“If Athens shall appear great to you,” Pericles famously said, “consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men.” The great Greek orator may very well have been referring to himself—he did, after all, preside over the city’s Golden Age, a splendid era that gave us Socrates and Plato, the Parthenon and the plays of Sophocles.
He would also have been impressed by the patriotic deeds of Antonis Benakis. Born in 1873 to wealthy Greek expats, Benakis spent his formative years in Alexandria, Egypt, before the family resettled in Athens—in a neoclassical marble mansion facing the National Garden. There he laid the groundwork for what would become a sprawling art collection charting Greece’s entire history, from classical antiquity and Alexander the Great to the Byzantine Empire and Ottoman rule, all the way to modern times.
Today the Benaki’s treasures—a Hercules statue from the 5th century BC! Lord Byron’s desk!—are an obligatory stop on any Athenian holiday, as crucial to understanding this country’s layers of civilization as a private tour of the Acropolis. (Of course, if you’re a loyal reader of this magazine, you already know this.) Over the years the museum has expanded its reach, including a new location dedicated to Islamic art and another to toys. Even real estate: After years of restoration, Patrick and Joan Leigh Fermor’s beloved villa in Kardamyli opened to the public (and for summer rentals) in 2019.
“The Benaki represents, better than anything else, what a crossroads of civilizations can achieve,” says Cabana founder Martina Mondadori, who has partnered with the museum on a new home collection (photographed here at the Leigh Fermor House), taking inspiration from its trove of Cycladic embroidery and neo-Hellenic textiles to design a suite of table linens, ceramics, and stemware. “It’s a real atlas of the Mediterranean.” And now one you can take home, too.
A portion of the sales from Cabana’s Benaki collection, photographed above at the Leigh Fermor House, will go to the Benaki Museum, in Athens.
This story appears in the October 2023 issue of Town & Country.