Planning and Building a New Capital City
It was only on 14th June 1833 that it was finally decided that Athens would be the capital city of the new state. Nauplia was already functioning as the provisional capital, and many other places, such as Syros and Megara had been proposed as the permanent seat of government ┴ proclamation to that effect was read out, on 11th February 1834 at Thiseion.
In December 1834 King Otho arrived in Athens. After being received at the arch of Haman, thought of as the entrance to the city, he went to the Thiseion, where a doxology was held. This was the last religious service to be held in the converted temple. The king took up temporary residence in two mansions side by side, now the Museum of the City of Athens, on the present Klafthmonos Square. The area in front of his house was planted with the trees which are still to be seen on the square.
Stamatios Kleanthes and Gustav Edouard Schaubert had been appointed state architects, with a commission to design a new capital city. They produced a plan based upon a grid pattern, intended to stress the modern, western character of the new state, and point out its difference from the old, labyrinthine Turkish town. Their grand design initially involved the appropriation of most existing properties, which were to be demolished. This provoked strong opposition from the residents, who wanted to rebuild their homes or erect new ones on their original sites. King Ludwig of Bavaria invited his court architect, Leo Ýon Klenze, to modify the plans by leaving the original town as it was and building another modern town to the north.
Plans for a royal palace seem to have been given absolute priority by the government. Several sites were considered: one near the present Omonia Square and another near the Thiseion. When Otto's brother, Maximilian visited Athens, he proposed that the royal palace be sited on the Acropolis. He asked the architect Schinkel, who had never been to Greece, to design one. He submitted his remarkable designs in 1834. These included a large classical villa on the south-eastern part of the Acropolis, with a sunken hippodrome between the Parthenon and the Erechtheion To serve as a ceremonial forecourt. ┴ monumental bronze statue of Athena Promachos was to tower over the whole. The new palace was mostly limited to a single storey in order not to compete with the ancient monuments, and there were many colonnades and open courts. Luckily, King Ludwig insisted that 'nothing new should be allowed on the Acropolis.'
Accordingly, in 1835, the Bavarian State Architect, Friedrich Ýon Gartner, was commissioned to design a palace, the king promising to provide the necessary finance in the form of a long term loan. The site for this was finally chosen by Ludwig himself during his visit to Athens from December 1835 to March 1836, following a suggestion of Klenze. Unfortunately, either Ludwig's benevolence, or his pocket, could not rise to the design Ýon Gartner produced, and much of the decorative embellishment had to be abandoned. The architect complained that what remained resembled an army barracks. King Otto and Queen Amalia moved into the palace in 1843, although it was not finished for another four years. Many maintained that the building was never really habitable. [Read about the uninhabitable palace in Athens.]
Meanwhile, Queen Amalia busied herself with the palace gardens. ┴ Roman mosaic unearthed was used as the floor of a pergola called the 'Garden Room', and the king and queen occasionally held dinner parties there. Initially, the public was admitted into the gardens during certain times, but the queen decided that the privilege was being abused, and on 21st June 1851, it was decided in future to restrict admission to those holding special permits. When this provoked public outrage, the idea was quickly dropped. The French writer Edmund About remarked in 1854: 'It will never be known how much work and water is required to maintain a lawn in Athens in July. It is truly a royal luxury. To water her plants the Queen has taken over several reservoirs that supplied the city and satisfied Athenians' thirst. The people of the capital are suffering but the lawn is doing well.'
Paradoxically, the grandeur of the palace and its gardens had the opposite effect than that originally intended. Out of proportion in a city the size of Athens and for the head of a kingdom the size of Greece, the ostentatious building and its luxuriant gardens served only to stimulate resentment towards its foreign occupants.
There was for many years, as was to be expected, an acute housing shortage as affluent Greeks from Constantinople and elsewhere moved into the new capital. The Dane Christian Hansen arrived in 1833, and was soon appointed state architect. In 1838 he was joined by his younger brother Theophilus. Wide boulevards were laid out, with neoclassical buildings to stress a connection with Athens' classical past. The Hansen brothers, aware of the other strand of the Hellenic inheritance, also designed many Byzantine-style buildings, such as the ophthalmic Hospital on Panepistemiou. The main avenue laid out was ┼rm´§, crossed by Athinas and Aiolou.
The new houses tended to follow the ground plan of the houses of the Turkish period, except that their outward looking sides were in the neo-classical style, with symmetrical doors and windows and antifixae, which became a fashion, placed along the edges of the roofs. Perhaps the most striking change in what had been entirely inward-looking dwellings was the addition of a balcony. If they could be afforded, palm trees were placed in the courtyards, usually two: one on each side of the main entrance.
Quite a few of the Philhellenes who had fought for Greek independence, often ineffectually, took up residence in or near the city: including Sir Richard Church and the historian James Finlay. To these were added a variety of foreign residents who settled there for various reasons, including Sophie de Marboise, the eccentric duchess of Plaisance. Lord Carnarvon noted the heterogeneity of the new population: 'Chiefs, respectable for their past exploits but who are disposed to lament that ever sons of theirs should read or write, jostle against their children, the disciples of young France. There seems as yet no principle of cohesion, not even a growing tendency To amalgamate; and even in the king's palace, the honest but slow and formal Bavarian sits side by side with the intelligent but less scrupulous Greek, with little courtesy on their lips, and with real aversion in their hearts.'
The American visitor J. L. Stephens lamented the cosmopolitan nature of the new city: 'But already Athens has become a heterogeneous anomaly; the Greeks in their wild costume are jostled in the streets by Englishmen, Frenchmen, Italians, Dutchmen, Spaniards; and Bavarians, Russians, Danes, and sometimes Americans. European shops invite purchasers, by the side of eastern bazaars, coffeehouses, and billiard-rooms; and French and German restaurants are opened all over the city. Sir
Đultney Malcolm has erected a house to hire near the site of Plato's Academy. Lady Franklin has bought land near the foot of ╠´§nt Hymettos for a country-seat. Several English gentlemen have done the same. Mr. Richmond, an American clergyman, has purchased a farm in the neighbourhood, and in a few years, if the 'march of improvement' continues, the Temple of Theseus will be enclosed in the garden or the palace of King Otho; the Temple of the Winds will be concealed by a German opera-house, and the Lantern of Demosthenes by a row of three-story houses.'
New town houses were built by wealthy immigrants, for the city was top-heavy with the wealthy and bureaucrats, while the artisan and servant class built homes, often mere shacks, outside the town centre Thus the affluent core quickly became ringed with poorer districts. One of the first sources of immigrants was the Maltese community of Nauplia, which moved into the district immediately around Ayiou Filipou, in the Monastiraki area as soon as the capital was transferred To Athens. They hired themselves out for labouring jobs around the former mosque in the Wheat Market.
Soon islanders were attracted to the city to ply their traditional trades: stonemasons from Anafi, workers in marble from Tinos, carpenters from Andros. At first, they built themselves houses on the edge of the city in the neighbourhood of the present church of Zoodochos Pigi on Akademias, an area that became known as 'the Suburb.' Next they settled at the eastern fool of the Acropolis in a rocky area which would have reminded them of their island homes. Two such men from Anafi built themselves a hovel overnight. Soon others followed, and a (typical island village emerged, now known as Anafiotika. [Read more about the building of Anafiotika in Athens.] Jews settled in the area of Melidoni Street, and set up shops on Ermou.
Development was planned for the districts to be named Neapolis and Nea Sfaira during the 1840s and 1850s. In Nea Sfaira, planned as a working class district, special apartment blocks with courtyards were built for workers from the provinces. This area came to be known as Metaxurgeio, from a silk factory founded in 1853. New working class suburbs grew up in the area of Thisio and Petralona beyond the boundary of the eighteenth century wall. Petralona was for a long time a shanty town where stockbreeders lived. They kept the goats that provided the city with milk.
Most of the churches of Athens were demolished during what has been called the 'barbarous wave of modernism that swept over Athens during the early period of Otho's reign. Even the beautiful church of Kapnikareas in Ermou Street was earmarked for demolition, and only saved by the University, which took it over.' Some churches, however, were 'restored' although often the 'restoration' was not in keeping with the original design. The Byzantine-style cathedral was only finished in 1862, at the end of Otho's reign.
Development in Piraeus was swift. As early as 1836 Charles ┬racebridge could describe: 'several large houses have been built: some good streets, flanked by low but respectable dwellings, have already been completed. ┴ large customhouse has been built, and a quay and lazaretto are in immediate contemplation; the population may be about 1,500. Though trade cannot be said to flourish at the Piraeus, still it has become a bustling place.' By 1840 Bavarian soldiers had built a road to linking the port to Athens, which was served by a horse bus and hire carriages.
The Greek Court
Although Athens was supposed to be the capital city of an independent state of Greece, at that time 'independent' did not signify very much. The Bavarian triumvirate of regents was, in effect, the government of Greece. When they wanted advice, they sought it from the young king's father, Ludwig of Bavaria. The administration was entirely dominated by Bavarians. The regents engaged in rivalry among themselves until two were recalled, leaving Armansperg in control. Behind the Bavarians were the three 'Protecting Powers: Britain, France and Russia.
In addition, three of the Great Powers: Britain, France and Russia, vied for influence through their representatives in Athens. They sought supporters among the leading Greeks, to whom they offered their patronage. To the Russians gravitated the supporters of ╩ap´d▀strias, such as Kolokotronis and the klefts. This conservative group believed that as the leading Orthodox state, Russia was the natural patron of Greece. loannis Kollettis led a 'French party', which promised to support the interests of island ship-owners and Peloponnesian landowners. The pro-English group, led by Alexander Mavrogordatos, saw themselves as the modernising 'Westernisers', and were strongest in Athens, as bureaucrats, intellectuals and those in commerce favoured this group. Athens became the hub of the rivalry and manoeuvring between these factions, something that was to continue for many years.
Armansperg deliberately created a social milieu built around the court. Balls were frequent; but during the earliest years the ladies had to be carried through the alternately dusty and muddy streets to the dances in their finery on the backs of the Maltese porters or on donkeys. Hotels soon sprang up for the increasing number of visitors. The first, the Hotel l'Europe, was opened on Ermou Street in 1832. ┬y 1835 there were three. We can have some idea of the pretensions of this court from notes made by the young Lord Carnarvon.
In 1837 the University of Athens was founded. The building chosen, high in the Plaka, was in the hands of the architects Schaubert and Kleanthes, who had bought it from a Turkish woman, Sante Hanum. It was at that time known as the 'Little Acropolis' because the pair had filled it with casts of ancient monuments. It opened with thirty-three professors and fifty-two students in law, arts, theology and medicine, and another seventy-five who just attended classes. During the 1840s the magnificent building on Panepistemiou was erected with money largely provided by Baron Sinas. Lectures were often delivered on the lawns in front of the building.
Baron Sinas was taking up an ancient tradition of private benefaction for the good of the city, one which other prominent Diaspora Greeks were also to espouse. Unfortunately, there works were usually prominent, but of limited value to a city lacking almost all amenities Baron Sina's bizarre donation of an astronomical observatory on the summit of the Hill of the Nymphs, for example, fulfilled no urgent or obvious public need in the 1840s, while many urgent and obvious public needs went wholly unsatisfied.
The Destruction of the Acropolis
The work of archaeological conservation - and destruction - began immediately. In August 1834 the German archaeologist Ludwig Ross was appointed to 'restore' the remains on the Acropolis. He immediately tore down indiscriminately Byzantine, Frankish and Turkish buildings to expose the classical site. In so doing, he began the process which was to result in the bare marble wasteland of today, in which the classical remains seem to have no continuity with the present, and which exists in a strange isolation from the rest of the life of the city.
In 1836 Edward Giffard wrote of the Frankish Tower: 'This tower is in the rude style of the fortifications of Western Europe in the Middle Ages; and judging from all the views prior to the last year or two, the Franks had surrounded the whole summit of the Acropolis with walls and towers of the same character; so that, but for the pediments of the Parthenon peering above these works, the Acropolis must have looked like an old European fortress. In the progress of the labours, in which the present government is assiduously employed for clearing the Acropolis, all these Frank constructions, as well as those which the Turks superadded, have already, with the exception of this tower, disappeared.
The first persons we met on the Acropolis were parties of Greek labourers excavating and removing the rubbish, in order to dig the summit to its original levels. ..All the Frank and Turkish ramparts, which formed as it were a parapet to the fortress, having been already removed, the ancient temples now stand conspicuous down to their bases from quarters, (except on the westward, where the Propylaea intercepts the view) and the workmen, employed in the levelling, wheel their barrows to the very edges of the precipice, and empty their contents into the valley below.'
Much of the excavation was chaotic. The historian George Finlay described how ▀l was decided to excavate one half of the existing town in order to search for antiquities, though it was calculated by a French engineer that the expense would exceed the excavation of Pompeii. 'The proprietors of the houses in the district marked out for the purpose of this excavation were for two years prevented from completing them, even though some of them were half finished before the plan was adopted. At length the government changed its mind, and without any public communication, commenced building a large barracks in the middle of the ruins of Hadrian's library, exactly in the spot where excavation might have been attended with some success; and to cure its successors from a wish ever to repeal its own folly, it filled up that part of the enclosure near Lord Elgin's lower and nearly booed the church of the Megale Panaghia in which are many antiquities and some very curious paintings, with ten feet of additional rubbish..'
In 1835 the Thiseion was laicised and turned into the National Archaeological Museum. In 1837, the Greek Archaeological Society took up responsibility for all archaeological work.
Outside the city there remained little law and order. The Bavarian contingent had become the core of the new Greek national army. The kleftes would hijack carriages containing foreign dignitaries behind the royal palace, near ┴mbelokipi. However, since the kleftes preyed chiefly on the poor country people, neither the Bavarians at the royal court nor the king's Greek ministers, were inclined to consider the problem an urgent one. When a certain Bibisi took to robbing travellers at ┴mbelokipi, within sight of the royal palace itself, however, a price was put on his head; and he was finally shot by a gendarme - himself a former brigand.
Inevitably, Kifissia became a summer resort for high society. The British diplomat Sir Thomas Wyse reported: '… the diplomatic corps spent their summers in Kephissia ...the king too passed months (here whenever the Queen went to visit her relations in Germany.' Christopher Wordsworth described how, each summer, the 'fifty-two' leaders of Athenian society moved To Kifissia 'in the pine woods, where there are many pleasant, and some very fantastic, villas, and where picnics, tennis and card parties, theatrical performances and dances, fleet the hours, which are always golden, away.' While such things were expected of foreigners, the people of the district were shocked to witness the French songs, the piano playing, and the western-style dancing of the educated and urbanised Greeks who had recently entered the country. In time, the danger from brigands was to prove a deterrent to visitors, and for a time, Kifissia went into a temporary decline. [Read reports of other travellers to Athens during this period in Travellers' Greece: Memories of an Enchanted Land.]
ę John L. Tomkinson