Best FREE museums in NYC: The Onassis Cultural Center offers a wealth of ancient Greek statues, mosaics, coins and more. This fine little museum isn’t just under the radar, it’s under the ground, in the basement of an office building a block from Rockefeller Center.
It’s one of NYC’s best kept secrets, steps from noisy and crowded Fifth Avenue.
Gods and Mortals at Mount Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus is the first exhibit since this wonderful, quiet, space re-opened recently after an extensive renovation.
NOTE this exhibit closed on June 18, 2016.
The display is the result of more than 40 years of archeological excavations at the ancient city of Dion, including some never displayed publicly before, and offers a glimpse into the lives of the ancient Greeks who lived.
Each artifact shines under pinpoint lighting. Each piece is astounding, and astoundingly beautiful, such as the wall-size mosaic entitled the Epiphany of Dionysus, pictured above, which measures nearly nine feet wide (86.6 in.) by five feet high (59 in.).
There are large and small alabaster and marble statues of Aphrodite and Zeus, and decorative objects dating as far back as 1,000 BCE, each with extensive notations on where it was found and its relation to other objects. And photography is allowed (no flash), which is how I got the image of Head of Agrippina the Elder, above.
There are FREE guided tours each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1PM by scholars of archeology and ancient history. No reservations are required for these “drop-in” tours. There also are special programs for kids led by arts educators, and group tours for NYC school children.
You can also download an archeology app game and teaching tool created by a Greek games and software studio, to become a virtual archeologist and decide where to look for finds, choose tools for the dig, and organize your findings into an exhibition. Secrets of the Past: Excavating the City of Zeus is available for free download from the Apple App Store, and also available on iPads at the Onassis Cultural Center.
Gods and Mortals at Mount Olympus: Ancient Dion, City of Zeus was organized by the Dion Excavations in collaboration with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports. It’s on display through June 18th.
The Onassis Cultural Center is open 10AM to 6PM Monday through Saturday, and until 9PM on Thursdays, in the building formerly known as Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue, across 51st Street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (the jeweler H. Stern is on the corner). Note that the entrance is on 51st Street, between Fifth and Madison Aves., not on Fifth Avenue.
The Onassis Cultural Center in NYC is funded by the Onassis Foundation, founded by the late shipping and airline magnate Aristotle Onassis, equally famous for marrying Jackie Kennedy after the 1963 assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. The foundation works with educational and cultural institutions in the USA to promote Greek culture.
photo of Epiphany of Dionysus mosaic courtesy Onassis Cultural Center NY
photo of Head of Agrippina the Elder (C) by NYCONTHECHEAP Editor Evelyn Kanter