Bridge between worlds: Athens Museum captures splendor of Islamic art

Photo: Anadolu Agency
ATHENS. KAZINFORM In Athens’ old city, the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art stands as a testament to the cultural bridge between Greece and the rich artistic traditions of the Muslim world.

Since 2004, the museum has been exhibiting some 12,000 artifacts of Islamic artwork, Anadolu Agency reports.

The exhibits include ceramics, jewelry, wood engravings, and processed glass from across parts of the world where, through history, Muslims have lived — from Spain and Sicily to Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and India.

Most of the collection was amassed by Antonis Benakis, a prominent Greek art collector, who later founded the Benaki Museum, one of the largest and oldest museums in the Greek capital.

Visitors are mesmerized by vivid blue and turquoise hues adorning tiles and ceramics from Anatolia’s Iznik and Kutahya regions.

One distinguished exhibit is a collection of 17th-century tiles of from Iznik, an area in present-day Türkiye famed for its ceramics.

These tiles depict the Miraj, a single-night journey by Islam’s Prophet Muhammad from the city of Mecca to Jerusalem, followed by his ascension to heaven.

In a central part of the museum, visitors can also view the office of the «kethuda,» a senior lieutenant to the governor during the rule of the Ottoman Empire.

Mina Moraitou, the museum’s curator, underlined that this is just one of two collections in Greece that «do not display parts of any Greek civilization.»

In fact, this museum bridges Greece to a region geographically close by yet culturally different, she said.

«Of course, we have Greek visitors who regard Islamic art as complicated and dazzling,» she explained.

«Islamic art is a different thing. It is Arab art, it is Iranian art, it is Turkish art, so this is quite complicated and quite daunting for somebody who doesn’t know about Islamic art, so education is very much part of our objectives.»

The museum offers training programs and seminars, seeking to introduce Islamic civilization and art to locals and visitors alike.

Such initiatives serve to add interest in the museum and garner steady attention to Islamic art, Moraitou said.

The museum also collaborated with the Turkish Embassy in Athens and Turkish Culture Ministry in 2016 to host an exhibition of drawings depicting the city of Istanbul by 18th-century Dutch and British designer Thomas Hope, she said.

The next year, the Benaki Museum opened the exhibit on Iznik ceramics, while Moraitou later co-authored a book with John Carswell on the same subject.

«We have a lot of foreign students and foreign visitors, people who are interested in Islamic art, people who know about this collection ... Sometimes, I feel it’s more known abroad than it is in Greece,​​​​​​​» she added.

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