The Benaki Museum collection of Islamic art, which includes examples of all its local variations from as far as India, Persia, Mesopotamia, Asia Minor, the Middle East, Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and Spain, ranks among the most important in the world.
The evolution of Islamic civilisation from the first appearance of Islam up to the Ottoman period and the corresponding development of Islamic art up to the 19th century are demonstrated by more than 8,000 works of art, including ceramics, gold, metalwork, textiles and glass, smaller groupings of bone objects, inscribed funerary steles and weaponry, as well as the marble-faced interior of a reception room from a 17th-century Cairo mansion.
Antonis Benakis initially started collecting in Egypt at the beginning of the 20th century. At the same time many similar collections were created in Europe and America, which, in many cases, complement the Benaki Museum collection.
The two carved wooden memorial door panels from 8th century Mesopotamia rank amongst the more important objects in the collection, as do the unique reed wat from 10th -century Tiberias, the small brass box bearing the signature of Ismail ibn al-Ward al-Mausili dated 1200, the bronze astrolabe of Ahmad ibn al-Sarraj dated 1328/29, and the famous 16th century velvet saddle from Bursa.
The Islamic Art collections are exhibited in the Museum of Islamic Art, housed in the neo-classical building complex that was donated by Lambros Eftaxias. It is located in the historic centre of Athens, near the ancient Kerameikos cemetery.
The Benaki Museum cooperates with the virtual museum
The collection of Prehistoric, Ancient Greek and Roman antiquities which is formed through the contributions of several Greek and foreign donors, as well as from the reserves of other museums, covers a vast chronological period stretching from the dawn of prehistory to the end of the Roman era.
The Byzantine collection links the ancient Greek world to that of modern Greece. The collection is exceptionally rich, although it is not representative of all the different artistic tendencies and currents which flourished during the thousand-year Byzantine Empire, and is divided into two groups.
The collections of ecclesiastical and secular art cover the historical period from the 15th to the 19th century and provide evidence of the high level of culture in the Greek world during the Frankish and Ottoman occupations.
Whilst the nucleus of this collection is made up of works from Antonis Benakis' personal collection, the bulk of it is derived from the donation made by Damianos Kyriazis in 1953, as well as from subsequent gifts and bequests made by many other friends of the Museum. It includes a total of almost 6000 paintings and drawings by mainly European artists of the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as works by Greek artists of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika Gallery was gifted to the Benaki Museum by the artist and functioned as an annexe to the museum from 1991-2000, whereupon it closed temporarily for maintenance and building refurbishment. Work commenced in 2005 under architect Pavlos Kalligas and in May 2012 the Gallery re-opened its doors to the public.
The Maria Argyriadi donation is the core of the Department of Childhood, Toys and Games, which was founded in 1991.