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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Early Houses of Athens

Athens today bears a very slight resemblance to the city it was in the 19th century, and although only 150 years have passed since the institution of the Modern Greek nation, the architectural form and scale have altered completely , while the original lay-out and the width of the streets have basically remained intact, at least in the city Centre. The old, one or two-storey houses with yard and garden and the classical style, characteristic of 19th century Athens have been replaced by new multistoried buildings. It is unfortunate that very few houses, dating between 1832 and 1860, still stand in place. The rest have long been demolished, so the chance to study and evaluate them or even to record them in drawings and photographs is gone. Thus, the research on this period depends more on official records, publications, old drawings and representations than on the buildings that survive in place of the old. However, in order to understand this early phase of contemporary architecture we must, first, have a good knowledge of Athens soon after the Greek Revolution of 1821 and also, of how the new city was developed. In addition, a great number of travellers’ descriptions and drawings dating from this period can contribute to this study. During the short period that Capodistrias governed Greece (1828-1831) the reconstruction of towns in the Peloponnese and the islands began, Athens was not included in this program, since it was added to the Greek nation only after the Constantinople Treaty and the London Protocol of 1832. The liberation of Athens basically dates from April 29, 1833 when the Turks handed the Acropolis over to the bavarian garrison on behalf of the Greek state. It is since then that the city of Athens attracts the interest not only of the official state but also of the whole world. Responsible for the first town-planning of Athens were two young architects, Stamatios Cleanthes and Eduard Schaubert, who wished to make its plan “equal to the ancient glory of the city”. Very interesting information on the houses built until 1840 is supplied by E. Stauffert – “Architect of the City of Athens” between 1835-1843 – in a series of articles published in the newspaper “Allgemeine Bauzeitung” of 1844. Beside Stauffert, many other architects and archaeologists who lived in Athens in these years contribute to our knowledge of the early houses. L. Ross, for example, notes that people did not care much whether their house was elegant or not because they tried to meet only their basic housing needs. As a result, the houses are simply built. The exterior of the Athenian house took gradually a distinctive form, which followed the principles of Romantic Classicism, prevalent in Europe since 1750. This form undoubtedly affected the urban architecture in most Greek towns. Most neoclassical houses of the early period, however simple, were well-built, they had classic proportions, and their exterior walls were either covered with plaster or (rarely) dressed with stone. The architectural decoration, depending on the economic ability of the owner, very often were kept in an Athenian tradition depending on the owner’s finances. Thus, the façade follows the rules of the neoclassical architecture, while the side facing the interior yard forms the loggia, typical of old-Athenian houses. The arrangement of the interior is simple and serves the everyday function of an urban home. We only know a few of the architects of the early houses, among them Stamatios Cleanthes, Lysandros Kaftantzoglou and Panagis Kalkos. A number of houses has been attributed to them, not always with good reason. A series of architectural plans and drawings made by Kaftantzoglou belong today to the Benaki Museum. Demetrios Zezos, one of the first architects, is more well-known as an architect of churches. Army engineers suchas Demetrios Stavridis, Th. Komninos and others have also considerably contributed to the development of Athenian architecture. Among the foreign architects, Th. Hansen, who lived in Greece from 1838 to 1846, is responsible for the work on many houses in Athens, as is also mentioned by Stauffert. In this short survey it would not be possible to present all the houses built between 1832 and 1860. However, from the buildings that have been preserved or that are known from old photographs and other relevant media, we examined the most representative ones, since they compose a fair picture of domestic architecture at this early period.