MFA Travel: Greece through the Ages

Patron Program Committee
“The gods granted us camaraderie, sacred sites, spectacular views, and abundant creature comforts.”
—Joan and Ernst Berndt

In Athens, where ancient ruins stand beside modern urban renewal, past and present confront a visitor like few other destinations. This past June, MFA Patrons were transported back to the 5th century BCE, the origins of democracy, and the Athenian empire. Led by Phoebe Segal, Mary Bryce Comstock Curator of Greek and Roman Art, the group also experienced modern Athens, including cutting-edge architecture, cuisine, and modern and contemporary art exhibitions.

One of the hallmarks of MFA Patron Travel is access to behind-the-scenes experiences. In Athens, MFA Patrons were treated to a private tour of the excavations at the Agora, the ancient city’s hub of cultural, political, social, and economic activities. Site director John Camp, the world’s foremost authority on the Agora, led Patrons through the newest part of his dig and explained what they hope to uncover in the coming years. MFA Patrons also attended the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum for an after-hours tour with the famed jeweler’s daughter, who shared many of the company’s most prized treasures and even allowed us to try some on. After the tour, at a cocktail reception on the museum’s roof, she toasted our group and her admiration for the MFA.

Other highlights of the trip included visits to the Benaki Museum, the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeological Museum, and the ceramics exhibition “Picasso and Antiquity: Line and Clay” at the Museum of Cycladic Art.

On more than one occasion during the Picasso exhibition, I needed to rely on the exhibition’s didactics to reveal which ceramic was from antiquity and which was from the modern master. Venturing outside the city, Patrons visited the Renzo Piano–designed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center; archeological museums in Piraeus, Thebes, and Delphi; and Sounio National Park, where we enjoyed resplendent views from the Temple of Poseidon. Built in antiquity and perched 200 feet above the Aegean, one of the temple’s columns includes graffiti by Lord Byron, who was so moved by the site that he featured it in his poetry.

Day and night the group delighted in the amber allure of the Parthenon crowning the ancient city. We held off visiting the site however, until the end of our trip, thus providing the perfect culmination of a week spent between ancient and modern. By the time we departed, we understood why John Milton described Athens as “the eye of Greece, mother of arts and eloquence.”