Larissa may appear an unusual site for great archeology. Yet it holds a permanent memorial to the Homeric archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann. He was not just the archeologist who ‘discovered’ Troy, but also a man whose life has interested many historians and students of adventure.
So how does Larissa surface in this story? Schliemann barely survived his first escapade as a cabin boy when his ship sank near Amsterdam. He became a successful and wealthy trader, fluent in several languages including Ancient Greek. In his early forties, after a failed marriage in St Petersburg, and possibly driven by dreams from his readings of the cultures of antiquity by Homer, he ‘tossed in the towel’ on his business career to pursue a childhood interest in archeology.
After several years study, he ventured to Greece settling in Athens, not Larissa, and had a most amazingly successful archeological career over the subsequent 15 years, though much criticized by more academically oriented archeologists. Troy capped his finds but even there he possibly mixed findings from different eras. Nevertheless, Schliemann more than anyone else validated Greek antiquity in the writings of Homer.
Schliemann fell in love with Greece and through associates sought an appropriate Greek wife, and in 1870 he subsequently married Sophia with whom he shared his life and works until his lone death in Napoli in 1890. His love of Greece included settling in Athens and building his home there ‘Iliou Melathron’ (House of Troy). His study, designed by his friend and architect Ernst Ziller, was probably the centre of his life, when he was not in the field, and it became an icon of his life protected by Sophia after his death.
With the death of Schliemann family members, the furniture from the study was eventually acquired by a medical practitioner of Larissa, Giorgios Katsigras. The habit of collecting antiques is not lost on the medical profession, whose successful members have not apparently suffered often from penury.
Dr Katsigras was an extremely avid artistic collector with about 750 works of Greek art from the 19th and 20th centuries. These he eventually donated in his will to the Municipal Art Gallery in Larissa. The G I Katsigras Collection is probably the finest representation of Greek art in any museum and sets this municipality of Larissa apart as a centre for recent Greek art.
The works of the Collection on show are presented on the first floor of the modern museum/gallery. At the top of the stairs leading up from the foyer, should you turn to the left and look around the wall, you will find Heinrich Scliemann’s study, set out as it possibly was in the second floor in Iliou Melathron. The ghost of Schliemann is however alone as his precious library is no longer to be found.
Notwithstanding this vacuum, the furniture setting is, for a true Greek, a permanent reminder of the role of this archeologist and adventurer in the continuing history of their land – a link from Larissa today to Homer in antiquity.