Heraklion Archaeological Museum
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is one of the oldest and most remarkable museums in Greece, and among the most important museums in Europe. It houses representative artefacts from all periods of Cretan prehistory and history, covering a chronological span of over 5,500 years from the Neolithic period to Roman times. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum prides itself for its unique Minoan collection, which includes the masterpieces of Minoan art. It is rightly considered as the Museum of Minoan Culture par excellence.
Located in the town center, it was designed by the architect Patroklos Karantinos and was built between 1935 and 1958 on a site previously occupied by the Venetian monastery of Saint-Francis which was destroyed by earthquake in 1856. The ruins of the monastery are visible in the Museum’s garden.
The Museum building is an important example of the Greek Modernist style of architecture. The colours and building materials used, along with the multicoloured veined marble, are reminiscent of the painted imitation marble revetments of the Minoan palaces. The two-storey building includes extensive exhibition rooms, an audiovisual media room and laboratories. The Museum also has a vestibule, a gift shop leased from the Hellenic Organization of Cultural Resources Development, and a cafeteria in the garden.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a Special Regional Service of the Ministry of Culture. Along with the permanent exhibition, the Museum organizes temporary exhibitions in Greece and abroad, creates and implements educational programs, collaborates with scientific and scholarly institutions, and hosts a variety of cultural events.
The first archaeological collection of the city of Heraklion was constituted in 1883 with the initiative of the local Association of Friends of Education, which was headed by the doctor and antiquarian Joseph Chatzidakis. Chatzidakis also obtained permission from the Ottoman authorities to establish the first 'archaeological service'. The collection was housed inside two rooms in the courtyard of the cathedral of Saint Minas, and by 1900 was enriched with private donations, new acquisitions and finds from the first small excavations and surface surveys. After large-scale excavations began on the island in 1900, the archaeological collection housed the first important finds. Around that time, under the first Keepers of Antiquities Joseph Chatzidakis and Stephanos Xanthoudidis, the Museum was ceded to the newly established Cretan state and was subsequently moved to the Barracks - now housing the Region of Crete Service.
The first display room was built in 1904-1907, designed by architect Wilhelm Dörpfeld and Panagis Kavvadias, Secretary of the Athens Archaeological Society, over the remains of the famous Venetian monastery of Saint Francis, next to the Hounkiar Djami. The antiquities' collection was moved there from the Barracks, after the addition of a second room in 1908. In 1912, this small building was given a Neoclassical appearance with the construction of a west wing. The collection continued to be enriched by the finds from the great excavations conducted all over the island by Greek and foreign archaeologists.
The construction of the current museum began in 1935 on plans by architect Patroklos Karantinos. During the Second World War the museum's antiquities were at great risk, but they were saved thanks to the exertions of director Nikolaos Platon. Platon supervised the re-exhibition of the museum's treasures and the museum opened its doors to the public in 1952. In 1962 the Museum bought the collection of the Cretan doctor Stylianos Giamalakis, which was displayed on the first floor. In 1964 a new wing was added to the building and the Museum's director Stylianos Alexiou subsequently completed the exhibition.
In 2014, an extensive renovation project (co-funded by the European Union) including building restoration and redevelopment of the exhibition was accomplished and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum opened to the public again.
The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is administered by the Director, Dr Stella Mandalaki. It is organized in six main departments:
- the Department of Prehistoric and Minoan Antiquities (3 archaeologists-curators),
- the Department of Preclassical, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman Antiquities (3 archaeologists-curators),
- the Department of Exhibitions, Communication and Educational Programms, (4 archaeologists-curators),
- the Department of Conservation (7 conservators), the Department of Administrative and Financial Support (7 permanent employees of various specializations),
- the Department of Technical Support and Museography (7 permanent employees of various specializations).