Wednesday, August 3rd was rife with adventure. To begin the day, our group visited the National Library of Greece. Built in the nineteenth century, the library anchors the row of, perhaps, Athens’ three most iconic neoclassical structures (the additional two being the University of Athens and the Academy of Athens). Upon entry, we were ushered into the stunning central reading room—a vast, old-world hall framed by bookshelves cradling countless antique volumes, amidst which stood twenty Ionic columns, crowned by a glass ceiling, flooding the space with natural light.
After a presentation from the chief librarians, we were given a moment to move about the reading room. Further details were pointed out to us: the iron shelving and spiral staircases brought from Turin, Italy; Portraits and busts of significant figures; special archival collections. Professor Kitromilides shared nostalgia of bygone eras, pointing out the table that was once reserved for “professors and higher clergy,” as well as the anachronistic sign alerting patrons of the smoking ban within the reading room and its walkways.
We also took a moment to peruse the old card catalogue system—something of particular amusement to the millennials of our group.
Following our exploration of the reading room, our tour continued through the stacks—6 floors—where we had the opportunity to view a diverse and fascinating collection comprised of innumerable well-aged volumes, the spines still bearing the stamp of the library’s original cataloguing system.
While it may be difficult to say which portion of our visit was the highlight, it certainly was a distinct honor to be granted the rare opportunity of not just access to peer into the manuscript collection, but the privilege to view and handle some manuscripts relevant to the subject matter of our seminar. These included Greek military documents regarding the landing at Smyrna, a Patriarchal sigilum written in Karaman, a rare vellum manuscript of the Book of Matthew, and a manuscript containing Middle-Byzantine musical notation. Moreover, the significance of each of the pieces was explained to us by an expert in the respective field.
Our exciting time in the library represented something of a closing of an era. Due to spacial and technological constraints, the library will be moved to a newly constructed 240,000 square foot facility in Phaleron Bay, through the generosity of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. While we were there, we observed workers slowly packing books and cataloguing the older pieces. In light of this, we have experienced a historical moment in the Greek history—the classical appearance of the original library (soon to be called “old library”), on the eve of its historic move.
That afternoon, as we returned to the Center for Asia Minor Studies to work on our projects, we were paid a visit from Fr. Maximos Constas, who offered his insights into our projects during a roundtable discussion.
After work in the Archive was finished for the day, we followed the cool, pine tree covered footpaths up Philopappou hill to engage in further research of the cultural variety at the Dora Stratou Foundation. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the director and president of the Foundation, Professor Alkis Raftis, and proceeded to a lesson in the Dance and Music of Cappadocia, which included instruction in traditional Cappadocian dance. After a spirited experience, we were treated to a performance by the Foundation’s eponymous dance company, who performed dances from Asia Minor in traditional costume of the various regions from which the dances originated, including Pontos and Pharasa (a village, incidentally, that was instrumental to the formation of the Center for Asia Minor Studies).
As the moon rose over the Acropolis, we made our way home, grateful for the days rich learning experiences.