“One of the most important moments in the history of the Greek state was the founding of the Archaeological Society in Athens in January 1837,” said its current general secretary, Vassilios Petrakos, a member of the Athens Academy.
“Inspired by the romantic classicism of an overseas Greek, Constantine Bellios, a group of scholars headed by Alexandros Rizos Rangavis and Kyriakos Pittakis founded a society for ancient artifacts, the country and science,” Petrakos added.
Their main purpose was to discover ancient ruins in Athens and to preserve them as well as possible.
During the first half of the 19th century, only low-rise buildings went up in Athens and so the society wasn’t concerned about overbuilding.
Because it did not have state powers, the society had to buy the sites it excavated.
Their work was visible for all to see. At the Acropolis for example, medieval buildings and others dating from the Turkish occupation were demolished.
Heinrich Schliemann paid for the Frankish tower at the Propylaea to be demolished. Excavations on the southern side of the Acropolis reached from the Asclepeio to the Herod Atticus Theater.
At Kerameikos, the gravestone of Hipparete, the granddaughter of Alcibiades, was found.
In Elefsina, houses and football fields were bought to save the Temple of Demeter, and the famous excavation of the five royal tombs at Mycenae was begun at Schliemann’s own expense.
The Archaeological Society, apart from the battles it fought, often bought shares; they did so notably in Tanagra, where antiquities smugglers rented properties so they could dig undisturbed – and legally.
The society bought the antiquities in order to save them. In other words, it was often forced to make many such purchases in order to ensure valuable artifacts at risk of being spirited out of the country stayed in Greece.
A typical example was the marble statue of Poseidon from the island of Milos.