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The Vases & Frescoes of Santorini

One of the museum's greatest treasures is its vast collection -- not surprisingly, the finest in the world -- of Greek vases and a wonderful group of frescoes from the Akrotiri site on the island of Santorini (Thira).

Around 1450 B.C., the volcanic island exploded, destroying not only most of the island but also, some say, the Minoan civilization on nearby Crete. Could Santorini's disappearance have created the myth of Atlantis? Perhaps. Fortunately, these beautiful frescoes survived and were brought to Athens for safekeeping and display.

Just as Athens wants the Elgin Marbles back, the present-day inhabitants of Santorini want their frescoes back, hoping that the crowds who come to see them in Athens will come instead to Santorini. There are as many theories on what these frescoes show as there are tourists in the museum on any given day. Who were the boxing boys? Were there monkeys on Santorini, or does the scene show another land? Are the ships sailing off to war, or returning home? No one knows, but it's impossible to see these lilting frescoes and not envy the people of Akrotiri who looked at such beauty every day.

Galleries

One of the great pleasures of visiting Athens is browsing in its small art galleries as well as its many warehouses converted to art and cultural centers that seem to pop up weekly in this city, and getting a sense of the flourishing contemporary Greek art scene (and possibly buying something to take home). Stop in at an opening, if you see a notice -- most are free to the public. For listings, pick up complimentary copies of the quarterlies Art and the City and The Athens Contemporary Art Map (both in Greek and English), which are available in hotels and galleries and log on to www.breathtakingathens.com. Here are some galleries to keep an eye out for.

In Plaka, the Athens Gallery, 14 Pandrosou St. (tel. 210/324-6942; www.athensgallery.gr), features all major Greek artists, crafts, ceramics, jewelry, sculptures, and museum copies displayed over three floors in a 200-year-old neoclassical building. Harma Gallery, 10 Thespidos St. (tel. 210/322-0040; www.athens-gallery.com), features excellent gifts, including replicas of ancient works and contemporary art. Pandora, 70 Adrianou St. (tel. 210/331-4437; www.pandora.gr), has an excellent collection of modern and contemporary art, museum copies, sculptures and ceramics. Frequent shows are held at Melina Mercouri Foundation, 9-11 Polygnotou (tel. 210/331-5601; www.melinamercourifoundation.org.gr).

In trendy Psirri, About Gallery, 18 Miaouli (tel. 210/331-4480; www.about-art.gr), hosts exhibitions by contemporary artists and has a great bookstore. AD Gallery, 3 Pallados (tel. 210/322-8785; www.adgallery.gr), focuses on modern and conceptual Greek art. a.antonopoulou.art, 20 Aristofanous (tel. 210/321-4994; www.aaart.gr), is one of the most stunning art spaces in the city concentrating on Greek contemporary artists. Els Hanappe Underground, 2 Melanthiou (tel. 210/325-0364; http://els.hanappe.com), showcases young international artists.

In Monastiraki, off Ermou Street, tucked inside a seemingly abandoned alley, you will find TAF-The Art Foundation, 5 Normanou (tel. 210/323-8757; www.theartfoundation.gr), a renovated neoclassical building complex that now houses art exhibitions as well as theater and dance performances. The courtyard is occupied by a popular bar where you can have a drink and browse at your leisure.

In Thissio, Bernier/Eliades Gallery, 11 Eptachalkou, Thissio (tel. 210/341-3936; www.bernier-eliades.gr), showcases Greek and international artists and stages group exhibitions, as does Kappatos, 12 Athinas (tel. 210/321-7931; www.kappatosgallery.com). Frequent shows are held at Melina Mercouri Cultural Center, 66 Iraklidon and Thessalonikis (tel. 210/345-2150).

In Gazi, Gallery Kourd, 2-4 Kassiani St. (tel. 210/642-6573; www.gallerykourd.gr), has been in operation since 1922 and its collection is stunning, ranging from paintings and icons to ancient Islamic and Asian art. The latest arrival in Gazi is The Hub, 133 Pireos (tel. 210/341-1009; www.thehubevents.gr), another former warehouse converted into a cultural space hosting exhibitions, galleries, screenings, conferences, performance arts, and fashion shows.

In Metaxourgeio, the neighborhood next in line to receive its own urban makeover, you will find the Athens Municipal Art Gallery, 32 Mylierou and Leonidou (tel. 210/324-3023; Tues-Sat 10am-2pm and 5-9pm; Sun 10am-2pm) with its rich collection from 19th- and 20th-century Greek artists plus rotating exhibitions in a beautiful early-19th-century building designed by architect Hans Christian Hansen. Here you will also find art trailblazer Rebecca Camhi, 9 Leonidou (tel. 210/523-3049; www.rebeccacamhi.com), and the Breeder, 45 Iasonos (tel. 210/331-7527; www.thebreedersystem.com), which showcases some of the more interesting up-and-coming artists in solo shows, group shows, and gallery swaps and houses a popular and tasty restaurant: the Breeder Feeder.

The Athens House of Photography, 104 36 Eleusinon and Kerameon (tel. 210/522-8696; www.phototheatron.com; Wed-Fri noon-8pm, Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 11am-6pm), is a space that includes photography exhibitions, a library and bookstore as well as seminars and workshops. The first gallery to set up shop in the neighborhood was Gazon Rouge, 8 Kikladon (tel. 210/883-7909; www.gazonrouge.com), which along with being a gallery is also an art publishing house with a bookstore and cafe. It's since moved to Patission Avenue near Kypseli, which is becoming the next "in" neighborhood for artists. The recent arrival of Salon de Vortex, 24 Ithakis and Drosopoulou (tel.210/825-9994; www.salondevortex.worldpress.com), a new space with exhibitions and artists' studios attests to that, as does the arrival of The Apartment Gallery, 29 Ithakis (tel. 210/321-5469; www.theapartment.gr), from Syntagma Square to a pretty Kypseli neoclassical building.

The National Museum of Contemporary Art will one day move into its new Syngrou-Fix location, but until then, it is housed at the Athens Conservatory, 17-19 Vas. Georgiou (tel. 210/924-5200; www.emst.gr; Tues-Sun 11am-7pm). The highway formerly known as the "industrial wasteland highway" Pireos Avenue, is gaining momentum as one of the city's main culture zones. The Benaki Museum-Pireos Street Annexe, 138 Pireos and Andronikou (tel. 210/345-3111; www.benaki.gr), stages excellent exhibitions, as does the huge multipurpose space at Technopolis, 100 Pireos (tel. 210/346-0981; www.technopolis.gr), while the School of Fine Arts, 256 Pireos (tel. 210/480-1315; www.afsa.gr), stages exhibitions by new artists as well as retrospectives by top contemporary Greek artists. Athinais, 34-36 Kastorias (tel. 210/348-0000; www.athinais.com.gr), the former silk factory restored into an arts center, also stages exhibitions and shows. The Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center, 48 Armatolon-Klefton, Ambelokipi (tel. 210/643-9466; www.art-tounta.gr), stages first-rate exhibitions.

The fashionable Kolonaki district is chockablock with galleries. A must-see is the Gagosian Gallery, 3 Merlin (tel. 210/364-0215; www.gagosian.com), the contemporary art world eminent dealer's first Athens gallery. Nearby Zoumboulakis Gallery, 20 Kolonaki Sq. (tel. 210/360-8278; www.zoumboulakis.gr), has exhibitions as well as a top-rate range of limited edition prints and posters by leading Greek artists. Astrolavos Art Life, 11 Irodotou (tel. 210/722-1200; www.astrolavos.gr), has excellent exhibitions from young and upcoming artists as well as established Greek and Greek-American artists. The Fizz Gallery, 9c Valaoritou St. (tel. 210/360-7598; www.fizzgallery.gr), concentrates on contemporary Greek and international art: paintings, installations, videos, and photography. The Kalfayan Galleries, 11 Haritos St. (tel. 210/721-7679; www.kalfayangalleries.com), showcase the work of many local and international artists and hosts events and art festivals in collaboration with museums. The Medusa Art Gallery, 7 Xenokratous (tel. 210/724-4552; www.medusaartgallery.com), features emerging artists and showcases everything from video to photography, painting, and sculpture. Another gallery open year-round and well worth a visit (in part for its great cafe and shop) is Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art, 11 Filellinon (tel. 210/275-8490; www.deste.gr). Deste, owned by collector Dakis Joannou, showcases cutting-edge works from the international scene. Farther north, in affluent Kifissia, it's worth checking out the excellent Mihalarias Art Gallery, Kifisias and Diligiani (tel. 210/623-0928; www.mihalarias.gr), housed in a stunningly beautiful heritage-listed mansion. Also in Kifissia, it's a treat to visit the Modern Sculpture Park, 73 G. Lira St. ([210/620-6437; www.skironio.gr).

Also keep an eye out for what's going on at the Onassis Cultural Center, 107-109 Syngrou Ave. (tel. 210/178-0000; www.sgt.gr), Athens's newest arrival is this stunning cultural space from the prestigious Onassis Foundation, that hosts events, exhibitions, and performances.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.