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Showcasing Sparta’s Rich Archaeological Heritage to Bring New Vitality to the City

Jul 16, 2020
On Monday, July 6, 2020, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) and the Greek state signed agreements for a $5.097.000 grant to expand and comprehensively upgrade the Archaeological Museum of Sparta and a $347.665 grant to showcase the mosaics at the so-called “House of Europa.”

Upgrading the Archaeological Museum of Sparta is one of the pillars of SNF’s Laconia Initiative and a key priority of the Ministry of Culture and Sports. The project will revitalize modern Greece’s first regional museum, as well as Sparta’s wider historic, neoclassical city center, and the “House of Europa” will add a fascinating highlight to Sparta’s already rich cultural treasury.

“The comprehensive renovation of the Archaeological Museum of Sparta and its surroundings,” said Minister of Culture and Sports Lina Mendoni, “contributes to the creation of a new and welcoming cultural face that will reintroduce the city—and its historical past—to the world. In combination with the other cultural heritage initiatives that have been launched as part of the strong collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, such as showcasing the mosaics at the ‘House of Europa,’ the improvements at the Archaeological Museum contribute to the advancement of a new, sustainable development model for Laconia.”

SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos remarked, “We are particularly happy and proud to support the renovation of the Archaeological Museum of Sparta. In addition to the museum’s indisputable historical importance, Sparta and Laconia carry deep significance for all of us at SNF as the place of origin of my great uncle and our founder, the late Stavros Niarchos. In this context, and despite the fact that we do not typically undertake projects of our own initiative, we decided to initiate the process of upgrading not only the museum, but also the surrounding area, which is inseparable from it architecturally and culturally. At the same time, we are supporting the effort to showcase the mosaics at Sparta’s ‘House of Europa,’ which is part of Greece’s cultural heritage. This place has a very rich history, and we aim to support its historical institutions, including through constructing and outfitting the School of Byzantine Music and Hagiography in collaboration with the Holy Metropolis of Monemvasia and Sparta and Metropolitan of Monemvasia and Sparta, Efstathio. At the same time, Laconia has many promising prospects for the future, and we also aim to support its economic development through the multifaceted Laconia Initiative that has the revival of the small village of Vamvakou at its heart.”

The idea for the project arose during a visit to the museum and the surrounding area by Andreas Dracopoulos and internationally renowned architect Renzo Piano, who jointly envisioned its potential to become a cultural jewel for the city and a living, open public space for residents and visitors of Sparta. The museum’s garden and the main square of Sparta’s City Hall were once part of a unified space, and Renzo Piano and his colleagues are conducting an architectural study on how to reconnect them.

The grant agreement covers the costs of study, construction, and build-out to restore and enhance the museum’s premises. The work will include an underground expansion of the building and renovation and maintenance of its historic garden. According to the project timeline, it will be delivered to the city’s residents and visitors in 2023 as a hub of culture and recreation that will remain active after the opening of the new museum on the premises of the former HYMOFIX factory.

The remodeled Archaeological Museum is intended to introduce Greek and global audiences to modern interpretations of ancient Sparta’s cultural heritage, with an emphasis on digital technologies. At the same time, it is designed to host cultural activities and events for the local community in both the new indoor spaces that will be created and the garden, use of which the Municipality of Sparta kindly granted to the Ministry of Culture and Sports for 20 years. The SNF grant also includes the ongoing maintenance of the garden for the duration of this twenty-year period.

Founded in 1875, the Archaeological Museum of Sparta is housed in a neoclassical building designed by architect G. Katsaros and is considered the first Greek museum to have been built outside the capital. In 1876, the Museum received 288 ancient artifacts collected in 1872 by Ephorate of Antiquities Panagiotis Stamatakis, and the collection was enriched further over the years. Since an expansion in 1936, the Museum has comprised seven halls.

The second grant agreement provides for conservation of and outreach for the site commonly referred to as the “House of Europa,” where two Roman mosaics are preserved: “The Abduction of Europa” and “Orpheus with the Animals.” Former Minister Ioannis Varvitsiotis, president of the nonprofit organization “Friends of the Mosaics of Sparta,” has spearheaded an effort to highlight and promote the city’s incredible mosaics. At his own expense, the organization has already successfully completed the implementation studies and tender documents for the project, has submitted the dossier for the planned building permit, and has proposed a contractor, all with the approval of the Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The “House of Europa,” at the intersection of Dioskouron and Paleologou Streets in Sparta, comprises two properties totaling 1,800 square meters expropriated by the Ministry of Culture: the House of Foustanos and the House of Mourabas. Roman-era mosaics, “The Abduction of Europa” and “Orpheus with the Animals,” were discovered there. “The Abduction of Europa” was discovered in 1872, half a meter underground, in the garden of the House of Foustanos. It was recorded by Greek archaeologist Panagiotis Stamatakis and studied for the first time in 1874 by German archaeologist Gustav Hirschfeld. A detailed recording followed from Dressel and Milhofer, who also published the first catalogue of the collection of the Archaeological Museum of Sparta.