Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Architecture : Greek/Philhellenic

  • ArchitectureGreekPhilhellenic
  • Cultural Field:
    Sight and sound
  • Author:
    Maufroy, Sandrine
  • Text:

    For 19th-century architects, Greece was both a model and a field of experimentation. Town planning and architectural projects by European architects for Greece crystallized the points at issue in Philhellenism as well as the aesthetic, ideological and technical problems faced by the state that had emerged from the Greek War of Independence.

    Since the 16th century, European architecture had found its models in Classical Antiquity; from the mid-18th century, the increasing number of travels and archeological discoveries laid the foundations of the Greek revival architecture.

    From 1800 to 1820 and from the end of the Greek War of Independence onwards, an increasing number of architects (who, Europe-wide, had received a quite similar formation, and formed a network that linked successive generations on the basis of master-pupil relationships) spent time in Greece, met with each other and with archeologists: Abel Blouet and the members of the architectural section of the French Expédition scientifique de Morée; the German Eduard Schaubert and the Greek Stamatios Kleanthīs, who had both studied under Karl Friedrich Schinkel and who were commissioned with the town planning of Athens; the Dane Hans Christian Hansen, who became the court-architect of King Otto I; and the Germans Gottfried Semper and Leopold von Klenze. All of them investigated ancient Greek architecture, with two aims: to contribute to a better understanding of Greek culture in its historical development, and to provide their own work with a solid foundation.

    In some cases, the creation of Neoclassical buildings and Philhellenic sympathies were complementary elements, not only in attitudes towards Greece, but towards culture in general. The most striking example is probably Ludwig I of Bavaria. A convinced and well-known Philhellene, he commissioned architects, especially Klenze and Friedrich Gärtner, to build copies of Greek Classical monuments in Bavaria, e.g. the Munich Propylaea; even the Walhalla, built as a pantheon of German “great men”, and a monument to German nationalism, reproduced the Athenian Parthenon.

    After the Greek War of Independence, the newly founded Greek state had to be (re-)built in the literal sense of the word, and required infrastructures and buildings suitable for the running of the new institutions. This purpose was government policy from the very beginning. Town planning was undertaken by German, French and Greek architects and engineers, whose plans ranged from the application of a geometrical structure following West-European models and including Neoclassical and Baroque elements (Tripoli, 1828; Corinth, 1836) to the preservation of the urban tissue inherited from the Ottoman period and the adjunction of new building areas on a chequerboard pattern (Megara, 1835).

    One case in particular crystallized issues in spatial management, town planning, and architecture: Athens, capital of the Greek state from 1834 onwards. At that time Athens was a largely destroyed and deserted small town; but it represented a neutral place vis-à-vis competing interests, much like Washington DC or Brasília, and carried great symbolic weight. The choice was settled when Ludwig I of Bavaria threw his weight behind Athens. Its urban planning and the architecture of its buildings had to meet the requirements of a “modern” capital and to come up to the expectations concerning the preservation and exploration of its architectural heritage. This double task involved ideological and technical challenges. Among the several early submissions, that of Kleanthīs and Schaubert prevailed, which envisaged the archeological preservation of the old town alongside a new urban development to the north. A revision soon proved necessary because of unregulated building activity in the old town, real estate speculation and protests of inhabitants. At Ludwig I of Bavaria’s request, Klenze went to Athens in 1834 and adapted the original project to political and financial realities. In the event, this scheme also failed to be realized in its entirety, and unplanned development of the city continued.

    A major issue involved the situation of the royal palace. Neither Schinkel’s scheme of a palace situated on the Acropolis itself and integrated in an asymmetric, scenic ensemble including the Parthenon and the other archeological remains, nor Klenze’s proposal of a residence situated on a hill near the Kerameikos district, were realized. Instead, Gärtner’s far more modest plan prevailed: a simple Neoclassical building on Syntagma Square; it represents the gradual defeat of prestigious projects inspired by inflated idealizations of Hellenism under the pressure of financial difficulties, intrigues and practical constraints.

    A native-Greek school of architecture emerged towards the end of the century in the work of German-trained Aristotelīs Zachos (1871–1939), whose work replaced Bavarian Classicism with a combination of Neo-Byzantine and vernacular elements, thus in his churches and urban designs.

    Word Count: 761

  • Article version:
  • DOI:
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    Buttlar, Adrian von (1999). Leo von Klenze: Leben, Werk, Vision (Munich: Beck)

    Haus, Andreas (2011). Karl Friedrich Schinkel als Künstler: Annäherung und Kommentar (Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag)

    Lucarelli, Franck-Laurent (1996). “Une archéologie philhellène: les relevés architecturaux de l’expédition scientifique de Morée”, in Constans, Claire; Lambraki-Plaka, Marina; Ribemont, Francis (eds.) ; et al. (1996). La Grèce en révolte: Delacroix et les peintres français 1815-1848 (Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux), 75-81

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

    Potts, Alex (1991). “Schinkel’s architectural theory”, in Sodin, Michael (ed.) (1991). Karl Friedrich Schinkel: A universal man (New Haven, CT: Yale UP), 47-55

    Scholl, Christian (2009). “Normative Anschaulichkeit versus archäologische Pedanterie: Karl Friedrich Schinkels ästhetischer Philhellenismus”, in Heß, Gilbert; Agazzi, Elena; Décultot, Elisabeth (eds.) (2009). Graecomania: Der europäische Philhellenismus (Berlin: De Gruyter), 85-97

    Tsiomis, Yannis (1985). Athènes, affaire européenne (Athens: Ministry of Culture)

    Tsiomis, Yannis (2005). “Athènes 1833: La guerre pour la capitale de l’Etat-Nation”, Etudes Balkaniques: Recherches interdisciplinaires sur le monde hellénique et balkanique, 12: 173-176

    Wiebenson, Dora (1969). Sources of Greek revival architecture (London: Zwemmer)

    anon., (1985). Ein griechischer Traum: Leo von Klenze der Archäologe: Ausstellung vom 6. Dezember 1985-9 Februar 1986 (München: Glyptothek)

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    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Maufroy, Sandrine, 2020. "Architecture : Greek/Philhellenic", 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 02-11-2020, consulted 19-10-2021.