Athens in the 19th century: From regional town of the Ottoman Empire to capital of the Kingdom of Greece
Historian, Institute for Neohellenic Research, National Hellenic Research Foundation (NHRF)
"ATHENS WAS A VILLAGE"
A view of the city of Athens, painted by Richard Temple (1810).
It is common ground in the historiography of the Athens of recent times, the indication of its unimportance, before being chosen to become capital of the free Greek state. For instance, “When it was chosen as the Capital, Athens was a village of 4,000 inhabitants and Piraeus an unimportant fishing port”; “Athens was then  a town of 10 or 12,000 inhabitants, a total ruin with a few dwellings at the foot of the Acropolis”1. These are some the characteristic expressions, of this perception.
Nonetheless, witnesses to the period suggest that this impression does not correspond to reality. “Athens, the City” was the setting for the recollections of Panagi Skouzes “between 1788 and 1796”, while Panagiotis Kodrikas visited his “ home city of Athens” in 17892. Arriving with Lord Byron in Athens in 1810, Baron Hobhouse, hearing their driver say “Affendi, i chora” [: “the town”], thought he heard “to chorio” [:“the village”]. But “we were not a little surprised, upon looking up, to see in a plain at a great distance before us, a large town rising round an eminence, on which we could also discern some buildings, and beyond this town, the sea”3.
In fact, throughout the period of Turkish rule, Athens not only remained a city, but it remained consistently the largest city in “Sterea Ellada” (the district of southern mainland Greece), followed by Thebes, Livadia, Lamia, Atalanti, Salona and, later, Messolonghi4, while presenting an impressive geographic expanse, beyond its medieval boundaries. Being a Metropolitan See as well as the seat of an Ottoman Kaza, it specialized in a series of activities of an urban nature, such as production of silk fabrics, soap making and leather tanning. Characteristically, when in October 1833, a list was compiled of buildings to be expropriated for the sake of excavation, it included 400 houses, seven bakeries and 103 workshops (among which were two olive presses and two soap factories), within the boundaries of the later Hephaestus, Metropolis, Nikis, Amalias and Lysikratis streets, that is, about half of the Old City5. But, even beyond “Sterea Ellada”, Athens belonged in the category of important Balkan cities. Just before the Revolution, it was counted among the top ten cities of the southern Balkans, after Constantinople, Adrianople, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Serres, Larissa, Tripoli and Patras. It was placed in the same category as Argyrokastro, but surpassed recognized cities, such as Verria, Monastiri, Argos and Nafplion, Kastoria, Berati and Arta6.
Among the cities of what was later free Greece—a matter of particular significance, since these were the cities from which a capital would necessarily be chosen—pre-revolutionary Athens was the third, after Tripoli and Patras. The exact number of inhabitants is difficult to determine, but all of the indicators, nonetheless, suggest that the number was in the range of 10,000. In October 1824, during the Goura commandership, a census of revolutionary Athens took place, according to which the City had 9,040 inhabitants and 1,605 houses, divided into 35 parishes7. In that same period, the truly major city of Thessaloniki had 60,000 inhabitants, while Tripoli and Patras each had around 15,0008. Thus the statement that Athens “was not among the most important pre-revolutionary cities” lacks validity. Even more, to call a Balkan settlement of 10,000 inhabitants at the start of the 19th century a “village” or even a “town” is to apply later criteria anachronistically. And even on the basis of newer criteria, based either on the Municipal Law of 1912 or on that of 1954, 10,000 inhabitants is exactly the point at which a settlement is treated as a city rather than a town.
A plan of Athens under the Turkish occupation, designed by Coubault, ca 1800.
The descriptions of Athens after the misadventures of the liberation war, however, are truly disheartening. In August 1832, Ludwig Ross exclaimed: “This is not the violet-crowned and famous Athens. This is just a massive heap of rubble, a shapeless gray mass of ash and dust, from which emerge a dozen or so palm and cypress trees, the only things opposing a universal desolation”9. Around the same time (1832-1833) J.L. Lacour, part of the expeditionary force of General Maison, visited Athens: “The heart tightens on arriving in Athens. New ruins cover the ancient, which are buried in the earth … Narrow, dark, muddy, erratic paths. Filthy, sooty and foul-smelling shops, with goods that would be held in contempt even by the traveling merchants at our village festivals, and all of this surrounded by a crude wall, have replaced the Odeon of Perikles, the Elefsinion, the Lyceum, the Gardens and the Temple of Aphrodites, the Gates of Hermes, …and other monuments, who names alone have remained”10. The Regency member Georg Maurer, who arrived in Athens in 1833, during the first visit by Othon, notes: “Athens, which before the War of Liberation number around 3.000 houses, now has not even 300. The others have turned into a shapeless heap of rocks”11. While Thomas Abbet-Grasset observed in October 1834: “There is no longer an Athens. In the place of this beautiful democracy today there spreads a shabby small town, black from smoke, a silent guardian of dead monuments, with narrow and irregular pathways”12.
It is obvious, in the first instance, that the words of these eyewitnesses express, not just their sorrow over what they saw, but also their disappointment over what they did not see: “the violet-crowned and famous Athens”, the “beautiful democracy”, the “Odeon of Perikles” and the “Gates of Hermes”. It is, in any case, a fact that the city had suffered grievous damage, particularly during the eleven-month siege by Kioutachi Pasha, between June 1826 and May 1827.
The siege of Athens by Kioutachi Pasha (1826-1827) painted by D. Zografos, inspired by Makriyannis.
THE WALLS OF ATHENS
Completing this quick review of Athens during Turkish rule, it is worth devoting a few words to the walls of the city. Coming into existence in the 5th century BC, the City of Athens, in the course of its long history, was surrounding in different periods by walls, whose exact location has been determined by historical and archeological research. The Themistoclean wall of 478 BC was supplemented by the so-called “Diateichisma” around 310 BCE and, subsequently, by the wall of Hadrian from 125-135 AD. Inside this wall the so-called Late Roman wall was raised, between 276 and 282 AD, followed by the so-called Rizokastro during the 12th century. These two internal surrounding walls constituted, in essence, the Frankish-occupied city, while the external walls were abandoned and, by degrees, fell into ruin. From the 15th to the 18th centuries, the City did not have walls, except for the Rizokastro south of the Akropolis. In the other areas, the fences around house and enclosing fields formed a kind of protective barrier, like those of the main towns (“Chora”) of certain Aegean islands. Nonetheless, to fend off the Albanian raiders, an improvised wall was built in 1778, during the time of Voevoda Hatzi Ali Haseki.
The Haseki wall is of particular interest, since to a large degree it coincides with the Themistoklean one, demonstrating the longevity of certain spatial structures which survived up to the selection of Athens as the capital. The wall began in front of the Akropolis, where stood the so-called Portal of the Castle (or of the Tombs, or of Karababa). From the Akropolis, it cut through the Theseion, where stood the Portal of Drakos (Aslan Kapousi or Portal of Mantravili), from which began the road to Piraeus. The wall continued on to the district of Aghii Asomati, where it met the Portal of Moria (Mora Kapousi or Giftiki Portal), and from there began the road to Elefsina. Continuing, it reached the district of today’s Koumoundourou Square, and continued towards Evripidou Street, cutting through Socrates and Athinas Streets and reaching Sophocleous St. where the Mnidiatiki Portal (the Grib Kapousi or Portal of the Holy Apostles) opened up. From here the road to Menidi and Evia, today’s Acharnon St., began. The wall continued in the direction of what later became Klafthmonos Square, which it crossed to reach Stadiou St., and from there, traversed the block where the “Metochiko Tameio Stratou” building was later situated, as far as Panepistimiou St., where it turned towards Syntagma Square and reached Amalias Ave. at its intersection with Othonos, where the Mesogeitiki Portal (Msogia Kapousi or Portal of Boubounistras) was located. From here the road toward Mesoghia began. Roughly following Amalias, the wall reached Kamaroporta or the Portal of Vasilopoulas, that is, Hadrian’s Gate, and from there crossed Amalias vertically and headed towards the corner of Makriyanni St., opening on to the Portal of the Three Towers (or Inte Kapousi or Arvanitiki Portal), from which the road towards Sounion and Phaliron began.
A plan of Athens, designed by the French consul Louis François Sébastien Fauvel, a little before 1800.
A view of the city of Athens from Lycabettus hill, painted by Edward Dodwell, ca 1805.
And the wall, after continuing to the base of the Akropolis and the Herodeion, identical with the southern section of the 12th century Rizokastro, then turned towards the North and arrived again at the Akropolis. Aside from the inhabited areas, the wall also enclosed undeveloped expanses, particularly towards the north, the northeast and the east13.
THE PLANNING OF THE NEW CITY
As we know, the Turkish guard definitively left the fortress of the Akropolis on March 31, 1833. In the period preceding that, particularly from 1830 to 1833, no serious combat took place in the area. This eventuality, combined with the fact that the Protocol of Independence left no question as to Athens impending liberation, allowed a gradual rebirth of the City to take place.
In November of 1831, the architects Stamatis Kleanthis and Eduard Schaubert, students of perhaps the most important German neo-classical architect, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, settled in Athens, where they carried out a systematic geographical survey of the city, and subsequently drafted a city planning proposal, in anticipation of Athens’ possible establishment as the capital of the newly-formed state. In fact, in May 1832, the post-Kapodistrian Temporary Government tasked them with elaborating a New Plan for the City of the Athens, independently of its becoming the capital or not. The plan was drafted and submitted in December 1832, and on June 29 1833 it was approved by the Regency, who had in the meantime take the reins of state, and given a final stamp of approval by the Royal Decree of July 6 of the same year14.
Let us see, roughly speaking, what the famous plan anticipated. The New City included about half of the Old one, while extending from it to the West, the North and the East. The other half of the Old City, defined by Hephaestus, Pandrosos and Adrianou Sts., as mentioned, was to be expropriated for archeological excavation. But the preserved section of the Old City was maintained only as a geographical space, and not as a construction zone, since it was anticipated that its largest section would be divided up by new roads and standard rectangular building lots. The shape of the main axes would be an isosceles triangle, with its peak at today’s Omonia Square, its sides defined by Piraeus and Stadiou streets, and Ermou Street as its base. Its entire orientation was aimed at Piraeus, the Stadium and, primarily, the Akropolis, at whose feet it spread out in an open embrace. The Royal Palace was expected to stand at the peak of the triangle: a symbolic merger of the geometric apex and the apex of state power. The orientation of the sides of the triangle was not accidental: As Kleanthis and Schaubert note in their memorandum, “they meet in such a manner that allows viewing simultaneously the comely Lykavitos, the Panathenaic Stadium, the rich-in-proud-memories Akropolis, and the military and commercial ships of Piraeus, from the balcony of the Royal Palace” (Biris 1938, p. 16). Piraeus and Stadiou streets were interrupted, symmetrically in relation to the Royal Palace, by the Borsas (Stock Exchange) and Theatrou city squares. These are today’s Koumoundourou and Klafthmonos Squares which, in fact, are symmetrical, something which one cannot easily recognize within the present-day chaos of Athens. They—meaning Piraeus and Stadiou streets—terminate in two circular plazas defining the city limits: one the one hand, Kekropos Square at the large intersection towards the West of the regional road of the Ancient City, where lies today’s Gazi, and on the other hand, Mouson Square to the East, facing the Messogion Gate (where is today’s Syntagma Square).
The New Plan for the City of the Athens, designed by Kleanthis and Schaubert in 1833.
A simplified geometric version of the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan
The road network was elaborated in part as spokes with hubs at circular plazas, and in part as horizontals and verticals in the direction of the main axes, always with absolute regularity. The broader area of the Royal Palace was surrounded by wide avenues, which we will discuss more fully later. The exact sites of all the public buildings and, more generally, the districts for all of the functions of the City: Ministries, Courts, Military Barracks, Police, the Postal Service, the Mint, Metropolitan church, Academy, Library, the Stock Exchange, Markets, Parks and so forth. The totality was designed to host all of the activities of a capital and a population which was expected to reach around 40,000.
The geometric planning that runs through both the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan and the Klenze plan (which we will turn to soon) is a basic constitutive element of neoclassical-romantic city planning as it had taken shape at the end of the 18th Century. Equally constitutive are a number of other characteristics, which had, of course, made their appearance at various moments in the Renaissance and after, but which now had crystallized into a structured whole. Those characteristics are quantitative programming, as, for instance in the determination that the highest number of inhabitants expected for Athens was 40,000. Functional planning and the rational use of space, as well, of course, as the requisite historic references. This perception of City Planning is seamlessly connected with the notions of Nation, Law, State and Government, as they were current during the course of the 18th Century. They are notions of a new bourgeois consciousness and find their exact symbolic expression in the Burg, the New City. As Tsiomis observes, this new city must, on the one hand, be a rationalistic City-Machine, functioning without impediments, expressing the myth of total control and total planning, a city which functions effectively and, on the other hand, a City-Center, the Capital of a State—that is, the Center of Power, a material point for the input of information and the output of directives, as well as the Symbolic Center, the hub of organization for the realm of the nation-state15.
As we noted, the plan was approved in July 1833; by the end of the year, its implementation had begun. Just as the lines were being laid down and it became physically clear what areas would be expropriated for the erection of public buildings, the development of the parks and the roadway network, as well as the archeological excavations, a wave of protests erupted from property-owners, along with charges of profiteering. In May 1834, Maurer, the Regency member, visited the city to examine the situation on site. The uproar which he witnessed led the Regency, on June 11, 1834, to order a cessation in the implementation of the plan16.
Next, the famous Bavarian architect Leo von Klenze was summoned to examine the whole issue. Klenze’s visit lasted from June to September 1834, and resulted in the drafting of a New Plan or, rather, a revision of the original one17. Its main characteristics were a reduction in the total size of the city; a partial reduction in the excavation area, with a boundary at Adrianou St.; a reduction in the width of the roads and the spatial surface of the plazas, as well as the elimination of avenues within the city and a reduction of the parceling out of the Ancient City: Instead of laying out a plethora of new roads, adaptation to the existing pathways was proposed, with modest widenings and a re-alignment here and there; and finally, the movement of the Royal Palace, and thus of the city’s entire administrative center of gravity, from Omonia Square to the upper reaches of Keramikos.
The Klenze Plan for the City of the Athens (1834), a revised version of the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan.
The Klenze Plan was approved on September 18, 1834, while at the same time the date of December 1, that is, two and half months later, was fixed for the transfer the Seat of State from Nafplion to Athens. The plan was immediately put into action. Klenze’s amendments confined the difficulties, without, however, eliminating them. The start of demolition in order to open, initially, the new roads Aiolou, Emrou and Athinas, met the opposition of residents, to whom the government had not provided new plots of land in some other location, as had been agreed to. Work was repeatedly halted and then continued with police assistance, with protests from the Municipal Authority itself.
The final version of the Plan for the City of the Athens, after von Gaertner’s intervention and the definite reposition of the Royal Palace.
Faced with its inability to financially support the projected expropriations, it was decided, on November 11, 1836, a new reduction in the archeological area took place, a decision known as the Hansen-Schaubert revision18 (Biris 1933, pp. 22-32).Other revisions, on a smaller scale, took place throughout the 19th Century.
Meanwhile, the issue of the Royal Palace remained pending. For a moment, consideration was given to the possibility of erecting it on top of the Akropolis itself, based on the Schinkel plan, but the idea was rejected by Ludwig of Bavaria himself. Finally, the respected Bavarian Friedrich von Gaertner was called in, with the Royal Palace as his sole subject. Gaertner decided to choose the defile running between Lykabettos and the Akropolis, outside of the wall of the Mesogaia Gate, and worked out plans for the construction of the Royal Palace where it was finally built (today’s Parliament building), with the requisite adjustment of the surrounding area. A few changes of layout in the area of the Royal Palace were made also in 1837, with the so-called Hoch plan19.
The practical effect of these repeated series of changes was, on the one hand, the preservation of a large section of the Old City, with a corresponding delay in the anticipated extension of the Capital towards its new borders, and on the other hand, a reorientation of the City towards the final building site of the Royal Palace, with the valorization of the section east of the Athinas street axis. This valorization is manifest, for instance, in the disproportionate development of Stadiou, and Panepistimou streets in comparison to Piraeus, and of Klafthmonos Square compared to Koumoundourou Square, and so on.
Athens was late in expanding into the entire space that the plans provided for. For decades, in fact, its limits remained essentially those of the Old City. It is interesting to note that the areas, which are today the center of the city, such as Omonia and the whole northern section of Piraeus street, remained nearly deserted until 1870-1880. In 1855, for instance, not only was Omonia square still totally lacking in buildings, but more generally, so was the area north of Sophokleos street. In 1840, when the first Athens theatre began to operate, it was located, according to an eyewitness account, “outside of the City … in the naked plain surrounded by mountains”20. This “outside the City” locale, today is the small square between Menandrou and Socrates streets, behind the Vegetable Market, in the noisy center of the city, where its memory survives as Theatre Street. In 1855, the theater was still on the edge of the City. The same applies to the foot of Lykabettos, as well as to a large part of Neapolis. In 1841, Hans Christian Andersen was impressed by the home of the Austrian Ambassador, isolated at “the edge of the City”, with a view to a “flat wilderness and high mountains”21. The house is located on today’s Feidiou street, between Panepistimiou and Akadamias, behind the modern “Rex” movie theater.
The year 1841, of course, is relatively early. Later, as seen as well on the 1855 map, housing construction extended beyond Akadimias street. On the 1881 map, there are some homes on Solonos and Skoufa streets; nontheless, the area of Strefi remained, until nearly the beginning of the 20th century, the boundary of the City. The Petrakis Monastery, which today lies at the end of Alopekis street in Kolonaki, was still in 1880 a rural monastery. In the same period, Alexandras Avenue was an uninhabited ravine between the Tourkovounia and Lykabettos, and Kypseli had a handful of remote country-houses, and a few country villas where Athenians went for an outing.
This development is connected to the issue of Athens’ population growth rate. Its establishment as capital understandably instigated a large inflow of new residents. From roughly 12,000 in 1834, the number of residents doubled over the next decade. Still, the expectation of Kleanthis-Schaubert of 40,000 inhabitants did not materialize before the decade of 1860, and the milestone of 100,000 was not passed until the end of the 1880s. We will not get into the causes of this growth rate, which in any case has to do with the long-term activity of the city as, above all, an administrative and, not an industrial center, which in any case, was a role adopted by the other city, neighboring Athens: Piraeus. In relation, however, to the productive role and mainstay of Athens, Mrs. Agriantoni is more competent to speak extensively to the relative chapter.
The house of the Austrian Ambassador Prokesch von Osten, on Feidiou St., built ca 1835, which later housed the Greek Odeon and today is abandoned, having undergone some changes of the first storey.
A view of the city of Athens from Acropolis towards Lycabettus, ca 1860.
The development of the City of the Athens up to the end of the 1870s, as depicted on the Kaupert plan, published in 1881.
THE BOULEVARDS OF ATHENS
Completing this brief excursion through planning for the new city, I would like to mention the misadventures of the Athenian boulevard. The term boulevard is of German origin, from the medieval Dutch “bolwerk”, which initially meant fortification. With this meaning, it passed into French in the 15th century (bolart) and was used in various forms (belouart, boulevert, boulevard), literally and metaphorically, up to our era: “le justice et le boulevard des Etats” (“Justice is the stronghold of the states.” – Larousse 1898). From 1690 another meaning appears, always in French: “tree-planted walking places on areas once fortified, but now made obsolete by advances in methods of defense.” From the French, this use of the term was adopted by other languages.
In the final Kleanthis-Schaubert plan, which was approved in June 1833, the development of four adjoining “Boulevards”, arranged to form a square, in which was included the plaza of the Royal Palace, today’s Omonia Square22. The final layout of Athens’ streets, with the continual changes in plans, makes difficult the exact identification of the boulevards with today’s roads, but we can say, in a rough sense, that the northern boulevard coincided approximately with today’s Favierou and Chalkokondyli streets, the southern boulevard with the today’s Euripidi St., the western with the axis of today’s Nikiforou St., while the eastern boulevard does not coincide with any contemporary street, since its orientation was totally different from the road network that finally took shape. In any case, we can imagine that a conceivable straightaway which started from the northern edge of Klafthmonos Square, would terminate at the intersection of Themistocles and Solonos streets. The four vertices making up the tetragonal shape were contemplated, with the first at the present intersection of Veranzerou and Marni streets, the second at today’s Kaniggos Square, the third at theater square (today’s Klafthmonos) and the fourth at Borsas Square (today’s Koumoundourou/Eleftherias). These boulevards were laid out essentially on the uncovered free zone between the residential complex and the Haseki wall, which, at that point, in any case, ran along the path of the ancient city wall.
The von Klenze plan abolished the boulevards provided for in the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan. On the contrary, it provided for boulevards (“peripatoi” in the Greek version of the plan) that would circumscribe the entire city. Specifically, it provided, from west to east, for the boulevards Cycladon, Korinthou, Peloponnisou, Delphon, Lokridos, Viotias and Evias, named in accordance with its orientation towards the corresponding edge of the City23. To those boulevards, Peloponnisou corresponds roughly with today’s Achilleos but is parallel to today’s Megalou Alexandrou, Delphon corresponds to today’s Satovriandou St., Lokridos to today’s Panepistimiou, from Omonia to Amerikis St., Viotias corresponds roughly to Valaoritou and Zalokosta, and continues into the grounds of the Royal Palace (which was not then planned for there, but instead for the Keramikos) and finally Evias corresponds roughly to today’s Amalias Ave.
The boulevards provided by von Klenze, are noted as “Boulevard des neuen Stadtplans”, in this topographic plan of Athens, designed in 1841 by P. W. Forschhammer.
In practice, only Lokridos and Evias boulevards were laid down, one succeeding the other, to form a single avenue which begins from Omonia Sq. and reaches the pillars of the Olympian Zeus—today’s Panepistimiou and Amalias. Along this axis, Alexis Politis notes, were built the main memorable structures of Athens: the Arsakio School, the Library, the University, the Academy, the Eye Clinic (“Ofthalmiatrio”), the Catholic Church, the Archeological Society Building, the Schliemann Building (“Iliou Melathron”), the Palace, the Royal Gardens, and the Anglican Church24. Panepistimiou and Amalias were, until 1840, called Boulevard St. It is also worth noting that the four points of the tetragon formed by the boulevards in the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan still today constitute the city’s spacious linkage points.
THE BAPTIZING OF THE STREETS OF ATHENS
Before the Liberation and the civic planning of Athens, most of its myriad streets did not, of course, have particular names, at least as we mean that today. Buildings were identified on the basis of the owner’s name, or the resident and the parish in which it was found. For instance, “house of the former owner Hatzi Ali, parish of Gorgopikou” or “house of Spyros and Panagiotis Varimpompis, parish of Vlasarou.” Additional information was sometimes offered, as in the case: “house of the widowed Miserokena, near the Theseus Temple, parish of Philippos” or “workshop of Sotiris Lardis in the outer market”. A few of the streets had names, some of which have survived until today, such as “Lekka” (between Voulis and Kolokotroni Sts), “Voria” (today’s Voreos, between Aiolou and Athinas Sts), “Tatsi” (today’s Taki St., in Psyri); the first and the third owe their names to those of the fountains to which they led.
The first street names were given by Kleanthis and Schaubert when they developed their city planning proposal for Athens in 1832. Predictably, names inspired by Greek antiquity totally prevailed, the only exceptions, perhaps, being the Boulevards and the city squares of the Royal Palace, the Borsas and the Theatre. Of those names, a small number corresponded to some topographical reality. For instance, Piraeus St. is actually directed towards Piraeus, Mesogion St. towards the Mesogia, Stadium St., as originally conceived, terminated at the Stadium, Areos Pagos St. aimed at the rock of the same name, and Athinas St., correspondingly, towards the Temple of Athina Pallas, while Lysikratous reached the same-named monument and Aiolou St. to the supposed Aiolos Temple, that is, the Clocktower of Andronikos Kyristou. Moreover, the Royal Palace, Borsas and Theatrou city squares were intended to host the corresponding institutions of palace, market and theatre. Aristophanes St. also terminated at Theatrou Square, and was parallel to Evripidou and Menandrou streets. Groupings of this kind can be observed in other circumstances, as well. Thus, the rhetoricians Demosthenes, Isokratis and Aischinis are the names of parallel streets, as are the streets named after the philosophers Evklidis and Aristotle, while the streets named after the sculptors Phidias and Praxiteles intersect.
A view of the city of Athens from the Royal Palace towards Syntagma Square, ca 1845, painted by Ulrich Halbreiter.
Assuming the layout of the new plan in 1834, Klenze, paradoxically, changed, among other things, all of the names given by Kleanthis and Schaubert, except for three: the streets of Ermou, Piraeus and Themistokleous (today’s Agiou Konstantinou). What he did essentially was to transfer Kleanthis-Schaubert’s various names, adding and subtracting a few. He also acted in an archaic mode, but he added a few dynastic names. Thus Royal and Borsas squares, names that no longer corresponded to their respective functions, were renamed Othonos and Loudovikou, respectively. Theatre Square, where the theater was expected to remain, was simply renamed Aischylou.
In practice, what initially took place was chaotic. Some streets appeared with the names given to them by the first plan, while others by the second. In the course of time, a very small number of the names from that period survived in the aftermath. Only eight streets kept the names that the plan intended for them. Of those, six came from the original Kleanthis-Schaubert plan, which showed more durability than Klenze’s plan in that respect. Specifically, except for Piraeus and Ermou, the surviving names are Stadiou (rather than Phidiou, as Klenze proposed), Athinas (rather than Nikis), Ailou (rather than Poseidonos) and Aristidou (rather than Kallikratous) Sts. Only Praxitelous St., as envisioned in the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan, still retains the name Klenze replaced it with: Keramikou. The Boulevards, as we saw earlier, were renamed in 1884. The two squares, Othonos and Loudovikou, retained their names until the end of the reign of Othon. Subsequently, Loudovikou was renamed Dimarchiou Square, as it remained until its was dedicated to Konstantinos Kotzias, Governor of the Capital under Metaxas dictatorship. For its part, Othon replaced much later, at the beginning of our century, Demosthenes in Syntagma Square.
As for the other streets, some were never built at all, while the ones that did, received names other than those planned. Essentially, that is, we have a third transfer of the same set of names, with some new additions and subtractions. Certain name changes, of course, made sense. In the end, for instance, the great square on Stadiou St. was never the site of the theater, which as we saw before, was built on the northwestern edge of the city as it then was, conferring its name on the same-named square, intersected by Hirodotou St., which was consequently and rightly renamed Menandrou St. The Royal Palace, with its repeated translocations, carried its name with it. The Square of the Royal Palace moved from Omonia to Keramikos, to finally end up at the other edge of the city (roughly were the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan had put the Mouson Square). There, the Square of the Royal Palace remained for a long time, although threatened, after the 1843 events, by Syntagma Square that lay in front of it, until it was marginalized (for reasons both of nature and of position) by the creation of the Monument to the Unknown Soldier and the installation of the Parliament.
King Othon only stayed for a few months at the Kontostavlos Mansion, where was later built the Old Parliament (currently Historic Museum). But that stay did leave an unexpectedly long-lasting footprint: Royal Palace Road, which survived for quite a time, before assuming the name by which we know it today: Kolokotroni St. In addition, the original name of Syntagma Square survived furtively for 75 entire years in its corner, as Mouson Street, until it assumed the name of the Serbian leader Karageorgis in 1908.
With the successive construction of the City’s various institutions—usually on a different site than the one planned for—streets were named after the institutions to which they led. Thus we have Typografio St. (Printing Office St., Georgiou Stavrou St. since 1884), Ophthalmiatriou St. (Eye Clinic St., Edouardou Low St. since 1910), Nosokomiou St. (Hospital St., Academias St. since 1884), and so forth.
With the exception of this kind of naming to mark places in the City, archaic names dominated throughout the entire century, thereby reinforcing what Alexis Politis indicates about the projection of modern Greek identity’s ancient dimension (Politis 1993, p. 86). The New Greece wanted to be a continuation of Antiquity, and not of the Eastern Roman Empire. The appropriation of medieval heritage is a much later phenomenon. Indeed, the basic axes of the Neapolis district also bear ancient names: Themistokleous, Hippokratous, Asklipiou (1884). After 1890, the roads from Strefi Hill and beyond entered the plans, and the names of Byzantine emperors were given to these distant roads of a largely spontaneous neighborhood: Komninon St. in 1915, Tsimiski in 1921, Vatatzi and Laskareos in 1927, and Isavron (the former Karyon) only in 1928.
The house of Dekozis-Vouros, built in 1833-1834, in the district of Klafthmonos Square.
Earlier, although still quite late, during the rein of King George the First, the names (by district) of some of the protagonists of 1821 were honored, primarily those who, in the aftermath, had a political career in the newly-formed state: Longou, Koletti, Tzavella, Andreou Metaxa, Zaimi, Mavromichali, Deliyianni (1884-1890), etc., as well as the localities of important Revolutionary battles: Valtetsiou, Kiafas, Gravias, Arachovis, Dervenion. A few of the remaining fighters were honored in the same period in the streets around Heron Square in Psyri: Karaiskaki, Miaouli, Papanikoli (1884), while the upper part of Falirou St. assumed the name of Makriyannis only in 193325.
Rounding out this synopsis of the transition from the old to the new Athens, we will attempt direct ourselves to the actual material indicators of this transition, which is to say the first new buildings in the City or, if you wish, the first buildings of the New City.
It remains an undisputed fact that what was called neoclassical architecture at the end of the 18th and the first part of the 19th centuries was an international style that was born as a response to the elegant and decorative court aesthetic movements of Baroque and Rococo. The rising social middle class sought new ethical and aesthetic models. These models were found in the Ancient Democracies of Athens and Rome. In Greece, this style arrived via Germany. Let us not forget that Bavaria and Ludwig were, in that period, among the most important centers of Neoclassicism. Nonetheless, the neoclassical style in Greece acquired its own dynamic and particularity, the main characteristics of which were its re-immersion in classical models, its wide acceptance, which exceeded the monumental structures and the well-heeled classes to reach the wide mass of the population and, finally, its long persistence, which runs to the interwar period. That much given, I would like to emphasize that I am not an art historian, and consequently am not competent to enter into the aesthetic discussion as to what, and what is not, Neoclassical, what is Romantic and what is Neo-baroque. Nonetheless, it is my belief that we have become accustomed to speaking of the “Neoclassical Athens of the 19th Century” in a manner that I would say flattens out all distinctions.
The house of Kleanthis and Schaubert (which housed the University between 1837-1841), on 5, Tholou St. in the Plaka district.
The house of Lassanis, on 1-3, Diogenous street.
As already noted, between 1830 and 1833, before it was designated to be the capital, Athens already had significant construction activity. Characteristic buildings of this period are:
- The house of Stamatis Dekozis-Vouros from Chios, in the district of Theater Plaza (today’s Klafthmonos Square), where Othon resided after his marriage, from February 1837 until the Royal Palace was completed in 1843. This dwelling was built in 1833-1834, based on the plan of the architects G. Luders and J. Hoffer, and today houses the Museum of the City of Athens, of the Vourou-Eutaxia Foundation.
- The house of Kleanthis and Schaubert themselves, on Tholou St. in the Plaka. It is in fact a structure of the Ottoman period that was fundamentally restructured between 1831 and 1833, and that later housed the University (1837-1841). Today houses the Museum of the University.
- The house of the Austrian Ambassador Prokesch von Osten, on Feidiou St., built in 1835-1837, which housed the Greek Odeon (1919) and today is abandoned, having undergone some changes of the first storey.
- Finally, in the Aerides area, next to Mendresses, across from the Clocktower of Kyristou, the house of Lassanis, which was also built around 1830, and in any case, before 1837, and which today houses the Museum of Musical Instruments.
Between the time of the drafting of the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan until final arrangements were made regarding the Royal Palace, that is from 1832 to January 1836, a significant number of important personages of New Athens (mainly Phanariotes) rushed to purchase lots believing that the Royal Palace would be built as anticipated in the first two plans, that is, either at Omonia or at Keramikos, hastened to purchase lots and to build in the broader Omonia district and along the Piraeus St. axis.
Distinctive among the buildings are:
- The two houses of Vlachoutzis, on Piraeus St, which were used as the first seat of the Regent. One of the two, the only one that has survived, housed, after one storey was added in 1845, the School of the Arts, later the Polytechnic (1837-1872), subsequently the Athens Odeon and, today, the Drama School of the National Theatre.
- The house of Provelengios, very likely once the house of Botsari, on the corner of Keramikou and Myllerou St.
- The mansion, or better the compound, of Katakouzinos, also on Myllerou St., (that remained half-completed when the site of the Royal Palace was finalized) and whose misadventures Ms. Agriantoni will discuss in detail later26.
The house of Vlachoutzis, on 35, Peireos Street.
The house of Vlachoutzis, on 35, Peireos Street.
The house of Provelengios (built ca 1835), on the corner of Keramikou and Myllerou St.
The house of Provelengios (built ca 1835), on the corner of Keramikou and Myllerou St.
The Mint on the north side of Klafthmonos Square, torn down in 1940.
Finally, during the same period, the first state buildings of Athens made their appearance. For example:
- The Royal Printing Office on Stadiou St., between Santaroza and Arsaki streets, based on the plans of J. Hoffer, and built between 1834 and 1835. It originally housed the Printing Office (until 1906), and subsequently the Athens Court of First Instance (until 1984). It survived, with serious alterations from 1931-32.
- The Mint on the Stadiou St. side of Theatre Square (that is, Klafthmonos), which was built in 1835, mostly likely on a plan by Schaubert, and which later (1884) housed the Finance Ministry, with the addition of another storey. It was torn down in 1940.
Notably almost none of the public buildings were built where the city plans had anticipated, but instead, for the most part, on whatever public lands were available. Regarding all of these early buildings, it is obvious that of least concern in their construction was whether they adhered to some style, neo-classical or otherwise. They were modest two-storey structures, with simple lines, and not particularly elegant. Nonetheless, a classical discipline of form and in the handling of space is discernable.
The villa of the British admiral Malkolm, on Agias Zonis strret, in the Kypseli dictrict.
In the meantime, of course, the first structures appeared in which the architectural order is more emphatically manifest.
Characteristic examples are:
- The villa of the British admiral Malkolm (admiral Codrington’s replacement in the command of the British fleet in the Mediterranean), which was built by Kleanthis and Schaubert in 1832 in the then rural Kypseli dictrict, “half an hour from Athens”, according to Ross, near Agia Zoni. It later housed the French Embassy.
- The house of Ambrosios Rallis on Klafthmonos Square, which was built in 1835, also by Kleanthis. It later housed the British Embassy until its demolition in 1938.
- Finally, the house of the German philhellene Heinrich Treiber, also built in 1837, on the corner of Ermou and Agion Asomaton streets, which at one point housed the Poorhouse (1865). It does not exist today.
At the same time, the construction of other buildings began, such as:
The house of Ambrosios Rallis, on Klafthmonos Square (Dragatsaniou St.), torn down in 1938.
- The Royal Palace, based on the plan, as already noted, of von Gaertner (1836-1843).
- The City, so-called Civic Hospital (1836-1858), which today houses the City of Athens Cultural Center.
- The University, based on the plan of Christian Hansen (1839-1864).
- The Gennadios house in 1845, on Akademias St., where for a short time the French Archeological School was housed (1846-56), and later various schools, such as the Ionian School and the Economic High School, which was torn down in 1980.
- Finally, the Arsakio Girls’ School, in its initial form, by Lysandros Kaftantzoglou (1846-1852).
The Old Royal Palace (actually housing the Greek Parliament).
The central building of the University of Athens.
These structures are characterized by their rigorous composition, based on balance, simple geometric forms, specific templates, homogeneity of materials, antique style, with a tri-partite ordering of facades that is stressed by the pediment, without, however, exaggerated decorative elements.
This Athens is not particularly well-known to us, since laid over it was the later, so-called Eclectic Athens of the second half of the 19th Century—briefly put, the Athens of Ziller. This later architectural order is characterized by a continually increasing search for “artful” decorativeness, which quickly became stereotypical and widespread: “anthemia” (palmettes), antefixes, statues, birds and flowerpots, which were sold readymade at construction materials depots. The tendency towards creating an impression led to the asymmetrical organization of space, as, for instance, in the case of the Stathatos Mansion.
The Arsakio Girls’ School, on the corner of Panepistimiou and Pesmazoglou St.
The degree to which this neo-Baroque style is still Neoclassicism or not is for me unclear, but the matter is of little relevance for the approach I am taking. I agree totally on this point with the observation of Elias Mykoniatis, that “chronological boundaries, when talking about architectural orders, are often fluid and when accuracy is a patent intention, often have little value from a historical standpoint. In architecture, each decade has its own thematic ideals and its own mixture of styles”, and, to make matters more complicated, he adds that earlier styles often survive unchanged for a long time alongside the new styles that make their appearance.
The Melas Building, on the corner of Aiolou St. and Dimarxeiou Square, built in 1874, based on a plan of Ernst Ziller.
The Schliemann Building (“Iliou Melathron”), built between 1878-1880, based on a plan of Ernst Ziller.
The Othon Stathatos Mansion, on the corner of Vasilissis Sofias and Irodotou St.,built ca 1895, based on a plan of Ernst Ziller.
What is of interest for our historical approach is that research into the material remains of Athens be conducted systematically. In such an approach, the study of architectural styles takes leave of aesthetics to become a tool for understanding the historical development of the City’s structural foundation, its social structure and its functional activities. In such an enterprise, it is necessary to free ourselves from the study of a few well-known structures, which traps us into believing that few little else has survived.
At least a third of the buildings on Aiolou Street today are still the buildings of the 19th century, hidden often beneath metallic additions and store windows. The same applies to Mitropoleos and Ermou streets, along with dozens of other streets in the historic center, and not there alone. On streets considered to have been totally transformed, such as Patision, Acharnon or Tritis Septemvriou streets, and in districts such as Vathi Square and Agios Pavlos, many significant buildings of the 19th century still exist. The yard of today’s “Asylon Aniaton” in Kpyseli hides the 1832 Villa of Admiral Malkolm, of which we spoke earlier.
As I and my colleagues prepared the papers for the present volume, we were led once more to the conclusion, which sounds, perhaps, oxymoronic: that finally the Athens of Pericles is better known to us than the Athens of Kolettis and Trikoupis. What remains, then, is to focus our interest become more systematic in researching our city. Possibly by knowing it better, we can love it more, and perhaps abuse it less.
1. P. Loukakis, «Αθήνα 1830-1940: Ιστορικές φάσεις παγίωσης του υπερσυγκεντρωτισμού της», Πρακτικά του Διεθνούς Συμποσίου Ιστορίας Νεοελληνική Πόλη: Οθωμανικές κληρονομιές και Ελληνικό κράτος (1984), [“Athens 1830-1940: Historical phases in the consolidation of its over-centralization”, Proceedings of the International Symposium on the History of the Modern Greek City: Ottoman inheritances and the Greek state (1984)], vol. 1, Athens 1985, p. 86; S.B. Markezinis, Πολιτική Ιστορία της Νεωτέρας Ελλάδος [A Political History of Modern Greece], vol. 1, Athens 1966, p. 126.[back]
2. P. Skouzes, Απομνημονεύματα [Memoirs], Athens 1948 (republished in 1975, p. 110-111); P. Kodrikas,, Εφημερίδες [Journals], Athens 1963, p. 9.[back]
3. J. C. Hobhouse, A journey through Albania and other provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople, during the years 1809 and 1810, London 1813, v. I, p. 286.[back]
4. D. N. Karydis, «Αθήνα-Αττική στον πρώτο αιώνα Οθωμανικής κατοχής: η σχέση πόλης-υπαίθρου», Πρακτικά του Διεθνούς Συμποσίου Ιστορίας Νεοελληνική Πόλη: Οθωμανικές κληρονομιές και Ελληνικό κράτος (1984), [“Athens-Attica in the first century of the Ottoman Occupation: The relations of city and countryside”, Proceedings of the International Symposium on the History of the Modern Greek City: Ottoman inheritances and the Greek state (1984)], vol. 1, Athens 1985, p. 50-53; General Marmont, «Renseignements sur diverses parties de l’Empire Ottoman», in D. Anoyatis-Pele, Les communications terrestres dans la peninsule hellénique au XVIIIe siècle (doctoral dissertation), Paris 1984, vol. 2, pp. 372-380.[back]
5. D. G. Kambouroglou, «Αι παλαιαί απαλλοτριώσεις χάριν ανασκαφής των αρχαίων Αθηνών» [“The old expropriations for the sake of the excavations of ancient Athens”], Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον 12/1929, Appendix, pp. 1-28.[back]
6. General Marmont, op. cit., p. 370.[back]
7.K. Konstantinidis, «Απογραφή των Αθηνών κατά το 1824» [“Census of Athens in 1824”], Νέα Εστία 13/1939, p. 899.[back]
8. N. Svoronos, Le commerce de Salonique au XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1956, p. 7-11; K. Moskoff, Θεσσαλονίκη 1700-1912: τομή της μεταπρατικής πόλης [Thessaloniki 1770-1912: Dissection of a comprador city], Athens 1974, p. 71-72; F.C.H.L. Pouqueville, Voyage dans la Grèce, v. III, Paris 1820-1821, p. 51; General Marmont, op. cit., p. 370.[back]
9. L. Ross, Emneirungen und Mittheilungen aus Griechenland, Berlin 1863, as quoted by A. Politis, Ρομαντικά χρόνια: Ιδεολογίες και Νοοτροπίες στην Ελλάδα του 1830-1880 [Romantic Years: Ideologies and Attitudes in Greece from 1830-1880], Athens 1993, p. 74.[back]
10. J. L. Lacour, Excursions en Grèce dans les années 1832 et 1833, Paris 1834, p. 170.[back]
11 .G. L.von Maurer, Das Griechische Volk, Heidelberg 1835 (Greek translation Athens 1976, p. 410-411).[back]
12. As quoted by A. Politis, op. cit., p. 74[back]
13. P. Skouzes, op. cit., pp. 68-69, 121-122; K. Biris, Τα πρώτα σχέδια των Αθηνών [The First Athens Plans], Athens 1933, pp. 4-5; I. Travlos, Πολεοδομική εξέλιξις των Αθηνών [City Planning Development in Athens], Athens 1960 (second edition 1993, pp. 195-242).[back]
14. K. Biris, The First Athens Plans…, op. cit., passim; K. Biris, Αθηναϊκαί μελέται [Athenian Studies], v. 1, Athens 1938, p. 10-30.[back]
15. G. Tsiomis, «Αθήνα, ευρωπαϊκή υπόθεση», Πρακτικά του Διεθνούς Συμποσίου Ιστορίας Νεοελληνική Πόλη: Οθωμανικές κληρονομιές και Ελληνικό κράτος (1984) [“Athens, a European Case”, Proceedings of the International Symposium on the History of the ModernGreekCity: Ottoman inheritances and the Greek state (1984)], vol. 1, Athens 1985, pp. 97-101.[back]
16. G. L.von Maurer, op. cit., pp. 478-481; K. Biris, The First Athens Plans…, op. cit., pp. 13-15.[back]
17. K. Biris, The First Athens Plans…, op. cit., pp. 16-21.[back]
18. Ibid., pp. 22-32.[back]
19. K. Biris, The First Athens Plans…, op. cit., pp. 30-32; K. Biris, Athenian Studies…, op. cit., pp. 3-4; A. Politis, op. cit., pp. 82-84.[back]
20. H. C. Andersen, En Digters Bazar, Copenhagen 1843 (Greek translation without a date, p. 40).[back]
21. Ibid., p. 89.[back]
22. K. Biris, The First Athens Plans…, op. cit., pp. 10, 15.[back]
23. Ibid., p. 21[back]
24. A. Politis, op. cit., p. 80..[back]
25. K. Biris, Τοπωνυμικά των Αθηνών [Toponymy of Athens], Athens 1945, passim.[back]
26. Cf. also the relevant publication Christina Agriantoni, Maria Christina Chatziioannou (ed.), Metaxourgeion : the Athens silkmill, INR/NHRF, Athens 1997.[back]