Archaeological Museum

Two blocks in from the south west corner of the harbour, are the buildings of the University of the Aegean which stand behind an attractive garden of palms; next to them is the island’s * Archaeological Museum, between Mouseiou and Michalon Streets, which should not be missed. (Open daily 8.30–3, except Mon.) Both the richness and the idiosyncracy of Chios have been mentioned above in the general context of the island’s character: in the collection of antiquities from the island, these qualities emerge as primary once again in the remarkable variety and unusualness of some of the categories of objects— in particular, the rare and moving grave stelai with fluid, incised designs from the Hellenistic period which are almost unique to Chios. The collection is laid out on three levels in a custom-designed building of 1970, with six principal rooms or zones.

Room I (to right of entrance): exhibits prehistoric finds (Neolithic through to Bronze Age) principally from the cave at Aghio Gala in the northwest of the island and from the excavations at Emporeio in the south. The same categories of object recur—jugs, cups, pyxes—but in a wide variety of forms and designs, occasionally with incised decoration. One fragment of the lid of a receptacle (no. 104) is carved in the form of a dog’s head. With the Mycenaean Age (central displaycase), simple, bold decorative designs of great beauty begin to arrive. The Protogeometric (9th century bc) vases from excavations in the city of Chios show clear influences from Euboea and the Northern Cyclades, confirming the direction of settlement in this crucial period.
   Room II (subdivided): contains the wide variety of objects in stone from historic times, beginning with two striking * torso fragments of korai, of the early 6th century (580–570) bc. What is unusual here are the lightly incised, undulating folds of the chitons they wear, beautifully conceived on the shoulders and back in particular, as well as the position of the hands beneath the falling locks of hair (no. 225): at this early stage a quite distinct and naturally graceful Ionic style is developing. Kore no. 226 once held an applique offering to her bosom. In the case along the wall is a wide selection of votive offerings, ornaments and modelled figurines—beginning with the earliest representational piece to have been found on the island, a Late Neolithic male head from Aghio Gala. One late 7th century bc find from Emporeio is the wellpreserved head of a helmeted warrior (no. 2, right showcase) with remarkably fine painted detail, once the top of an aryballos (a perfume or oil container). In the corner of the room is a display of images of the seated Mothergoddess, Cybele, found in a remarkably wide distribution of sites on the island; it shows the importance of the cult of the divinity (Anatolian in origin) on Chios and helps to make sense of the site of the sanctuary of Cybele at Vrontados, commonly known also as ‘Homer’s Seat’ (see below).
   Behind the central, dividing display-case is the collection of exquisitely * incised limestone grave stelai of the 5th to 3rd centuries bc—a type of stele which is virtually exclusive to Chios, depicting seated figures, dancing girls or birds in flight, sketched with a delicacy sometimes more fluid even than ancient vase-painting. Especially clear are no. 665 (5th century bc) with images of waterfowl and no. 280 (3rd century bc) with a seated lyre-player. The end of the hall exhibits some wellconserved Roman portrait busts, including a rare and sensitive portrait of Sabina (no. 5636), wife of the Emperor Hadrian. Underscoring the importance of Dionysos for a wine-producing island such as Chios is a display of figures and heads of the god from different periods.
   Room III (parallel to, and integral with, the previous gallery): continues the theme of wine-trading, with a collection of Chiot amphorae, displayed so as to show their chronological development: from the heavier, swollenneck designs of the 6th century bc, through the 5th century bc cylindrical-neck design, to the later Hellenistic forms with narrow bodies and long necks, modified for more efficient storage in the holds of boats. There is also an official liquid-measure standard in marble. The rest of the room is devoted to inscriptions— fascinating for what they tell us about the workings of a community, its legislation, voting, and—clearly shown here—the frequent cooperation in judicial matters and in arbitration between one island and another. Most important amongst this collection are two * engraved epistles from Alexander the Great to the Chiots (who had previously sided with Athens against Macedon)—the first (no. 39), inscribed in 332 bc, restoring a democratic regime to the island and ordering the return of political exiles; the second (no. 68) requesting clemency for an acquaintance who was on trial as a pro Persian traitor. The far end of the room exhibits a collection of grave stelai of the more usual type found across the Hellenic world: nearly all are scenes of banquets for the dead, mourning widows or valedictions: a notable exception is no. 10189 (2nd century bc) which depicts a solitary, dignified male figure, standing with his hands crossed before him.
   Room IV (mezzanine): houses principally the museum’s collection of vases, metalwork and jewellery, with the addition of one case exhibiting a 2nd century bc human skull which shows interesting evidence of surgical trepanning. The displays of vases have good didactic material explaining the progressive development of local ceramic work: there is a fine collection of fragments of the so-called, 6th century bc ‘wild-goat style’ (witness the confident depiction of these animals on no. 15, no. 16 & no. 18); a new manganese-red colour is introduced in no. 21 & no. 22. The central show-case has a rich display of bronze and ivory work, and includes a couple of the museum’s most unusual treasures—a carved * ivory horse and rider of the 7th century bc, no larger than a walnut, with beautifully executed hands holding the bridle; and a minuscule (4cm), late 6th century bc, gilded silver figurine of a helmeted warrior (no. 10) from the sanctuary of Apollo at Phanai. The collection of Hellenistic gold fillets, wreaths and decorations, include some pendants of striking intricacy: one (no. 104) is of a female figure riding a panther. The island’s coins—with their characteristic Sphinx (obverse) and amphora (reverse), are represented here mostly in casts: the originals are in museums and collections elsewhere.
   Room V displays a number of remarkable architectural elements which illustrate well the latent tendency towards animism always present in Ionian architecture: the colossal, sculpted, four-toed lion’s paws, from Emporeio, are in fact antae bases, i.e. the bases of flush pilasters against the front wall of the naos in the entrance porch of a temple. They are marginally later (5th century bc) than the fragments of ionic capitals, and sections of friezes and entablatures from the 6th century bc temple of Apollo at Phanai, but they share the same bold design and stylistic vigour.
   Room VI (on the upper floor) is dedicated solely to finds from the neighbouring island of Psara, most of which come from excavations of Mycenaean graves at Archontiki­ on the island’s west coast (see pp. 160–161). There is an impressive quantity of pottery (including graceful, stemmed kylixes, and stirrup-jars with decoration), gold artefacts, bronze swords (which are helpful in dating the burials) and jewellery, all from between the 14th and 12th centuries bc. The gentle, natural colours and subtlety of the gemstone jewellery and necklaces in faience and glass-paste, are particularly striking.
Outside courtyard: the largest exhibit in the open area behind the museum is the reassembled, 2nd century bc Macedonian-style mausoleum—constructed from perfectly cut ashlar, stone blocks of different colours—found in 1980 in the outskirts of Chios town. The delicate crown of oak-leaves, fashioned in beaten gold, on display in Room IV, was part of the grave-goods found in its interior chamber. The courtyard contains more fine architectural fragments and elements—amongst them, wateran exquisitely carved pilaster capital (early 5th century bc), with three interlocking and superimposed scrolls, with palmette and rosette decorations. The design is similar to surviving elements from the Great Altar of Hera on Samos , though the decoration is more intricate, as would be expected in a piece created almost a hundred years later.

 

Chios Island is part of the Northern Aegean Island group
Chios town and the Kampos area. The Archaeological Museum.


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