The Benaki Museum is the largest and oldest museum
in Greece operating as a foundation under private law.
Through its extensive collections that cover several different
cultural fields and its more general range of activities the
Benaki Museum is perhaps the sole instance of a complex
structure within the broader network of museum foundations
in Greece. It was founded in 1931 by Antoni Benaki, a member of one of the leading Greek families of Alexandria. The present day structure of the museum is a decentralised model with a number of independent branches. The centre of this scheme is the neoclassical mansion that presents an evolution of Greek art from the Neolithic period to the present day. Among the autonomous buildings is the exhibition centre on Pireos street, the historical archives in the Delta house, the Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika gallery and the Museum of Islamic art. The Museum of Islamic art is a renovated neoclassical building located in the historical centre of Athens in the immediate neighbourhood of the ancient Agora, the ancient Kerameikos cemetery and the Doric temple of Hephaistos. The museum opened to the public in 2004 to house the collection that was initially formed by the founder of the museum Antoni Benaki during the early of the 20th century, while he was living in Egypt. It was subsequently enriched by other donations and today it contains about 10000 objects from the Middle East, Iran, Turkey, North Africa and India. It demonstrates the evolution of Islamic art from its first appearance up to the Ottoman period and the corresponding developments leading to the middle of the 20th century. The collection includes ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, textiles, woodwork, glassware as well as ivories, funerary steles and arms and armour. Going through the galleries the visitor first comes across exhibits of the early period, from the 7th to the 12th century. Highlights are the group of lustre pottery, door panels from Iraq, Fatimid metalwork, tiraz textiles and a unique reed mat from 10th century Tiberias. The second gallery exhibits objects from the 12th to the 16th century with Seljuq ceramics, Mamluk metalwork and pottery and highlights a small brass box bearing the signature of Ismail ibn al-Ward al-Mawsili dated 1220 and the astrolabe of Ahmad ibn al-Sarraj dated 1328/29. The third gallery displays a marble-lined reception room from a 17th-century mansion in Cairo, together with its fountain, qamarriya windows and a mashrabbiya screen. Other noteworthy exhibits are the collection of Iznik pottery and a 16th century velvet saddle from Bursa. The fourth and last gallery presents arms and armour and an important collection of Qajar jewellery which was collected by Argine Salvagos, sister of the founder. Finally, during the preservation works, a large section of the ancient city wall of Athens from the 4th century BC was uncovered and remains in situ at basement level, accessible to visitors. The museum is located in the center of Athens, in the area of the ancient Kerameikos site, near Monastiraki and Thiseion.