Like every summer, Athens makes an ideal historical starting point for tourists before they set off to explore the white-washed houses and sunsets of the Cyclades islands.
Set in the Aegean Sea, southeast of mainland Greece, the group of around 220 islands is also the birthplace of the unique Cycladic civilization, best known for its idols carved out of the islands' pure white marble. The name Cyclades was coined in Greece's Archaic period (800 BC-480 BC) as the islands form a rough circle (kyklos) around Delos, the central and most sacred island of the time.
As the locals abandon Athens for their own vacations, visitors who want to explore Greece would do well to stop off at the Museum of Cycladic Art and take a look at the civilization which left an important mark on the world's cultural heritage.
The museum is dedicated to the study and promotion of the ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, with special emphasis on the Cycladic Art of the third millennium BC.
It was founded in 1986 and has since grown in size to accommodate new acquisitions. Over 3,000 artifacts are currently on display at the museum, making it one of the largest collections of Cycladic Art in the world today.
The three major permanent collections (Cycladic Culture, Ancient Greek Art and Cypriot Culture) have been formed through generous donations by important collectors, public and private institutions and anonymous benefactors, and attract thousands of visitors every year.
"Among the great civilizations of the world... Greek culture has one specifically unique feature: the development of the human form at its center, whether they be gods or people," says Nikolaos Stampolidis, director of the Museum of Cycladic Art and professor of classical archaeology at the University of Crete.
"They are depicted on the white marble of the Cyclades and are masterpieces of this civilization, dating back from between 3200 BC to 2000 BC.
"They are mostly of female figures since women represented the source of life, and were the most dominant beings who not only passed on language but also culture," Stampolidis says.
On the strip of ancient sights in the center of Athens that stretch from the Acropolis to the Ancient Agora, the Museum of Cycladic Art next to the Greek parliament has another defining feature, according to Stampolidis.
"On the fourth floor, visitors can find scenes from everyday life in classical antiquity depicted in a unique way, starting from the family home, to the birth of a child through to its death in war."