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by Archaeology Newsroom

The first primary schools in Athens

The eagerness for learning and education, typical of the Greek people, remained steady throughout the dark years of Turkish occupation. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Athenians, even in slavery, tried to found and maintain their own schools. The levels of education were three, the first, “the common schools”, provided elementary knowledge, the second, the “hellenicon”,where Greek education and culture were taught and at the third level philosophy and science were taught. The second level usually functioned as a prerequisite of the third and was not so much connected with the first. The “common schools” were housed, as a rule, in the narthex of churches or in monasteries, since the teachers were in their majority clergymen, or even in the house of the teacher, if he was a layman. The schools of the upper level were originally housed in monasteries. The coenobitic character of education was also well known both in the West and the East. Therefore, the first building units erected to house educational institutions of the middle and upper level were generally ruled by the same principles. Their plan was a large closed rectangle for the bigger

institutions, while the smaller ones followed a n or a Γ plan. Three such schools operated in Athens. The “Parthenon”, a girls’ school, founded by Philothei Benizelou in the sixteenth century; the school of the monk Gregory Sotiris founded in the early eighteenth century and the famous Deka school, founded in 1750. It was only in the beginning of the nineteenth century that the first edifices purposed for elementary education were built. Their plan and layout served a specific teaching method, that of inter-didactics. The first school applying this approach was instituted in Doli, Mani. while the first in Athens was founded by the Philomousos Society in 1823. More schools were built later, the best as regards architecture being the one designed by the municipal architect Stauffert, that started operating in the fall of 1840. The second municipal school, built in 1871, followed Stauffert’ s architectural principles and was located in Marousi. The new building purposed to house a primary school and financed by Athens’ Municipality in 1875-76, was probably the first architecture trying to express the new educational concept. The school, located in Adrianou Street, was founded in 1874 and was built according to the plans of the well known architect Panagis Kalkos. A similar plan also displayed its contemporary second girls’ school in Piraeus, which was founded by lakovos Rallis in 1876 in the Hydraic sector. The architecture of this building was, hovewer, less successful as regards its morphology, than the school of Adrianou Street.

These three aforementioned schools or rather the first two, since the third does not essentially belongs to Athens, were the only buildings especially planned and erected to house public schools of primary education in the Greek capital during the nineteenth century.

Only one building, the Varvakeion Lyceum, was built in Athens (1857-59) to house a school of secondary education. Built according to the plans of Panagis Kalkos it represented one of the best examples of the Greek classicism. Other buildings serving the needs of secondary education belonged to the private sector. For almost an entire century (1840-1926) the capital of Greece possessed only two buildings purposely erected as primary schools. All the other schools were housed either in rented or donated buildings, which, however, could hardly, if at all, cover the basic needs of a proper education.