The Museum of Zoology of the University of Athens belongs to the Department of Biology of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. It is housed on the University campus and occupies an area of 2,200 m².
History of the Zoological Museum
The Zoological Museum of the University of Athens has existed for around 160 years. It was the first and largest museum of its kind in Greece. The history of the Museum begins around the same time that Athens became the capital of the new Greek state.
The central part of the Museum’s collections existed before the University of Athens was founded in 1837. The Physiographic Society had been established in Athens in 1835, by Greeks and Bavarians, mainly scholars living in the country, who created many collections of animals, minerals, plants and fossils. Due to the financial difficulties that it faced after 1837, the Physiographic Society began to donate material from its collections to the University. Then in 1858, the Physiographic Museum of the University of Athens was created, in which the collections of the future Zoological Museum held a principal position.
Until the end of the 19th Century, the Museum’s staff and collaborators worked to curate, study and exhibit the zoological collections, with the dual aims of educating and entertaining the public, especially young people. In a time before television and radio, the Zoological Museum provided a unique attraction for numerous visitors. It played an important role in the general education of people living in the developing capital. Researchers studying Greek fauna, both from within the country and abroad, as well as amateur collectors, hunters and many others, enriched the Museum by donating their collections and hunting trophies.
With the advent of the 20th Century, the Museum was further enriched, and together with the Laboratory of Zoology, formed the basis of the zoological education provided to students of the University of Athens. In the 1930s, under the leadership of Professor G. Pantazis, the periodical, Acta lnstituti et Musei Universitatis Atheniensis, was published.
During the occupation and after the wars, the Museum suffered from a lack of funds and means, and so was unable to modernize or add to its collections. Then by the early 1960s, the museum was forced to close to the public, due to the need to repair the building in which it was housed.
In 1965, the exhibits and collections were moved into storage in scattered locations on the new University campus. After the Department of Biology had been built, the Zoological Museum found a permanent home there in 1991. From this time, the Museum gradually reopened its rare and valuable collections to the public, primarily to school children. By this point, the Museum’s exhibits had been enhanced with new material, such as the important collections of mammals and birds donated by the Papalios family.
Today the Museum is visited annually by more than 10,000 school children, while the building itself continues to be improved and the exhibits modernized by the addition of audiovisual media. The Museum caters for the general public, primary and secondary school pupils, as well as the University’s students. Its main goal is to promote an understanding of the value of biodiversity, so that the conservation and protection of biodiversity become important for all citizens. Additionally, younger visitors are given the opportunity of learning about the wonderful world of animals up close, at a time when most exposure to animal diversity is through electronic means.
- Specimens of around 500 small and large mammals from Greece, the rest of Europe, as well as from all the other continents. These are in the form of taxidermy mounts or skeletons.
- A rich collection of around 2,500 birds, which includes all the bird species of Greece.
- A collection of bird’s eggs and nests.
- A large collection of around 1,000 reptiles, amphibians and fish from Greece and the rest of the world.
- As for the invertebrates, there are sizeable collections of insects and molluscs (snails, bivalves, cephalopods, etc.) and a significant number of specimens of other invertebrates, such as sponges, corals, crustaceans, etc.
- Research: into the ecology, systematics, biogeography and conservation biology of various animal groups.
- Education: training students in zoology, biodiversity, the fauna of Greece and natural anthropology – training TEI students in the conservation of organic materials – student internships – training secondary school teachers – student environmental education.
- Informing the public: visits by primary and secondary school pupils, university students and others – press releases – interviews and TV presentations – collaboration with environmental organizations to promote their work.
- Collection management: preservation of Greece’s natural heritage – upkeep of databases and bibliographies about Greek fauna, endangered and rare animal species – enrichment, conservation, and cataloguing of Museum specimens.
- Library: the Museum’s library includes many old and rare zoological books and periodicals from around the world. It also contains modern manuals, guides, identification keys, periodicals etc.
- Organization of conferences and seminars, etc: the Museum has two lecture halls that can host small conferences or workshops. The museum can also host temporary art or book exhibitions.