Scholars' Association News
Issue 19
August 2011


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The inauguration of the renovated Library of the Byzantine Museum
By Ioanna Kondyli and Titika Karavia

The inauguration of the renovated Library of the Byzantine and Christian Museum took place on April 28th 2011 in an event that several distinguished guests from the cultural sphere attended. The renovation of the library was made possible thanks to the generous donation by the Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, whose firm policy – as Anthony Papadimitriou, President of the Foundation, stressed in his opening speech at the inauguration ceremony – is to support and restore great libraries in Greece and abroad.

In this context, it undertook the renovation and equipment of the said library, in recognition of the Byzantine and Christian Museum’s offer to society as well as its activities and wealth of resources. Similarly in 1996 it also funded the construction, provision of equipment and operation of the Onassis Library of Hellenic and Roman Art in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, while in 2008, it renovated and equipped the National Archaelogical Museum Library. Moreover, as the Onassis Foundation President announced the imminent plans to expand the Library of the Archaeological Society at Athens and that of the Benaki Museum.

The Library of the Byzantine and Christian Museum specializes in Byzantine art – especially painting – history and culture, and currently holds 15,000 books, 200 journals – Greek and foreign – and about 2,500 offprints. As Eugenia Chalkia, Director of the Museum, mentioned in her speech at the opening ceremony, besides the wealth of historical and ecclesiastical sources, dictionaries and encyclopaedias, museum and exhibition catalogues; the Library also has rare editions from the 19th and early 20th century.

The establishment and progress of the Library of the Byzantine Museum has developed in parallel with the formation and operation of the Christian Archaeological Society (XAE) which was founded in the late 19th century under the initiative of Georgios Lampakis, Assistant Professor at the Theological School of the University of Athens.

In 1923, nine years after the foundation of the Museum, the writings of G. Lampakis, monographs and the XAE Deltion, along with third party donations constituted the cornerstone for the organization of the Library. Later, the Library was enriched with book donations by Georgios Sotiriou, Director of the Museum for more than 40 years, by Doula Mouriki, Professor of Byzantine Art at the National Technical University (NTUA), by Charis Chionidis, and more recently by byzantinologist Maria Theohari.

Based on an architectural study by Konstantinos Staikos, the Library premises were then transferred to the right wing of the museum complex on Vassilis Sofias Avenue and renovated allowing the Library to welcome ten people, both specialists and otherwise, byzantinologist-researchers, students of byzantinology or lovers of byzantine art and history.

Even a simple visit to the reading room is enough to create the impression that they are part of a "monastic community" at the service of books. This feeling stems from the plain elegance of the space which, as well as meeting all requirements for a contemporary reading room, instinctively alludes to the simplicity of older monastery writing rooms, where precious codes of byzantine tradition and Christian literature were created.

It is also enhanced to a great extent by the architecture of the reading room which is in perfect harmony with the humility of the cells where pious monks used to read and write during the Byzantine era.

Indicative of the renovation philosophy is what the architect himself mentioned in his speech the opening night: "The stack poles resemble plain columns of a templon, and so do the capitals that crown them.

The timber used is from chestnut tree that grows in the woods of Mount Athos, and its varnish alludes to the colour of cypresses which dominate the precinct of every monastery. The back of the stacks are purple and the beams of plaster, concealing the secret lighting that illuminates the central room of the Library, are designed in the same way as the visible beams in various areas in monasteries, such as the refectory and the abbot’s quarters.

The smooth operation of the renovated Library of the Byzantine and Christian Museum – including easy access to reading content, safe storage and maintenance of rare books and finally additional auxiliary spaces sufficient to meet any future need for the expansion of the collection – lies in the active contribution of the Onassis Foundation to the conservation and dissemination of our country’s cultural assets.

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