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.
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.
In a listed building at 198 Doiranis Street in the Athens district of Kallithea is a museum that is different from any other. Instead of hiding exhibits in glass cases and keeping visitors a safe distance away, it actively encourages them to handle and feel the items on display, literally inviting them to get "in touch" with the best examples of Greek culture and civilisation through the ages.
The so-called Tactual Museum established by the Lighthouse for the Blind of Greece was created to allow the visually impaired to become acquainted with Greece's cultural heritage using their sense of touch. The exhibits are faithful replicas of original artifacts on display in Greek museums that range from the Cycladic and Minoan eras of prehistory to the Geometric, Archaic, Hellenistic and Roman periods of Greek history.
It is now one of five tactile museums in the world, allowing the non-sighted to become acquainted with masterpieces such as the Venus of Milo, Praxiteles' Hermes, the Charioteer at Delphi and a model of the Athens Acropolis, among others.
For the sighted that visit the museum, it is an opportunity to discover how to develop their sense of touch and to enter the world of the visually impaired for a short while. They can learn about the museum's history and what a visual disability is. They can use a mask to cover their eyes and try to find their way around the museum with a white stick and a companion, trying to understand the artworks by touch rather than sight.
"We see with our minds, not with our eyes. Art offers us pleasure, therefore someone that touches needs pleasure. Through the Tactual Museum the opportunity is given to enjoy and come away with that sense that art gives us in all its forms, the aesthetics, the harmony the peace of the soul," the director of the museum Kalliope Gkika said to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency.
The museum also has a Byzantine era section and galleries designed to sensitise the public to the Olympic Games and the Paralympics, as well as a pottery and sculpture workshop for the sight-impaired.
It gets roughly 1,000 visitors a month with free entrance for those with a vision disability and two euros for everyone else. It operates by appointment, at the telephone number 210 9415222, from 9:00 until 14:00.