Founded in 1846, the EfA is the oldest foreign institute in Athens. Its early foundation, still a source of considerable prestige, is to be seen culturally connected with French philhellenism and politically with the French East Mediterranean strategy of the time.
It operates an active programme of research in all fields of Greek studies, but primarily in archaeology, epigraphy and Classical Studies. The EfA conducts an extensive programme of scholarships and bursaries. Its library holds 80,000 volumes, 550,000 photographs and 35,000 maps.
Unlike most of the other foreign institutes, the EfA has a status more akin to a university graduate school than a simple research institute. Its formal status is referred to as an Établissement public à caractère scientifique, culturel et professionnel in the French education system. Some of its sought-after scholarships are renewable for periods up to four years, providing students with the opportunity to conduct most or all of their PhD research in Athens.
Since its foundation, the EFA has been involved in many important archaeological projects in Greece, including the excavations at Philippi, Dikili Tash (both in Greek Macedonia),the Samothrace temple complex and Thasos (in the North Aegean), Delphi (Central Greece), Argos (Peloponnese), Delos (Cyclades), Malia and Itanos (Crete), as well as Amathus in Cyprus.
Many important French archaeologists, classicists and epigraphers throughout a century and a half have been members of the EfA: