Friday, October 12, 2007

The history of coins in the Schliemanns’ old home

Second floor of the Numismatic Museum open for visitors

By Iota Sykka - Kathimerini

The three-story building with a large courtyard built in a mix of neoclassical and Renaissance styles is a sight to admire on Panepistimiou Street. It was designed by Ernst Ziller, who was responsible for such fine buildings in Athens as the National Theater, the Stathatos Mansion, and the Church of Aghios Loukas on Patission Street. The former was the home of the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann. Recently the building has been out of sight, hidden behind the conservators’ drapes during the refurbishment needed before the second floor was opened. When the last pieces of scaffolding were removed, the revamp was deemed a success. The balconies with their terracotta railings and the marble on the facade are bright again, while the metal railings have been gilded in the style of the era when the gate used to open every Thursday to admit the cream of Athens society.

Now that the refurbishment of the Iliou Mansion and its transformation into the Numismatic Museum are complete, and the permanent exhibition, “The History of Coins,” is in place, the museum is already open to visitors, before its official opening.

The work has revealed the building’s impressive decor. The frescoes by Slovenian painter Yuri Subic were done according to the owners’ wishes, with subjects taken from the villas of Pompeii. The mosaic floors were made by Italian master craftsmen, with decorative motifs inspired by or copied from finds excavated by Schliemann.

Conservators have worked wonders on the second floor, which had suffered damage when rented out to state services.

What used to be the home of Heinrich and Sophia Schliemann and their children is painted ocher, deep green, sweet red and blue and houses the museum’s collection of 500,000 items.

There is an elevator for people of limited mobility, and a modern cafe is an added attraction.

Yiorka Nikolaou, Panayiotis Tselegas and their assistants have created a period atmosphere with scales, lead seals, stamps and coins that have been made into jewelry and amulets.

Denarii, dirhams, ducats and even modern Greek drachmas are among the exhibits that trace the history of money.

The six ground-floor rooms present the evolution of ancient Greek coins, from the turtles of Aegina and owls of Athens, to coins used throughout the ancient world, such as the Athenian tetradrachm and the gold coin of Alexander the Great. On the same floor, which is associated with the social life of the Schliemann family, visitors can learn about the history of the museum and its major donors.

On the second floor, the journey into the world of coins starts with the Roman era. Visitors can see how coins were minted, what the images on them represent, bronze coins minted for local use, and a banner portraying the system of coins and their fluctuations in value.

You can see how much a meal at a hotel or a haircut cost, and what happens when coins go out of circulation and are used as amulets or jewelry.

Exhibits from the Byzantine era are in what used to be the Schliemanns’ bedroom. One point of interest is the lead seals that the patriarchs of Constantinople used to stamp correspondence and laws.

The 24-carat Byzantine coin weighing 4.5 grams lasted 10 centuries till 1040, according to the label.

Another highlight is an amusing game with prices. An adult eunuch slave cost 30-50 Roman solidos, a doctor’s fee was 8-12 solidos, while 72 solidos would get you a silk robe.

In what was once the bedroom of the Schliemanns’ son Agamemnon, the exhibits trace the transition from Byzantine to European coins from France, Russia and Germany, up to the 15th century. At that time the Venetian currency was the strongest. The modern coins are displayed in the former room of Andromache, the Schliemanns’ daughter, and the history of the drachma in the children’s playroom. A comparison of meat prices in modern times show that a kilo of meat cost 80 lepta in 1880, 20 drachmas and 40 lepta in 1931 and 70 drachmas 15 lepta in 1975. The library will be used for the museum’s temporary exhibitions, and currently holds old studies of numismatics, while the last room tells everything you might want to know about forgery and counterfeiting in the 19th century, when the forgery of ancient coins became common, as the museum’s director Despina Evgenidou explained.

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