Ancient Technological Marvels Get their Own Museum in Athens

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Reconstructions of little-known ancient Greek mechanical inventions got their own museum in Athens, with the opening recently of Kostas Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology.

This is the third museum to be set up for ancient Greek technological achievements in the country by the Patras University engineer.

The first one opened in Ancient Olympia (2003) and the second to its west, in Katakolo (2013). The Athens museum will also focus on musical instruments and games.

Not widely known in Greece, the museums have nevertheless been showered with invitations by foreign museums and institutes as far away as Asia, and been visited by many foreign tourists in Greece.

“My father’s interest began 30 years ago, when he was an engineer at the University of Patras,” Kostas Kotsanas’ son, Panagiotis, told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) in an interview.

“He started focusing on ancient Greek technology, studying the sources and reconstructing” what he found, he added.

Beyond the Antikythera Mechanism, the world’s first computer found in a shipwreck off Antikythera that received a lot of publicity worldwide, few other mechanical inventions of the ancient Greeks are widely known to the general public.

Some of them include the following:
– The automated servant, the world’s first operational robot, by Philon
– The self-propelled theater, a puppet-theater, by Heron
– The astrolabe, serving as an ancient GPS, by Ptolemy
– The automated opening of a temple’s doors following a sacrifice, the world’s first automation of a building, by Heron of Alexandria
– The aeolosphere, the first steam engine in the world, by Heron
– The palintonos, the first giant catapult in history, by Philon
– The hydraulis, the oldest keyboard instrument of Dion, by Ktesibios of Alexandria, and
– The hydraulic ticking clock, by Archimedes

Panagiotis Kotsanas, who is a chemical engineer of the National Metsovio University (Polytechneio) and responsible for travelling exhibits, said that the objects sent to exhibits abroad are replicas made for that purpose.

For example, he said, pieces shown in South Korea and Thailand and travelling next to Singapore will also be shown in Egypt at the same time.

“Some (pieces) are made just for travelling abroad,” he said, “and have been travelling for seven years. They will return, but the museums are not missing any exhibits.”

Estimates put the number of the visitors to the Asian exhibits at over 1.5 million.

Kotsanas said the family had held exhibits in Athens, but did not organize them themselves and did not have their own space.

The Athens museum, he said, will charge an entrance fee, unlike the other two museums that are housed in municipal buildings and free to the public, “because we rent the building and we have to pay staff.”

The funding comes from the 15-year-old cultural nonprofit organization the family has set up to promote ancient Greek technology.

The inventions have travelled to most continents, and been shown at museums, the European Patent Office at the Hague, universities and the National Library of France, among others.

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