The main building of the Museum is Villa Ilissia (1848), a neo-renaissance style mansion, constructed at the bank of the then uncovered Ilissos river. It was the residence of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, alsoknown as the “Duchess of Plaisance”. The building was designed by Stamatis Kleanthis, (or according to other sources by Danish architect Hans Christian Hansen). Following the death of the duchess in 1854, the mansion was acquired by the Greek state. It houses the museum since 1930. Two new wings were built in 1952 and 1994.
The Byzantine and Christian Museum of Athens.
This Museum possesses one of the leading collections of Byzantine icons (portable, individual paintings and sections of altar screen decoration) in the world. Some of the best specimens of the exhibited are those of Panagia Glykofilousa from Bithynia, in mosaic form, the rare wood-carved relief of St. George from Kastoria, the icon of the Archangel Michael, and the icon of the crucifixion from Thessaloniki. The museum exhibits, representing 1,700 years of Byzantine art and architecture (3rd - 20th c.), include 25,000 ecclesiastical objects from Greece, the Balkans, Cyprus, Constantinople and Russia, classified in 11 collections: Sculptures, Mosaics, Murals, Replicas and the Loverdos’ Collection (includes manuscripts, woodcarving crafts, vestments, portable icons etc). A number of frescoes, salvaged from demolished churches in Attica and the Greek islands have also been set up in the museum.
There is also a collection of fabrics and inscriptions from Coptic churches and, in the courtyard, stands a reproduction of a fountain in one of the mosaics at Daphni. One of the halls in the museum has been converted into a small Basilica with nave and two aisles, and another into a cruciform church with dome, while a third hall has been converted into a post-Byzantine church. The Museum also hosts important temporary exhibitions and runs educational courses. The surrounding area serves as a park with an open-air amphitheater, a gift shop, a restaurant-café and recreational facilities. The grounds are connected to the adjacent archaeological site of “Aristotle’s Lyceum” (i.e. the school where the philosopher taught from 335 BC when he founded it, until 323 BC). Within the site there are remains of the Gymnasium [athletic training grounds], the baths, the Teaching Room for ephebes [adolescents], Konistirio (Palaestra - small athletic grounds), Elaiothesion (the Oiling Room - where athletes rubbed their body with oil) and the Reading Room – Library.