In 1867 War Navy Captain Gerasimos Zohios, motivated by the desire for our maritime tradition and heritage to be preserved, suggested the foundation of a Greek Naval Museum. Almost 90 years passed until his idea was put into action but, finally, the inauguration of the first Hellenic Maritime Museum took place in 1955.
A short time later, in 1964, the Piraeus Port Authority and later the National Tourist Organization leased, at a symbolic rate, the plot of land where the museum is now located. The Hellenic Maritime Museum is situated at sea level, below the coastal road of Akti Themistokleous, in front of the Zea Marina, boasting not only about its unique exhibits, but also about its magnificent surrounding area.
The Hellenic Maritime Museum is a member of the International Congress of Maritime Museums (ICMM), and participates actively in national and world congresses and in national and international exhibitions, by lending its material.
The construction of the building housing the Hellenic Maritime Museum was completed in 1969. The initial plan regarding the building’s external form was to resemble the eminent naval architectural monument of ancient Piraeus, the Arsenal of Philo.
Outside the building, there is a circular square where sculptures and other significant outdoor exhibits have been placed such as the turret of the legendary submarine “Papanikolis” and anchors belonging to ships which participated in the Naval Battle of Navarino.
The exhibition area of the museum consists of nine halls, in which 2.500 items are presented in chronological and thematic order, eloquently illustrating the Greek maritime history and tradition from prehistoric times to the present day.
Section A – The Naval Gallery
There are portraits of prominent seafarers and the founders of the museum, and paintings depicting aspects of the naval life. This section demonstrates the multi-dimensional relationship between Greek painters and the sea, revealing the many ways the sea stimulated the artistic creativity.
Section B & C – Prehistoric Times & Classical Antiquity
Two rooms are dedicated to the nautical achievements of prehistoric and ancient times – dating from 8000 BC to Alexander the Great. The exhibits in these halls mostly include scale models of a number of sailing vessels such as triremes as well as models of shipsheds and the Arsenal of Philo and maps representing the journeys of the first Greek explorers. There is also an impressive statue of Zeus, looming behind original sections of the 4th century Cononian Fortification Walls.
Section D – Byzantine Era
It contains exhibits of the Byzantine and post-Byzantine era until the end of the 18th century. The most prominent among the exhibits is a grand scale model of a dromon, the most important, galley-like warship of the Byzantine Navy, carrying the notorious Greek Fire (liquid fire), a weapon discharged of a cooper siphon on the vessel’s prow.
Section E – Pre-Revolutionary Years & Greek War of Independence
The part the Greek Navy played during the dark years of the Ottoman Occupation, until the resurgence of the Greek nation with the War of Independence of 1821, is the theme of this hall. The visitor has the opportunity to see models of brigs (brikia), Greek merchant ships used as battleships during the war, oil paintings inspired by the heroic battles of 1821, flags, weapons and personal belongings of the leaders of the Greek Revolution.
Section F & G – Greek War Navy in Recent Years
The next two halls present the Greek War Navy’s course from the establishment of the independent Greek state in 1830 until the mid 20th century. The first room focuses on the reinforcement of the newly established state’s War Navy and the latter’s participation in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), while the other room is dedicated to WWII with the emphasis given to the torpedoing of the Greek warship “Elli” and relics belonging to the historical Greek submarine “Papanikolis”.
Section H – Merchant Navy from 1827 to the Present
Almost all types of merchant ships from the mid 19th to the 20th century are presented in this room dedicated to the creation, history and evolution of the Greek Merchant Navy, Greece’s pride.
Section I – Traditional Shipbuilding and Vessels (18th – 20th century)
The exhibition concludes with the presentation of traditional shipbuilding and of the sailing boats crossing the Mediterranean and Black Sea during the 19th and 20th century. In a showcase wall, a small yet complete collection of navigational instruments, dating from the 17th to the mid 20th century, is also exhibited.
The Aristotle Onassis Collection
The private collection Onassis (Aristotle Onassis, the Greek tycoon) donated to the Hellenic Maritime Museum includes decorative and historic items which adorned the spaces on board the yacht “Christina”. The most impressive among these items are 12 models of ships made of bone by French prisoners in the Napoleonic Wars, scrimshaw, models of Onassis’s own fleet, whale hunting weapons and 31 oil paintings of various themes.
Divided in three main categories, the archive is one of the Museum’s most prestigious acquisitions.
The Historical Archive consists of more than 25.000 pages and covers the years from the establishment of the Greek state (1830) up to the late 20th century. It includes Private Archives, Ship Logbooks, Personal Journals, Documents and Ship Signal Registers.
The Photographic Archive consists of more than 8.000 photos donated to the Hellenic Maritime Museum by descendants of historic families. It includes: People, Ships, Ports and Naval Facilities, Navy Training, War Activities, Life at Sea, Naval Air Force and Navy Events.
The Map Archive consists of approximately 700 maps of 16th – 19th century, classified according to the geographical region they chart (Greece, Balkans, Europe, Asia Minor – Anatolia, Mediterranean, Roman Empire, and Ottoman Empire).
The Hellenic Maritime Museum Library, founded along with the Museum itself, is the greatest naval library in Greece, with more than 13.000 volumes of scientific and technical books and periodicals related to the naval science as well as encyclopedias and maritime dictionaries.
Why Visit the Museum
The Hellenic Maritime Museum, features exquisite exhibits, the living testimony of the Greek maritime history. Its final location in front of the Zea marina, a few metres from the ancient port of Zea, puts the Museum in its natural element, the sea; furthermore, it offers the visitor a wonderful place to stroll and enjoy a coffee.