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by Archaeology Newsroom

Houses of special interest in Kifissia of the “belle epoque”

The old prestige of the city of Athens was revived when the city became the capital of the modern Greek state. The installation of Otto’ s reign in Greece had as a natural aftermath the introduction of the then contemporary notions and concepts of German architecture to the country; therefore, the “neoclassical” style appears to prevail both in public as well as in private buildings. However, by the end of the nineteenth century the wealthy Greeks of the Diaspora, such as Sygros, Papoudoff, Negrepondis, Averoff and others, return to their fatherland bringing along not only their wealth, but also their refined Europeanized mentality and education, which was going to affect greatly the general attitude of the upper-class Athenian society. The spirit of Maeecenas, the benefactor, which becomes predominant, finds its most authentic expression in a series of manors and villas, not inferior to European ones. The plutocratic social segment of Athens warmly adopts the notion of the suburban, “romantic” in style villa as it attempts to be released from the restraints of classical architecture. These villas that appear mainly in the Athenian suburbs become progressively the exclusive private buildings of Kifissia, because their romantic air was perfectly suited to the purely rural character of the surburb which was also easily accessible by train. One of the typical stylistic features of these villas is the obvious dependence of their form on the rural architecture of central Europe. Thus, both a unique suburb – a “museum” of the most eccentric and ostentatious specimens – and a unique architecture – extremely picturesque and daring – were created in the outskirts of Athens. The typology of these villas sought to adapt a picturesque and romantic architectural style compatible with the Greek landscape and avoiding social symbolism or implications. In this determinative yet vague framework many architects tried to combine harmoniously a variety of styles. Ernst Ziller among then also follows this objective in the model that Hansen created for the villas of his upper class Viennesse clientele. The representative stylistic examples of the Kifissia villas exhibit a more or less similar treatment of architectural composition and a wide variety of formation elements, which are often so heterogeneous as to make their stylistic classification extremely difficult if not impossible. Apart from the few “neoclassical” specimens, a broad range of styles and variations appear: “art nouveau”, “wood carved”, “rustic”; degenerated or exact applications of Victorian architectural “fantasies” with Middle-Age turrets ant ramparts. These styles and variations either form a random conglomeration οr a successful novelty, depending on the architect’s genius and ability. The Kifissia villas are undoubtedly products of a transitional period, which is characterized by an ideological inconsistency and lack of orientation, by a rearrangement of the aesthetic values and by the superficial adoption and adaptation of international architectural models. These manors although cannot be considered as typical examples of Greek tradition, nevertheless they are characteristic of a specific phase of our recent history.