The burial and protection of the antiquities of the National Archaeological Museum during World War II

Group Exhibition

Curation: Maria Lagogianni-Georgakarakou, Maria Hidiroglou



Co-organization: National Archaeological Museum, Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

The National Archaeological Museum participates in the Thessaloniki Photobiennale 2021 with an exhibition of digitized archival photographic material. The exhibition The burial and protection of the antiquities of the National Archaeological Museum during World War II contains photos from the rich Photographic Archive of the National Archaeological Museum. The photos present views of the project of salvaging the antiquities of its Collections in the period before the Nazi occupation of Athens, during the Second World War.

The main building of the National Archaeological Museum was founded on 3rd October of 1866 and its construction was based on architectural plans by the architects E. Ziller and L. Lange. A second expansion of the Museum building had been completed a short time before October 1940, on plans by the architect G. Nomikos, offering valuable additional space to the Museum. A short time before the beginning of the war, official committees were set up in Greece, and similar groups of officials were created in other countries, with the purpose of organizing the protection of Museum antiquities and related official guidelines were issued.

In the last months of 1940 to April 1941, marble and bronze sculptures, pottery, terracotta figurines and other ancient works of the National Archaeological Museum were packed and placed in boxes or buried in pits excavated in exhibition rooms, for safe storage away from war dangers, especially destruction caused by air raids. During the war, the antiquities were stored in safe hiding areas below the floors of the rooms of the old building and mainly in the basements of the new annex of the Museum, covered with sand to a height of 3-4 m.

In March 1946, near the end of the war, the scientific and technical personnel of the Museum with the direction of its director Christos Karouzos and the invaluable aid of Semni Papaspyridi Karouzou, Ephor of Vases and Minor Artifacts, started to dig out the antiquities from their hiding places and restored them in view for the Museum re-opening. The opening of the first post-war exhibition was inaugurated in 1947, whereas building reconstruction works continued in the Museum during the 1950s.

The ancient masterpieces illustrated in photographs of this exhibition were protected during World War II and they are nowadays exhibited in the National Archaeological Museum. The analog photographic material presented here in digitized form offers data on aspects of modern history.

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