, and in most cases built by its technical staff.



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