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Museums, coins to mark Greek revolution bicentenary

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Philhellenism Museum founder Constantinos Velentzas poses at the entrance to the new museum. AFP

Museums, coins to mark Greek revolution bicentenary

Hundreds of rare items dating to the 1821 Greek revolution go on virtual display in Athens this month, with bicentenary events scaled back because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A new museum dedicated to the Philhellene foreign volunteers who fought and died for Greece will be inaugurated next month, featuring contemporary paintings, weapons, ornaments and personal items of the fighters, among them celebrated 19th century poet Lord Byron.

“The Philhellenic movement seduced all social classes . . . it was a vertical and horizontal movement without precedent,” says museum founder Constantinos Velentzas, a private collector and IT entrepreneur.

“We are preparing a 3D virtual tour. We have to address a wide public that is not only based in Greece,” he said this week.

Items on display include Byron’s weapons, a letter by US revolutionary war hero and French aristocrat the Marquis de Lafayette, early drawings of the Greek revolutionary flag, and the logbook of a warship that participated in the pivotal naval Battle of Navarino that led to Greek independence.

Two key Greek museums are also holding exhibitions to mark the revolution against Turkish rule.

Greece’s National Gallery will reopen on March 24 after an extensive eight-year renovation that more than doubled its display capacity.

And the Benaki Museum earlier in March opened an eight-month exhibit with over 1,200 items, its largest ever, on Greek history from 1770 to 1870.

Among priceless items on display at the Benaki is a wall-sized political map of the Balkans and Greece published in Vienna in 1796-1797.

The map by Rigas Feraios, a liberation pioneer who sought aid from Napoleon Bonaparte and was imprisoned and murdered by the Turks, helped inspire the Greek revolution against the Ottoman Empire.

A committee overseeing this year’s commemoration events has produced over a dozen limited-edition coins for the bicentenary, including reproductions of coins minted in 1828 and 1832.

The Greek state will also issue 1.5 million commemorative €2 coins showing the Greek flag and laurel wreaths.

According to reports, French President Emmanuel Macron, Prince Charles of Britain and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin have been invited to attend Greece’s annual Independence Day parade in Athens on March 25 – the date traditionally associated with the start of the revolution.

But government spokeswoman Aristotelia Peloni this week said the leaders’ visit will be carried out “if pandemic developments permit it”.

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