Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe


Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

Neohellenic architecture

  • ArchitectureGreek
  • Cultural Field:
    Sight and sound
  • Author:
    Fessas-Emmanouil, Helen
  • Text:

    The legacy of classical Hellas and Orthodox Byzantium, as represented by their cultural capitals, Athens and Constantinople, became the main focal points of Greek Romantic Nationalism, as well as sources for its symbolic representation through architecture. However, the unfavourable juxtaposition of Greece’s humble present and glorious past complicated the task of building the state. The ghosts of famous ancestors haunted political and intellectual life until 1922. In addition, the country’s mountainous mainland, with its limited availability of arable land, its extended coastline and numerous islands, was more conducive to shipping, trade and migration than to modernization, but also produced architectural traditions of considerable value, not only to the national narrative, but to international modernism as well (e.g. vernacular Cycladic architecture).

    Neohellenic nationalism, offspring of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, looked to Europe as an agent of progress and was supported by Greek modernists: the diaspora trading communities and intellectuals headed by Adamantios Koraīs; the Phanariots (Greek-speaking bureaucratic elite of the Ottoman Empire); and the Ionian Islands with their tradition of Venetian governance, and birthplace of the state’s first governor, Iōannīs Kapodistrias, and of its national poet Dionysios Solōmos. In the process of building a centralized state, based on secular rationalism, neoclassicism, cultural homogenization, and an irredentist agenda, the modernizing elites encountered the opposition of traditionalists, including the local nobles and warlords who had fought in the War of Independence against the Ottomans, and the rural portions of society, which identified the nation with the folk culture of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire, which had been safeguarded by the Orthodox Church under Ottoman rule.

    Much as intellectuals like the historian Kōnstantinos Paparrīgopoulos tried to promote a three-phase model of Greek history (classical, Byzantine, and modern), so, too, Neohellenic architecture attempted to balance imported modernization with its indigenous traditions and historical legacies. In the 19th and early 20th century, Greece’s urban architecture evolved in two distinct phases.

    During the first phase, which began with Kapodistrias’ administration (1828-32) and ended in the 1870s, with King Otto’s reign at the core (1832-62), classicism dominated the urban planning and architectural agenda, and was prioritized in the master plan and public architecture of Athens. The Greek capital, an almost completely new town, was a strong symbol of national identity and a paradigm of modernization for other Greek cities. Neoclassicism was the generally accepted style for secular buildings, whereas churches were designed with great stylistic variations: traditionalist, neoclassical, neo-Byzantine, neo-romanesque; the most influential was the Hellenic-Byzantine Athens Cathedral (1842-63) as a national model for religious architecture. Most of the distinguished public and religious buildings of modern Athens (culminating in the Athens Trilogy: the University of Athens, the Academy, and the National Library) were either designed or built during this period. Many were financed by affluent Greeks of the diaspora and created by architects who drew inspiration from their in-situ study of Athenian archeological treasures: the Germans Friedrich von Gärtner and Leo von Klenze, the Danish brothers Hans Christian Hansen and Theophil Hansen, and Greeks such as Lysandros Kaftantzoglou (who directed the School of Arts, forerunner of the National Technical University of Athens, between 1844 and 1862), Stamatios Kleanthīs, Panagiōtīs Kalkos, and Dīmītrios Zezos. Of particular importance were the strictly neoclassicist Royal Palace by Gärtner (1836-43); C. Hansen’s University of Athens (1839-43); Th. Hansen’s “Hellenic Renaissance” buildings, including the Observatory (1843-46) and the Academy of Athens (1859-87); and Kaftantzoglou’s Arsakio Girls’ School (1846, today housing the Council of State), the National Technical University of Athens (1862-76), and the church of Agios Kōnstantinos (1871-1905). The few villas commissioned by the ruling class were designed in the picturesque, neo-gothic, and Italianate styles. Top examples of this residential architecture are the Tuscan-style Villa Ilissia of Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, duchess of Plaisance (1840[?]-48; today housing the Byzantine and Christian Museum) and Queen Amalia’s neo-gothic castle ([?]-1854, arch. F.-L.-F. Boulanger; now owned by the Serpierīs family, while the castle’s estate has become the Antōnīs Tritsīs Environmental Awareness Park).

    The second phase covered a half-century of liberal modernization and territorial enlargement. Urban planning focused on provincial Greek towns, and a denser network of public buildings was created. Town halls and theatres became the new symbols of civic pride, alongside churches. Fine examples of monumental architecture outside Athens were Ernst Ziller’s Neo-Renaissance Town Hall of Εrmoupolis (1876-98) and  two buildings in Piraeus designed by Iōannis Lazarimos: the late-classical-style Municipal Theatre (1884-95) and the Hellenic-Byzantine Agios Nikolaos Church (1879-1902).

    Two emblematic projects of Romantic Nationalism were realized during this period: the reconstruction of the ancient Panathenaic Stadium, by Anastasios Metaxas (it would become the venue for the first modern Olympic Games in 1896), and the Zappeion Exhibition Hall (1874-88) by Th. Hansen on the remodelled project of Boulanger. Stylistically, this period is characterized by the gradual shift from neoclassicism and historicism to Eclecticism and incipient modernism.  The most influential among these was Th. Hansen’s Viennese Eclecticism, implemented in Greece by his disciple Ernst Ziller in distinguished buildings such as the neo-Renaissance Municipal Theatre of Patras (1871-72) and the Schliemann residence (1878-80; now housing the Numismatic Museum), and the Eclecticist Stathatos mansion (1895). The classicizing architecture of Metaxas as well as the Academic Eclecticism of the French <em>École des beaux-arts</em> (represented by Alexandros Nikoloudīs) were infuential in the early 20th century.

    In 1911, the visionary architect Aristotelīs Zachos proclaimed a reform agenda which aimed to reconcile modernity with indigenous traditions. This agenda was implemented in the interwar period through his secular buildings, which revalorized vernacular traditions, and his Orthodox churches, which were inspired by early Byzantine prototypes. Outstanding examples of Zachos’s ground-breaking efforts to foster a Greek-centred modernization were the home of folklorist Angelikī Hadjimichalī in Plaka (1924-31), the weekend house of the banker Dionysios Loverdos in Varibobī (Attica) (1928-30), the Basilica of Agios Kōnstantinos in Volos (1930-35), and the Apostolos Pavlos Cathedral in Corinth (1932-37).

    Word Count: 1006

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  • Badima-Fountoulaki, Olga; Ī Doukissa tĪs Plakentias kai oi architektones (Athens: Eptalofos, 2011).

    Biris, Kōstas; Ai Athīnai: Apo tou 190ou eis ton 20on aiōna (2nd ed.; Athens: Melissa, 2005).

    Biris, Manos; Athīnaikī architektonikī 1875-1925 (Athens: Melissa, 2003).

    Cassimatis, Marilena; Panetsos, Georgios (eds.); Hellenische Renaissance: The architecture of Theophil Hansen (1813-1891) (Athens: B & M. Theocharakis Foundation, 2015).

    Fatsea, Irene; Monumentality and its shadows: A quest for Modern Greek architectural discourse in nineteenth-century Athens (1834-1862), (doctoral thesis; Boston, MA: MIT, 2000).

    Fessas-Emmanouil, Helen; Essays in Neohellenic architecture (transl. Judy Giannakopoulou; Athens: Fessas Emmanouil, 2001).

    Loyer, François; L’architecture de la Grèce au XIXe siècle (1821-1912) (Athens: École française d’Athènes, 2017).

    Papageorgiou-Venetas, Alexander; Hauptstadt Athen: Ein Stadtgedanke des Klassizismus (München: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1984).

    Travlos, John; Neoclassical architecture in Greece (Athens: Commercial Bank of Greece, 1967).

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Fessas-Emmanouil, Helen, 2022. "Neohellenic architecture", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 04-04-2022, consulted 07-12-2023.