Getting in touch with the Greek statues

The Tactual Museum in Athens gives those with visual impairments a chance to touch classical masterpieces. And it shows others how hard things can be.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. He has been a journalist for more than 20 years and has travelled the world full time since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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Tactual Museum for Blind, Athens

Imagine what it’s like to travel to the most famous tourist sites in the world but to not be able to see them.

What it would be like to stand in front of the greatest artworks of human times but not be able to appreciate them? To try to understand the history of the world without images to put to the stories?

These are the struggles of the blind and the visually-impaired. Sightseeing is difficult if you have no sight and are unable to see.

The usual tourist behaviour of standing, looking, considering what is in front of you – it’s all a luxury that’s as foreign as the lands the sites are in.

Tactual museum for the blind, Athens, Greece

One museum in Athens is trying to change all of that, though.

At the Tactual Museum, they’re trying to give people with sight problems a sense of Greece’s ancient history. Everything on exhibit can be touched and, not only can it all be touched, it’s supposed to be touched.

The rooms are filled with replicas of great Greek artworks – statues, frescoes, figurines. And with your hands, not your eyes, you can feel what they look like.

Tactual museum for the blind, Athens, Greece

On the afternoon I visit, the woman working there hands me an eye mask. She explains that I should put it on before I look at each exhibit, then ‘see’ everything with my hands.

I’m the only person at the museum and it’s a strange sensation to put on the mask and feel blinded. Disoriented and confused, I reach out for the first artwork.

I know, from walking up to it, that it’s a statue of a woman but I can’t tell that from my first touch. I slide my hands around, use individual fingers, try to find something recognisable.

It’s hard to distinguish anything – it all just feels the same to me.

Tactual museum for the blind, Athens, Greece

A nose. Finally, something that I can identify. From there I work my fingers around, finding the eyes, the mouth, the hairline.

It’s still difficult to really picture what I’m touching but at least I’m beginning to put together the elements.

Tactual museum for the blind, Athens, Greece

It’s the same with all of the artworks. I cover my eyes with the mask and try to feel my way around the sculptures.

I’m almost caressing them, in the way you might explore a lover with your hands, trying to understand every part of them.

But I feel more than blind – I feel impotent, unable to appreciate what is in front of me. My senses are letting me down.

Is it easier for those who are actually visually-impaired? Is this an ability that develops over time or is it always this difficult?

I’m not sure how much you would get out of the process if it never got easier.

Tactual museum for the blind, Athens, Greece

“We have some blind people who are coming here,” the woman at the front desk tells me. “But more it is school groups.”

School students who can see?

“Yes. We show them the Braille,” she explains.

“We show them how it is to walk with stick, how to feel your way with hands. It is so when they see someone blind on the street they know what to do, how to act.”

Tactual museum for the blind, Athens, Greece

In that sense, the museum achieves its aim. It not only opens up the world of ancient Greece to the blind, but opens up the world of the blind to everyone else.

THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN ATHENS

There’s a good range of accommodation in Athens and I would recommend finding something near Syntagma Square for convenience.

BACKPACKER

For a backpacker option, I would recommend the modern and comfortable Bedbox Hostel.

BUDGET

If you’re looking for value, I would suggest the Athens Mirabello, which also has a great location.

BOUTIQUE

There are some cool design hotels in the city and one of the nicest is The Artist Athens.

LUXURY

And for 5-star luxury, I would suggest the modern Electra Metropolis with a great view of the Acropolis.

26 thoughts on “Getting in touch with the Greek statues”

  1. one of the many reasons to visit Athens.. is really these amazing structures.. the artwork, the artistry is just so great and timeless.. hopefully i could get there to see it.. 😛

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  2. This is pretty awesome! How original and creative. Talking about giving a different group a people a new appreciation for art! I think we could all learn something from this. Maybe we should use more of our other senses rather than relying on sight so much to experience our world.

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  3. Very cool! There’s an ongoing exhibit in Atlanta called Dialogue In The Dark that similarly allows visitors to experience what it’s like to be blind, but there were no Greek statues involved. I often prefer the dark, so I was right at home, but you could tell some people weren’t as comfortable with it. I think in this museum, I’d have to resist the urge to stand stock still and pretend to be a statue, just to freak people out!

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  4. That does sound pretty cool. At the least an amazing idea in shaking up the normal way of experiencing things. Even still, not sure i would enjoy it. I really like seeing things and touch is definitely not my best second sense.

    I remember reading about a walking tour in Berlin where you are wearing one of those masks as well, to experience a city in hearing alone. Might try to hunt it down if I get up there again.

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    • I agree with you – it’s really strange not being able to see things and I really didn’t get a good sense of things. But I suppose that was the point, to realise that. Maybe over time you would develop a better sense of touch.

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  5. I have been to the tactile museum in Athens and it’s really awesome! First, I visited the National Museum and throughout the halls people shouted, “no touching, no photographs!” Then, a friend and I took a taxi to the tactile museum and the tour guide said “touch everything!”

    Although I am involved in making astronomy and space science accessible, I am not visually impaired myself. However, I learned quite a bit from the guided (verbal and tactile) tour. I would highly recommend this museum to anyone visiting the Athens area!

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  6. I love the idea of an art museum where you can touch everything. Often I stand and stare longing to feel the texture of the piece to complete the experience. The museum may be advertised for the blind, but I think it offers a more complete experience for visitors. Great find!

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