Faces of Athens over 200 years

The neoclassical Old Parliament building, originally designed by French architect François Boulanger, whose designs were modified in 1863 by architect Panagiotis Kalkos, housed the Parliament and Senate from 1875 to 1935. [Image taken from the book]

The bicentenary of the start of the Greek War of Independence gave rise to a rich harvest of books in English which shed new light on this founding event in Greek and European history. New works by eminent historians, political scientists and artists commemorate this anniversary and provide a new starting point for a more in-depth investigation and analysis of a still-unfolding revolution.

An important addition to this flowering of scholarship is “Athens: Two Hundred Years, Two Hundred Buildings” by Manolis Anastasakis, a monumental and insightful visual record of the development of the Greek capital from the early years of independence to the present day.

Anastasakis, architect, university professor and editor of architectural publications, selected 200 buildings and wrote a brief description of each, with references to a rich bibliography at the end of the book. “The basic criterion that guided our selection is the unique architectural value of the building’s facade, as well as its persistent presence in today’s city,” he notes in the introduction.

The selection was also determined by the need to present buildings from the six great periods that the book describes, and to represent the work of great architects who left their mark on the city. “Each building included in this edition has proven its worth and has stood the test of time,” notes Anastasakis, adding that the selection of buildings from the past 40 years is, inevitably, more subjective.

Each building is represented by a high-quality color photograph, listed by year of its construction and (if applicable) when it has undergone major alterations. The name of the building and its current use, its architect (or architects) and address complete a brief but comprehensive description of the building, its construction and its history to the present day. The goal, as Anastasakis writes, is to “create a succinct but, hopefully, coherent and well composed architectural portrait of modern Athens”.

The book is organized according to chronological periods: the pre-revolutionary period; from 1821 to 1830, when Greece became independent and the reconstruction of Athens began, until 1867 and the end of the reign of its first king; from 1868 to 1922, when an influx of refugees from Asia Minor transformed the city; 1923-45; 1946-79; and 1980-2021.

The different periods, the influences of foreign schools and architects of the time are discussed in informative and penetrating essays by architects and historians of art and architecture РManos Biris, Fran̤ois Loyer, Marilena Z. Cassimatis, Helen Fessas-Emmanouil, Maria Daniil, Kostas Tsiambaos, Stylianos Giamarelos and Yannis A. Aesopos. The historical photographs and references that accompany these texts are an invaluable resource for anyone interested in the development of the city and its modern face.

The buildings depicted in the book range from the only preserved Ottoman public bath (hammam) on Kyrristou Street in Plaka, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, to residential and business buildings completed in the last decade. These include the monumental cultural center of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (Renzo Piano construction workshop) and the head office of Agemar (Rena Sakellaridou – RS SPARCH), both located in Kallithea. These buildings, along with the Onassis Stegi (architecture studio) and the New Acropolis Museum (Bernard Tschumi with Michalis Fotiadis) are among the latest additions that will remain important elements of the city’s heritage in the future.

The essays and individual buildings present, in the most tangible way, the spurts of growth and creativity of the nation, the ambitions and compromises of its visionaries and leaders, the largesse of its benefactors and the ravages of time. The iconic buildings that have survived invasions, civil war, bankruptcies and mindless development are living witnesses to the powers of their creators and the triumphs and tribulations of the nation.

Apart from their beauty – or, sometimes, their eccentricity – they do not reveal all their secrets to those who behold them. Their stories may be hidden behind the damage caused by the ambitions or neglect of subsequent owners, their importance lost in the mass of indescribable buildings that have smothered the Attic plain over the past century.

This book, with its selection of 200 buildings, is both authoritative and entertaining. It tells the story of Athens through the life and work of kings, great architects and town planners, through historical events and personal ambitions. It complements the research of historians, political scientists, sociologists and anthropologists, giving substance to their stories, analyzes and theories.

The Athenian Trilogy Рthe large complex of neoclassical buildings housing the University of Athens, the Academy and the National Library Рchronicles the aspirations of the young kingdom to revive the glories of ancient Athens and establish the nation on principles of the Enlightenment, even as its political elite was forming. the model for the sustainable division. Here we see the works and read the stories of Danish brothers Christian and Theophil Hansen, German Ernst Ziller, their French rivals G̩rard, Boulanger and Troump, as well as the first Greek architects, who all marked the new capital of their imprint. .

The successes, missteps and lost opportunities of the modern Greek state can be read both in the grand buildings of the capital and in the drab apartment buildings built for refugees from the disaster in Asia Minor in 1922. L The nation’s history is evident in the large public buildings, often funded by benefactors and public donations, as well as in the sea of ​​buildings. The latter are the product of the “automatic” development brought about by a law according to which landowners can transfer it to developers in exchange for a part of the building resulting from it. These are not the buildings described in “Athens: two hundred years, two hundred buildings”. This is the rule that makes exceptions even more valuable.

In his selection and lucid account, Anastasakis explains the buildings we all know and highlights others lost in the mazes of time and the periodic frenzy of construction. He produced a valuable reference book that illustrates the gains and losses of the past and sets the stage for the creative and ambitious architects who are shaping the new face of the city today.

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