I need to start this story by going way back. In my early twenties I spent some terrible months in the north of England as an assistant teacher at a school. I have to admit that due to various reasons I was pretty miserable.
But there were some beacons of light during my time there. One of them was another student that I knew from my German university. While I worked as a language assistant at a school in a small town in the Midlands, he was completing a study abroad term at Manchester Uni.
We hadn’t had much contact while we were still in Germany, and I only would meet him three times while in the UK. We hardly spoke after. In fact, I have forgotten his name by now. But there was one thing that he taught me while we discovered Manchester together which stayed with me forever.
As a history student he was very fond of museums of all kind. But there was one type of museum that he loved the most. The small town museum. The country museum. The privately owned boutique museum where you got to meet an army of volunteers and the owners. The places that were there not because they were publicly funded and professionally curated but because there were people who cared about that stuff.
Previously, I hadn’t wasted a thought on places like this. But this brief lesson stuck with me. And I have visited many small museums since. The ones in Australia which you can find in small historic country towns are usually the best. Stuffed with bits and pieces found in the local area, wonderfully preserved and well looked after.
A hidden gem behind an ordinary façade
In Mykonos, we found a museum that was run in a similar fashion. And this is what I actually want to talk about in this post. A hidden gem that you might enjoy as much as we did.
The Folklore Museum is right on the waterfront halfway between the old port and Little Venice. From the outside, it looks like any other old house in Mykonos Town – whitewashed, with brightly coloured window frames and a strong wooden door. But on the inside it is as if time had stood still.
It’s easy to visit this little gem. Not only is it located in a central area, it also has free admission. So even if you only want to spend five minutes on it, there is not much that you would lose.
In return, you get to see a beautifully preserved house. Stuffed from floor to ceiling with local art and everyday objects – everything that the people of Mykonos are proud of. The volunteer at the door in particular was very fond of this small museum. Like all the other small museum volunteers I met so far he was more than willing to answer any questions and would open up like a flower in spring rain as soon as you showed a little interest.
A former captain’s house with lots of stories to tell
And this is how we learned that the Folklore Museum was housed in a former captain’s house. It’s rather small and not very museum-y, as most private homes are, but this makes it even quainter and more interesting. The ground floor has a flight of rooms that you can check out, complete with antique furniture of the 19th century. There is a sitting room, a bedroom, and – my personal highlight – a kitchen. Embroidery everywhere, oil lamps and artwork.
The rooms are tiny, the bulky furniture seems to swallow up the space. Local artwork cover the walls, the shelves bend over with bric-a-brac that was the last owner’s collection. Rather disturbingly, a mannequin is sitting in one of the chairs, representing one of the former occupants of this house. Ceramics line the back wall of the sitting room, plate after plate after plate. There are drawers to pull out that are home to a collection of silver votives. Eyes and mouths and hands and other items that are broken or ill and that need a divine blessing.
The kitchen is just perfect. It feels as if the housewife had only just stepped out. Dark and dim and with a massive hearth to cook dishes for the family. Yet, there is a window that opens to the blue of the Mediterranean, letting in cool breezes into a kitchen that undoubtedly could become very hot in a Greek summer. A small covered balcony area to cool and store food or keep household items. A meat fridge hanging from the ceiling. Lots of pots and pans, utensils and brass everywhere. A wash basin that looks like as ornate as a Roman wall fountain.
More treasures are awaiting us in the basement. There is a well here, a left-over from the Venetian fortress that used to be in this very same spot, now named after pirate Mermelechas. Having something like this in your basement, figure that! And if that’s your thing (it isn’t mine) there are also lots of model ships and etchings of ships to see here.
Small museums make up the fabric of our history
I guess what I am trying to say is that we must not forget small museums like the Folklore Museum in Mykonos. It is so easy to walk by without noticing but if we don’t pay them any attention they will eventually disappear one by one. Which would be such a loss for us and future generations. Sometimes you only know what you’ve got when it’s gone.
When you are visiting Mykonos, add this hidden gem to your bucket list. Spend a couple of minutes here and keep places like this alive.
The Folklore Museum in Mykonos is open from April to October 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. daily except Sundays. Entry is free although a small donation is much appreciated, of course.