With its proclamation as the capital of the independent Greek state in 1834, Athens joins the dances of the European capitals with the shyness it ought to be a debutant, dressed in the clothes of neoclassicism, following European fashion. In her case, her refined attire was a direct statement of her genuine nobility, of her authentic classic descent. The connection of the new city with its ancient ancestor will dominate throughout the 19th century, in political thought and diplomacy, in the discourse of history, in urban planning.
The first Athenian painters, the scholar and academic Dimitrios Kampouroglou among them, influenced by the flourishing of folklore in German-speaking countries, you will gather folklore, ethnographic and historical material about the life of Athens.
Those who will come in the decades after World War II, when the capital grows bigger and the reconstruction changes its physiognomy, will nostalgically turn their gaze to the “old Athens” of the past, commemorating, like the most prolific Giannis Kairofylas, an Athens that is in danger of being forgotten.
A generation of young lovers from Athens appears around the Millennium. Their parents are emotionally attached to a place of origin in the countryside, but they themselves, born and bred in Athens, do not know another place in the memories of their childhood. Residents of the city are interested in its image, its history and the quality of life in it as working citizens. Starting in public places and private buildings, lectures and discussions deepen the knowledge and experience of Athens for the modern Athenian and take action transforms streets and neighborhoods.
In the annual travel tribute of the “New York Times” in 2017, Athens is introduced as one of the fifty-two delicious destinations around the world. In the photo that accompanies the recommendations we do not see the established Acropolis, a symbol of eternal Athens, but the newly built Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC) that then opened to the public. Entitled “A post-krize art boom in an Ancient capital”, the author exhibits the lively art scene in Athens after the financial crisis, which was preparing to host the international art exhibition Documenta.
Athens is now recognized as a dynamic big city with the familiar features of a world metropolis. Photos of her shared by her wives on social media show a city that is fresh and attractive, showing off with confidence even its well-worn, graphic, stereotypical or kitsch faces.
In the August tribute of “Vimatos” “Athens, the modern charm”, from Sunday, August 8 and for five weeks, the course of the new city in time was followed through recent editions that were released with dedication to the decoration of the Greek Revolution – required editions with rich illustrations that marked a new period of athenography and documented athena knowledge after nostalgia.
In February 1833, the talented Danish architect Christian Hansen came to Greece on a scholarship to study the architecture of ancient monuments. He would soon take over the design of the residence of Prince George Kantakouzinos and other private residences and in September 1834 he would be appointed to the Architectural Department of the Ministry of Interior. The coming years will be relentlessly creative. He designs the Anglican Church on Filellinon Street, a theater in Klafthmonos Square, and participates in the restoration of the Acropolis monuments. In 1839 he was commissioned to design the Ottonian University.
His younger brother, Theophilos, will come specially from Denmark to help him and the German Ernst Ziller will later work in his office. The University of Athens will remain the only higher university institution in the country until the founding of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in 1925. The University building, completed in 1864, will be the most important public building in the new city. Together with the adjacent Academy of Athens and the “Vallianeio” building of the National Library, works of the Hansen-Ziller trinity, constitute the so-called “Athenian trilogy”, the most recognizable buildings of the new Athens.
Wandering in modern Athens
In the heart of modern Athens, the University building, with its propyla, stands as a privileged point of observation of the expression of political conflicts and social demands and the appropriate start for the traveler of Athens, who wants to discover the history and physiognomy of the new city through its buildings.
An excellent guide in this description, the luxurious place of Athens, two hundred years – two hundred buildings (edited by Manolis Anastasakis, Grad Review publications, 2021) which was released with dedication the decorative from the garden of the Revolution presenting, symbolically, 200 public and private buildings covering 200 years of Greek architecture.
The images and their documentation sharpen the gaze of the traveler, direct it behind the bright signs of department stores and offices in the volumes and design details of buildings of historical and architectural value, the conclusion with a symbolic character.
Short introductory texts, signed by architects, historians of architecture and art historians (Giannis A. Aesop, Stelios Giamarelos, Maria Daniel, Marilena Z. Kasimati, Francois Loyer, Manos Biris, Costas Kostastikos for favored the architectural style of each period, composing all together a concise history of Greek architecture of two centuries.
From the Revolution to the war
From the first period (1821-1867) are preserved until today, most of the newer monuments are preserved, the Diocese, from where the Athenians say goodbye to representatives of politics and intellectual life, the Athens Observatory, one of the first research institutes in the country, the National Metsovo Polytechnic, designed by Lysandros Kaftantzoglou, an ideological and political symbol after the student examination against the dictatorship in 1973.
The Bavarians, Danes, French and foreign-educated Greek architects, exponents of classicism, will shape the image of Athens of this period. These are the years when monumental public social assistance mansions were erected with the sponsorship of great national benefactors.
In the following period (1868-1922), late classicism will meet the European currents of the time, history and eclecticism. The period will be bequeathed in the city, the City Hall of Athens, the Varvakeio Agora, the Maximos Palace, the Presidential Palace, the Maraslio School of 1905, the New Arsakeio (Konstantinos Maroudis, Ernst Ziller) of 1925 in Edouis, Mousis Cycladic Art.
Ziller, who will design the “Ilios Melathron”, the residence of the Trojan excavator Henry Schliemann in Athens, the Numismatic Museum, will decisively shape the image of Athens after 1880, from Piraeus and Faliro to Kifissia, creating a school , which left its mark on popular architecture and with the extensive repetition of its elements quickly became accepted as indigenous, even though it was inspired by a German. At the same time, a new bourgeoisie is emerging. Architects are now designing lucrative properties, new ones, contacts and holiday homes.
During the difficult political and economic years of the interwar period and the war (1923-1945), the city expanded in population to about half a million in 1928, two-thirds of whom were immigrants and refugees. The immediate need for housing will create the refugee apartment buildings on Alexandra Avenue. In the same years, the Student Club of the University of Athens was built on Ippokratous Street. These are the years when the cigarette industry is flourishing in Greece. The building of the Public Tobacco Factory on Lenorman Street, completed in 1930, is an important example of industrial architecture and testifies to the historical development of the tobacco industry in the country.
Athens continues to follow the aesthetic currents of the time. On the façade of the Rex mansion, 1935, there are elements of Art Deco and American style of the entertainment venues of the time.
The astyphilia of the post-war years (1946-1979) and the urgent need for housing cause an explosion of the urban apartment building phenomenon. But there are also public buildings of the same era, coordinated with international architectural currents. During these years the 401 General Military Hospital, the hotel “Great Britain”, and the famous church of Agios Dimitrios Lombardiaris on Lofos Filopappou were built, designed by Dimitris Pikioni, inspired by the original original, the library with the layout of terraces, benches and frontal views of the Acropolis Rock compose a sanctuary declared in 1996 a UNESCO protected monument.
At the same time it was built at the Hilton Hotel (Emmanouil Vourekas, Prokopis Vassiliadis, Spyros Staikos) and the National Research Foundation (Doxiadis Technical Office) were merged at the University of Athens and moved to new buildings, which formed the entire University of the , George Leonardos), with clear influences from Le Corbusier and references to the traditional folk and monastic architecture, built of concrete, is an interesting example of Greek brutality.
The last decades (1980-2021) are years of postmodernism and extroversion, which leave in the city special architectural creations in the category of housing and large public and private buildings associated with foreign architects with an international presence, such as the New Acropolis Museum (Bernard ) Tsoumi, Michalis Fotiadis) and the Cultural Center “Stavros Niarchos” Foundation (Renzo Piano Building Workshop). At the same time, the Benaki Museum on Piraeus Street (Maria Kokkinou, Andreas Kourkoulas), the House of Letters and Arts of the Onassis Foundation (architecturestudio) on Syggrou Avenue and the offices of the shipping company Aggeliasi (Rena) Kallithea are being built to the south.
The physiognomy of the city is changing. The simple dynamic forms of concrete, metal and glass, which are beginning to dominate, are far from the stereotypical image of “neoclassical” Athens. Athens is now a metropolis that follows, as throughout its history, the architectural trends of the time, offering the people of the tourism-resistant architecture intense experiences.
* All photos are from the volume.
Athens, two hundred years – two hundred buildings
Edited by Manolis Anastasakis.
Grad Review Publications, 2021, p. 338, price 45 euros