The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is the largest archaeological museum in Greece and one of the most important museums in the world devoted to ancient Greek art. It was founded at the end of the 19th century to house and protect antiquities from all over Greece, thus displaying their historical, cultural and artistic value.
The Museum building, a protected monument in itself, was founded in 1866 on a plot donated by Eleni Tositsa. Its construction was based on designs by the architects Ludwig Lange and Panagi Kalkos. The final form of its facade was the work of Ernst Ziller, who also supervised the work until 1889, when the west wing was completed. The present building took form gradually in the 20th century with a series of additions on the east side.
The collection and protection of antiquities was one of the first and foremost concerns of the newly founded Greek state, which set up its first museum on Aegina in 1829. However, when the capital of the Modern Greece was transferred from Nauplion to Athens, where the concentration of ancient temples and public buildings had led to the creation of notable collections, the need to establish a Central Museum for Antiquities became imperative.
The National Archaeological Museum was founded by presidential decree on August 9, 1893 (Greek Government Journal I, 152, 'On the organization of the National Archaeological Museum'). Its purpose was 'the study and teaching of the science of archaeology, the propagation of archaeological knowledge and the cultivation of a love for the Fine Arts'. Its collections were segregated into:
Clay and Bronze Figurines and other Ancient Figurines made of various materials,
Inscriptions, which later went to the Epigraphic Museum,
Pre-Hellenic (the Mycenaean collection), and
The museum was also equipped with conservation laboratories and a cast workshop.
With the declaration of the Second World War in 1939, the museum's antiquities were stored for safety in the museum itself, the vaults in the Bank of Greece and in natural grottos. At the end of the war, the museum's director Christos Karouzos undertook the re-exposition of the exhibits and the architect P. Karantinos remodeled the exhibition spaces. During that time the temporary display was limited to ten rooms of the east wing. Christos and Semni Karouzou completed the re-exposition in 1964, having created an exemplary display of the development of ancient Greek art from prehistory to the Roman period. The unique Greek collection of Egyptian antiquities was exhibited for the first time thirty years later, in 1994.