The First Floor Of The Stoa Of Attalos To Reopen In Athens

Stoa of Attalos, Athens
Despite hard economic times in Greece, its capital city, Athens, is about to expand visitation to a major archaeological treasure — the Stoa of Attalos. This ancient Greek colonnade and indoor market was built in 150 B.C. by Attalos II, King of Pergamum, as a gift to Athens in gratitude for the happy schooldays he spent there.

The Stoa was meticulously reconstructed in the 1950s by The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and houses the Museum of the Ancient Agora. While visitors have been able to visit the ground floor, the first floor has been off-limits for thirty years. It will reopen in mid-May, just in time for the start of the peak tourist season. The floor will house a display of Greek sculptures that have never been shown to the public. Windows will allow visitors to get a good view of the rest of the Agora, the ancient city’s social, spiritual and political hub.

Top photo courtesy Ken Russell Salvador. Bottom photo courtesy Tilemahos.

Stoa of Attalos, Athens

‘Egyptomania’ grips Houston

EgyptomaniaThe Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, has just opened a new exhibition exploring the West’s fascination with ancient Egypt.

Egyptomania” collects forty objects from the Egyptian revivals of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was the time when the West became widely aware of the great civilization of Egypt and started excavating there. Cutting open mummies became popular entertainment, the rich collected Egyptian artifacts, and it seemed like everyone wanted to own something in the Egyptian style — like this Art Deco perfume bottle shown here in a photo courtesy MFAH. It was designed by Baccarat c. 1930. Other items on display are Egyptian-style furniture, garden sphinxes (much cooler than garden gnomes) and even Egyptian asparagus tongs.

Visitors to the museum can get a double dose of ancient Egypt right now because the traveling exhibition “Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs” is on display through April 15. This exhibition features more than a hundred artifacts, most of which have never been shown in the U.S. prior to this tour.

If this isn’t enough to stave off your Egyptomaniacal cravings, I suggest a trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium in San Jose, California. This place is a strange hybrid of serious museum and cultish quackery founded by a modern spiritual group inspired by ancient Egypt.

“Egyptomania” runs from March 18 through July 29.

The Vasa: an elegant seventeenth-century warship in Stockholm

Stockholm, Vasa
Sweden’s capital Stockholm has a lot to offer-fine dining, good shopping, lovely parks, access to some interesting day trips (the old Viking capital of Uppsala being my favorite) and a unique museum. The Vasa Ship Museum is one of Sweden’s most popular tourist attractions and it’s easy to see why. It houses a beautifully preserved 17th century warship.

The Vasa was meant to be the pride of the Swedish fleet at a time when the nation was one of Europe’s major powers. The galleon was 226 feet long, carried 145 sailors and 300 soldiers, and sported elegant woodwork over much of its exterior. Its 64 cannon could blast out 588 pounds of iron from port or starboard, giving it more firepower than any other ship then in existence. It must have been a major letdown when it sank barely a mile into its maiden voyage in 1628. It turns out the whole thing was top heavy.

While the Vasa was a bad ship, it’s an awesome museum piece. The cold water, silt, and pollution of Stockholm harbor kept it safe from microorganisms that would have eaten it up. When archaeologists raised it from the sea they retrieved thousands of artifacts such as weapons, utensils, coins, clothing, tools, and hemp sails and rigging. Some parts of the ship still had flakes of paint and gold leaf adhering to them, so its once-vivid colors could be reproduced in a scale model in the museum.

This year is the 50th anniversary of its raising from the bottom of the harbor. This was a tricky operation that required 1,300 dives and a great deal of delicate underwater work in low visibility. Divers had to dig six tunnels under the shipwreck in order to run steel cables through them and attach them to pontoons on the surface. After that, the pontoons lifted it to the surface without a hitch.

The next step was to reassemble the ship. All of the nails had rusted away, so the archaeologists were left with a massive jigsaw puzzle with many of the pieces missing. Some 32,000 cubic feet of oak timber and more than 26,000 artifacts had to be preserved, cataloged, and archived. To house the restored ship, the Vasa Ship Museum opened in 1990.

Now the Vasa may get some companions. Five other ships dating from the 16th to the 18th century have been discovered during the renovation of one of Stockholm’s quays. This was the site of the old shipyards where the Vasa was built. They’re said to be in good condition and some are as long as 20 meters (66 feet).

If you love the sea, you’ll also want to check out Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum and Madrid’s Naval Museum. And if you’re going to Stockholm, check out our budget Stockholm guide.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport gallery opens winter exhibition (about winter!)

Amsterdam
I love airport art galleries. They offer the delayed passenger something far more satisfying than eating fattening toxins in the food court. The gallery at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, is one of the best because it’s run by the world-famous Rijksmuseum.

The gallery has just opened Dutch Winters, a collection of winter scenes by Dutch artists. Interestingly, the curators didn’t go for the usual Dutch Masters and their depictions of the harsh winters of the 16th century, when Northern Europe shivered under the Mini Ice Age. Instead, they’re displaying works from the 19th century.

A January Evening in the Wood at The Hague, shown above, was painted by Louis Apol in 1875. A member of The Hague School, Apol made realistic images typical of that school’s style. Below is Charles Leickert’s Winter View, which he did in 1867. Leickert’s style harkens back to the Dutch masters with its rural scene, detailed architecture, and numerous lifelike figures.

Fans of the Dutch Masters of Holland’s Golden Age won’t be disappointed. The gallery has a permanent exhibit of some of their works.

Images courtesy Rijksmuseum.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam’s Maritime Museum

AmsterdamAmsterdam owes its wealth to the sea. In the Golden Age of the 16th and 17th centuries, the Dutch sailed around the world looking for rare products to bring back to Europe. They were one of the great maritime powers and are still important in shipping today.

Amsterdam is a city made for the sea. Its canals are laid out like a spider’s web, where every family that could afford it built a narrow house on one of the canals, complete with a private warehouse and crane on the upper floor. This maximization of seafront property allowed a large section of society to share in the nation’s wealth.

To really understand Amsterdam and The Netherlands, you need to visit the National Maritime Museum, called Het Scheepvaartmuseum in Dutch. This museum, reopened earlier this year after a major remodel, offers a history of Holland’s maritime adventures from the past 500 years.

Just a short walk from Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, the museum is housed in a large 17th century arsenal. Inside are modern interactive displays explaining how early mariners found their way by the stars, how ships were built, and where and for what they traded.

One of my favorite displays is a set of reproductions of sailors’ photo albums from the past century. You sit in an easy chair flipping through the pages while listening to an audio commentary explaining the photos. It was like sitting with some old Jack Tar as he spun tales of the sea. There’s also a large collection of ship’s ornaments, nautical equipment, and an art gallery of maritime paintings.

%Gallery-139729%Another big draw is the Amsterdam, a beautiful full-sized replica of an East Indiaman from the Age of Sail. This is a big hit with Dutch kids, if the squealing school groups crawling all over it were anything to judge by.

Some locals have complained that the remodeled museum has been “dumbed down”, and while I applaud the many exhibitions specifically directed at children, I have to agree the museum lacks a certain something. There’s a large amount of wasted space and as I finished every floor I was left with the feeling “that’s it?” Yes, the displays are artistically lit and well labeled, and the whole execution is well conceived, yet I was left feeling I’d missed out on something.

Another problem is the price–a tooth-grinding 15 euros ($20.23) for adults and 7.50 ($10.12) for kids and seniors. Thankfully I had the I amsterdam City Card, which got me in for free. If you don’t have the card, I’m sad to say that unless you’re a serious history or nautical buff, the price simply isn’t worth it. It’s a shame the high entrance fee will drive people away, because there are some really beautiful artifacts and works of art here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Lowdown on the Low Countries.

Coming up next: Tasting gourmet Dutch cheese in Amsterdam!

This trip was partially funded by Amsterdam’s Tourism and Congress Bureau and Cool Capitals. All opinions, however, are my own.