In 1831 it was bought from an Ottoman lady by the renown Greek architect Stamatios Kleanthis and his associate Eduard Schaubert, who were given the task of the urban planning of the city of Athens. They restored it and established their home and workplace here, and at that time, it was referred to as the Kleanthis House. In 1837 and for the next four years, it became the seat of the first University of the Independent Greek State. Afterwards, when the university was moved to other premises, the building was alternatively used as a teacher training college, infantry barracks, a haven for refugees and immigrants, and apartments with a tavern on the ground floor. In 1945, the building was declared a National Heritage site. In 1967, ownership passed to the University of Athens and the restoration process began. The building started to function as the Athens University History Museum in May 1987 with an exhibition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the University.
The Museum’s declared aim is to collect, preserve, study and present the historical heirlooms of the University. The collections it has at its disposal consist of books some of which are old and rare editions, manuscripts, letters, diplomas, scientific instruments, photographs, portraits, medals, seals and other University souvenirs.
The exhibits are displayed over two floors, with the items organized and displayed thematically, following the layout of the first Schools of the University. The first floor is dedicated to the Schools of Law, Dentistry and Medicine while the upper floor rooms display items from the Schools of Philosophy, Theology and Sciences.
The first students of the University, ranging in age from 18-32, and the professors were all male. The first woman, Ioanna Stefanopoli was accepted at the School of Philosophy in 1890. By 1900, 20 female students were enrolled.
Among the many exhibits on the first floor, the University Banner stands out in silk and gold embroidery of the goddess Athena. It was commissioned in 1887 to mark the 50 years of the foundation of the University. There is also an interactive exhibit of a black dial phone where you pick up the receiver and by dialing a number, you get to listen to the stories of tenants describing their life in the building, especially during the period 1940-60. A Timeline exhibit records the history of the University within the greater historical framework, starting with the founding of the Ottonian University in 1836 to the inauguration of the University Museum in 1987. A reconstructed dentist’s “office” with hydraulic chair from the first half of the 20th century, a gynecological examination chair. A Watson Autonome III X-Ray table, various medical examination instruments and 2 gigantic books of anatomy are among the many displays that capture the visitor’s attention.
The second floor is dedicated to the display of books covering such aspects as language, ethics, theology, archeology, botany, astronomy and history. The last room exhibits an impressive array of scientific instruments among which are microscopes, spectroscopes, galvanometers, portable seismograph, and electro dynamometer, all beautifully preserved.
At the end of your tour, you are invited to open the doors to the terrace to enjoy a unique panoramic view of the city.
The Museum organizes guided tours for schools and groups in Greek, English and French, subject to prior arrangement. The ground floor of the museum hosts lectures, conferences, film showings and periodical exhibitions. In the summer months, the outside court areas are used to hold concerts and theatrical performances.
Visiting hours are Monday-Friday 9am-4pm. Saturday and Sunday the Museum is closed, but on the first Sunday of each month it is open from 11am-4pm with free entrance and guided tour at 1pm.
Entrance fees are €2 Adults and €1 for children.
Cover photo credits: The Old University of Athens which houses the Athens University Museum