The first archaeological collection was founded in Sparta in 1833, by the German archaeologist Ludwig Ross, and was housed in the church of Agios Panteleimon. Soon though, it was destroyed by fire and was rebuilt in 1872, by the curator for Antiquities, Panayiotis Stamatakis, who collected 288 ancient objects that comprised the main core of the findings of the museum that was erected a little later. The abundance of the findings, along with their love for the history of their region, led a group of antiquity lovers from Sparta to found the “Association of Friends of the Archaeological Museum of Sparta – Panayiotis Stamatakis” in 1997, thus honouring the founder of the Spartan Museum who was also one of the pioneers of Greek Archaeology altogether. The Association organises various events, advocating the founding of a new museum in the edifice of HYMOFIX, further promoting the antiquities of Sparta and Laconia. The Archaeological Museum of Spartais the first regional museum of Greece to have been designed and constructed ab initio for this exact purpose.
The building works started in 1874, based on the designs of architect G.Katsaros, though at times it has been considered to be the work of the famous Danish architect Theophilus Hansen.It was completed on January 23,1876, with the main building consisting initially of one central hall with Ionian propylons (outer monumental gateways) built on its west and east sides, and two adjoining halls.The studies that started to take place in Sparta at the end of the 19th century, as well as the continuous collection of antiquities, led to an increase of the number of findings and the subsequent expansion of the central building, with the addition of halls at its northern and southern sides. The first extension of the two halls occurred between 1905 and 1908, and was funded by the Archaeological Company.
Two more, with even greater size,were added similarly in 1936.Today, the museum hosts thousands of findings from the province of Lacedaemon, along with those coming from other areas of the Laconian prefecture,which are not included in the archaeological collections of Gytheion and Neapolis Vion. The objects exhibited in its halls, cover the time period between the Neolithic and the Later Roman eras, while findings from the great sanctuaries of Sparta hold the most prominent position. The museum visitors will have the opportunity to admire retrieved material coming from the greater pre-historical sites of Laconia, sculptures dated from the Archaic to the Roman eras, found at various locations of the prefecture, along with artefacts from rescue excavations, the most important of which being the remains of Roman mosaic floors from Sparta. In addition, the museum exhibition includes a few but extremely valuable epigraphs,providing rare information on the history of the area. Unfortunately, mainly due to lack of space, the seven halls of the museum, house only a small part of what the active 5th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities has brought,and keeps bringing to light,until today. The basic criterion of choice and presentation is the importance of some of these findings, not only for the scientific community but also for the common visitor. This is a brief description of the contents of the museum halls:
Hall I (lobby): Roman inscribed columns are exhibited, on which iron sickles have been embodied, offerings of the winners in the athletic events of the Artemis “Orthia” shrine. The name of the winner and the athletic event on which they were distinguished are inscribed on the columns.
Hall II: It includes findings from the sanctuary of Artemis “Orthia” and from the abundant excavations, as well as samples of offerings made to the goddess by the believers, made of ivory, stone, and clay, as well as lead figurines, presumably offerings by the poor. Of great interest are the clay mask offerings, probably imitations of the wooden ones that were possibly used at ceremonies honouring the goddess. In the same hall, findings from the sanctuaries of Athena “Chalkioikos”, Apollo of Amyklae and Menelaion are exhibited. The great funeral amphorae with relief decorations found in the Sparta excavations hold an equally prominent place.
Hall III: It includes sculptures,mainly from the Roman period,portraits and parts of marble sarcophagi, while, in the centre of the room, the head of the statue of Tyche of the city is displayed. In the same room, parts of mosaic floors from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are exhibited. The clay replica of a quinquereme from the Cape of Maleas area holds an important position in the hall.
Hall IV (the small loft of theMuseum): It includes findings of the pre-historic period from various parts of Laconia (Geraki, Melathria, Epidaurus of Limira, Peristeri, Angelona, and Amykles). A prominent position is held by the burial gifts (kterismata) from the Mycenaean graves of Pellana, where a rich cemetery has been discovered.
Hall V: A few samples from a large number of mosaic floors that decorated the luxury urban villas and the public buildings of Sparta during the Roman period are displayed. Among the iconic representations of the mosaics, those of Achilles in Skyros (early 4th century BC) and of the decapitation of Medusa (3rd century BC) stand out. One can also admire gorgoneia, a representation of Aphrodite and many more.
Hall VI: An important position is held by the architectural parts of the Apollo of Amyklae sanctuary, a work by Bathycles of Minor Asia, exquisitely combining Ionian and Doric features, in a particular type of structure, where the Dorian Apollo and the pre-Dorian deity Hyacinth were jointly worshiped. In the centre of the room, one can find the amphiglyph (double sided relief) pyramid-shaped column depicting pairs of figures (Orestes – Clytemnestra and Menelaus – Helen), while one can also admire a large number of a heroic Laconian reliefs series representing a pair of deities, reliefs and symbols of Dioskouroi, as well as a small section of offerings originating from the Alexandra-Cassandra sanctuary in Amykles.
Hall VII: Mainly samples of the Laconian sculpture. In the centre of the room, the figure of the Spartan warrior called “Leonidas” is exhibited. It was found close to the sanctuary of Athena “Chalkioikos”. The renowned victory stele of Damonon holds an important position in the hall, listing victories in various athletic events. Here, various inscribed columns of dead warriors, the statue of Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, as well as the gigantic head of Hera or Helen are also displayed… The Archaeological Museum of Sparta is under the jurisdiction of the 5th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.