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Monday, February 27, 2006 

Keeping History Alive

She spent her money saving her homeland,
I'll spend my money saving her home.

When I spend money, I try to spend it wisely. Before I buy anything, I will shop around to get the best deal. I rarely ever buy anything on impulse and I usually complain about the prices of most things...except museums in Greece. I never question the price of admission, nor the fact that an 8-page pamphlet of whatever museum I visit costs 10€. I will even buy things there that I don't really need like 2€ postcards or a 3€ photocopied picture of the museum on a piece of laser paper. Why? Because museums in Greece are severely underfunded if they're funded at all. I feel that if my 10€ helps keep the museum open for another hour, then it's money well spent.

I just love visiting museums. I've been to the Acropolis, National Historical Museum, the War Museum, Folk Art Museum and Children's Museum in Plaka as well as the Jewish Museum. I find them all interesting and the historical details I glean from them gets committed to my memory much quicker than when I read my history books. Books give me an impersonal overview of events whereas the museums make events a much more personal experience. It's one thing to see a picture of traditional costumes from Northern Greece and quite another to actually see the fabric and the hundreds of creases in a dress on display in the Folk Art Museum. I sympathised with the poor Greek woman who had to iron all those creases in the days before Stirella irons were invented. I was amazed at the painstaking detail in the embroidery. You just can't experience that from reading a book.

Most of these larger museums and historical sites (Delphi, Epidavros, Palamidi Prison) are funded the by the Greek Ministry of Culture. Because nearly every square inch of land in Greece can be deemed a historical site, the State just can't afford to maintain and operate all of them. This leaves many of the smaller museums on their own trying to scrape enough money together from private funding and visitors to keep their places open.

On the island of Naxos, Mr. Della Rocca owns and operates the Venetian Museum. He converted his family's ancestral home into a museum all by himself and relies solely on the proceeds he makes from visiting tourists. He also makes sure everyone knows this by posting a sign outside the entrance stating that he's managing his museum on his own with absolutely no help from the Greek government. I admired this man's initiative to keep his museum open and bought everything he had to offer for sale.

When visiting the island of Spetses a few years ago, I was privileged enough to tour the home of one of my favourite Greek figures in modern history, Laskarina Bouboulina. Her direct descendant explained to me that he was also trying to keep her home open on a shoestring budget and again, I bought every single pamphlet, postcard and photocopy he had for sale to support his commendable efforts.

The other reason I never quibble over the cost of museum fees is because I grew up in Canada where anything over 100 years old is considered history. To be able to experience history on the scale of what Greece has to offer exceeds the 50€ or more I spend at the museums. It's a chance of a lifetime for me and I'd much rather spend my money trying to keep history alive than at a movie theatre or taverna any day of the week.

I havent been to the Jewish and War Museum at all. Maybe about time though I have visited the other museum again and again.

Where is Bouboulina's house in Spetses?

The Jewish Museum isn't all that big but it's got some really interesting exhibits. I don't know the exact address of Bouboulina's house but it was within walking distance of my hotel...close to the main square. If you click on the link in my blog, all that information should be in there. And Spetses is just a hop, skip and a jump from the mainland so it's worth the little boat trip.

Your post is very informative and you're a doing the Greek Ministry of Tourism a great favour. I've revisited many of these museums with my children. I don't mind the admission prices either because every cent is worth it. When the kids go to a museum as a school field trip, the prices are very low and sometimes even free which is a way of encouraging parents to allow their kids to participate.
My most favorite "museum" is the Gaia Center of the Goulandris Museum of Natural History in Kifissia. It has more to do with securing the future of our planet than preserving the history but it's a great visit all the same.

flubber...If only the Ministry of Tourism would have better museum websites. The ones they have are so horrible I was almost too embarrassed to link to them. LOL
I haven't been to the Gaia Center yet. I need some some Saturdays off so I can make the trek up to Kifissia. Although I do like historical museums a lot, I enjoy any kind of learning centre. Our future is even more important than our past. I went to the Observatory here a few months ago and wasn't that impressed because once I got there, they told me all the tickets to the shows were sold out and the earliest show would be 2 weeks away!

My favorite museum is the plastics and rubber band museum. I think it's in Kallithea but can't really remember exactly.

The war museum is a close second.

zardoz says:

very unlucky on the conservatory
call ahead next time,
ive visited a lot of times
with young ones, and found
same day tickets , but yes there were days that schools and smallgroups gobble up everything
and that makes me very happy .
theres a lot of small type
of museums from the deep sea
museum at achillion in corfu
to wax museums with history themes in zoniana rethymno in crete ,and local small history museums in pilio (for RIGA ),the island of alonissos (BOTANICAL ),
and in the mani region lakonia in the peloponnesse.
all run by private enterprize and taking in mind
the difference in marketing schooling they were doing quite well, for local self support business museum, and everywere
i travel i try to multiply the idea
of sustaining local history,
usually intertwined with people's other everyday proffesion,
to say the truth i think in my very old age this would be my dream come true, to leave something useful
for the next generation.

=== ZARDOZ ===

scruffy...The plastics and rubber band museum? I've never heard of it! Leave it to you to find something off the beaten track. LOL If you ever do remember where it is, let me know. I'd love to see just what it has on display.

zardoz... think in my very old age this would be my dream come true, to leave something useful for the next generation....Imagine if we all thought like that...what a world we could leave for the next generation!
A twist on your comment from the movie "Gladiator"...what we do in life echoes in eternity.

What a good post. I am going to e-mail it to my mother right now. She is a travel journalist, and when I visited Crete with her last year, she insisted on using her journalist card to get into every museum free. I tried to tell her that wasn't it worth it, given that she could afford the five euros most of them charged, to pay and support them? Her argument was that since she would be writing to attract tourism to the area, wasn't she getting them even more than what she'd pay? Which I suppose is true, except that it's not like she made the museums the focus of her articles, and every little five euro helps. I have heard that museum curators have not been paid in months, either. Is this true?

A well-written post Seawitch. Italy's rich history is suffering the same financing problems that Greece is experiencing. In fact, arts and culture funding is pretty bad everywhere--especially since the tobacco companies can no longer sponsor them.

I also want to say that I like Ms. Bouboulina's name. I wonder if her daughter was Thumbelina. LOL

xoxoxox HRH Queen Bee

zardoz says:

just finished off from my local
dvd store (has popcorn)
with LUC BESSO'NS TAXI
TAXI II , TAXI III ,
and the "city of god"
i think....
brazilian with kids growing as gangsters, took your advice

because the last french movie i think i saw was "AMELIE" and
thought it was french "leon"

just had to share it ...

thanks

== Z ==

kassandra...good to see you here again. If your mother doesn't want to pay the cost of admission herself, (considering that she probably visits an awful lot of museums, it's understandable)then maybe she could get her publisher to reimburse her for her expenses because as you said, every 5€ helps. I don't know if the curators are being paid because I had heard the same as you...that they many of them hadn't been paid for some time now.

Bee...thanks for the compliment! You're right about Italy facing the same problems though. I read that the Uffizio was in danger of having the power shut off since they couldn't pay their 300,000€ power bill and many of Italy's national treasures are up for sale including the estate of Tiberius ... for a paltry €9 million.

zardoz...I hope you enjoy your Taxi movies...they're not Oscar winners by any stretch of the imagination but they are humourous and action-packed. I never much liked Amelie but if you get the chance...rent A Very Long Engagement with Audrey Tautou. I liked that one much more.

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