Athens toy museum opens offering journey to childhood through centuries

Updated 2017-11-21 13:35:12 Xinhua
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Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2017 shows toys on display at the Benaki Museum of Toys in the southern suburb of Athens, Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2017 shows toys on display at the Benaki Museum of Toys in the southern suburb of Athens, Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

The latest museum to open its doors to the public this fall, the Benaki Museum of Toys, has already won the hearts of locals who queue to enjoy a journey to childhood throughout the centuries.

Housed in a fairytale mansion resembling a castle, the Benaki museum was built in 1900 in a neo-gothic style in the southern suburb of Faliron. It overlooks the Saronic Gulf and hosts 3,500 toys and games and reconstructions from antiquity until the present day.

A wooden rocking horse that early 20th century statesman Eleftherios Venizelos had given to his grandson greets visitors at the entrance.

Mechanical toys made of wood or tin across Greece or Europe in the 19th century, dolls from Africa and America, shadow theater figures from the Mediterranean and puppets from Asia fill the halls of the mansion, which was donated by the family of late captain Athanassios Koulouras.

The collection of the museum, which is also a donation by Maria Argyriadis, a collector and researcher of toys, comprises toys and books associated with childhood across the world, literature and education as well as photographs and archives.

The collection -- which totals 20,000 items -- is considered one of the top ten in Europe. It was donated back in the 1990s by Argyriadis to the Benaki museum which founded a special department of childhood, toys and games, seeking a home.

The Greece-related objects include handmade infant and childhood toys from the 18th to the 20th century, replicas of toys from ancient Greece and toys made by retirees based on their memories of their childhood games.

The Europe-related objects consist of popular toys from the 18th to the 20th centuries, mainly from Britain, France and Germany.

Until 1991 they were crowded inside Argyriadis' home and in boxes at the basement. "Something was missing. I would tell myself that it is not right that only I and my children could admire these toys. The toys should find their way outside, to the world, for all children to see," she told Xinhua recently giving us a tour through the museum.

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Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2017 shows toys on display at the Benaki Museum of Toys in the southern suburb of Athens, Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2017 shows toys on display at the Benaki Museum of Toys in the southern suburb of Athens, Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

She had started collecting toys in the 70s. "This is how I started the collection: from a yellow teddy bear I found thrown in the garbage. This was the start of the collection, because I remembered a similar teddy bear I had as a child," she said.

Her passion to preserve toys was there since childhood. "It all started when I was young, 5-6 years old. My parents could not afford to buy many toys for me for Christmas. Just one," she explained.

She remembers her mother making new dresses for her old dolls and placing them under the Christmas tree in brand new boxes.

"My mother used to say: take care of your toys, hug them with love, be careful with them and do not throw them away," Argyriadis recalled.

Asked to choose one toy among the 20,000 of the collection, she starts making a long list. It is impossible, she said. Each one bears a part of the history and children's daily life throughout the centuries.

Each one has a story to tell. In many cases people who gave her their toys to enrich the collection also shared with her their memories and feelings about making the toy or playing with it.

Argyriadis points to a small wooden set of sofas and chairs put on display in the new museum as a characteristic example.

"A miniature set of living room furniture made of cheap wood that a mother made for her daughter's birthday during the Nazi occupation (in the 40s)... She brought it to us herself and she told us its story. This toy has a special significance for us," she told Xinhua.

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Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2017 shows toys on display at the Benaki Museum of Toys in the southern suburb of Athens, Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

Photo taken on Nov. 11, 2017 shows toys on display at the Benaki Museum of Toys in the southern suburb of Athens, Greece. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)

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