Georgian Athens (1863-1912)
After much deliberation and manoeuvring, in October 1863 the Great Powers decided To invite eighteen year-old Prince William George of Denmark To ascend the throne. Four years later, he married the Grand Duchess Olga. The pair were To have seven children. In l872, the king purchased the large estate of General Soutsos at Tatoi to be used as a summer palace. [Read more about life at the summer palace at Tatoi in Attica.] In l867 a revolt against Turkish rule broke out in Crete. Once more the prisons were opened. The convicts were transported To Crete by the government in order To help secure its liberation. Rounded up by the Turks and shipped back to the mainland, they mostly went to the mountains to continue their careers as brigands.
In Αρril 1870 Lord and Lady Muncaster and their friend Frederick Vyner, vacationing in Athens, decided To make an excursion To Marathon with a secretary at the British Legation, a resident English barrister, and a friend from the Itallan Legation. Although careful arrangements were made with the police To ensure the safety of the party, on their way back a band of brigands kidnapped them at Pikermi. Demands were made To the Minister of War for a ransom from the government The foreign press was loud in its demands for action, and soldiers were sent To hunt the brigands down. When the fugitives were spotted near Dilessi, the brigands, who feared the loss of their prisoners, massacred them with cutlasses and muskets, as was the custom.
The gang was mostly comprised of Vlachs who had entered the country earlier in the year, and who had been employed by an opposition politician, Alexander Koumoundouros, To ‘control’ affairs for him in Megara. Typically, the judge instructed the jury to find all the Vlachs guilty and all the Greeks not guilty. European public opinion was outraged, and the government was forced to disassociate itself from the brigands, and for the first time To take some effective steps to eradicate the problem. This took some time, but in the long run it most benefited the defenceless country people, upon whom the brigands chiefly preyed.
The year 1871 was observed as a jubilee celebration of independence. in what looks like a deliberate act of myth-making, recalling Kimon’s interment of the bones of Theseus in the οriginal Thiseion, the body of Patriarch Gregory V, martyred by the Turks on the outbreak of the National Uprising, was removed from its resting place in Odessa and brought in the warship Byzantian To Piraeus. There it was met by the hierarchy of the Church and conveyed To Athens, to be received by King George and Queen Olga and interred in the cathedral.
In 1872, the year that the City Hall (Demarcheion) was built, Charles Tuckerman reported on the state of the city. He noted that most dwelling houses were intended for two families; having one entrance through a gate and courtyard to the ground floor, and another front door leading too the rooms above. The walls were constructed of large cobble stones, roughly cemented. Balconies were regarded as a necessity in all houses for the womenfoIk, who would enjoy the street view during the long summer afternoons and evenings. The houses were generally furnished with simplicity. Even in the best, carpets were sometimes visible only in the shape of rugs in front of the sofas, or a square of tapestry in the middle of the floor. Every ceiling, however, was decorated with coloured designs.
Each dwelling-house in the ‘better’ parts of the city had its garden in the rear. In many of these, or in the court yards, would be displayed ‘small fragments of ancient sculpture set up against the wall, or inserted in it; portions of vases or bas-reliefs, a trunkless head, or a headless trunk, inscriptions, etc., which were discovered for the most part on the spot where they were displayed, having been turned up during the process of excavating the foundations.
Much of the building which took place during the later Othonian period was only completed during the reign of king George: such as the Polytechnic (1880) and the Academy (1887). Ernst Ziller was responsible for many fine buildings, such as the mansion of Heinrich Schliemann in Panepistemiou Street, now the Numismatic Museum, and the National Archaeological Museum. He also laid out a fine avenue of neoclassical mansions in Socrates Ave. Piraeus, which have since disappeared.
Neoclassical houses began To spring up on the hill behind the Panathenaic Stadium, in the area of Metz. This received its name from a beer hall opened in 1870 by a Bavarian, who named it in honour of the victory in the Franco-Prussian War. The road To Patissia was also gradually lined by mansions. Fine suburbs of neoclassical houses grew up around Piraeus, in Kastella (on Munychia), in Terpsithea and Pashalimani. At the same time, sanitation was improved, and hospitals and orphanages built. Α significant role was played by wealthy benefactors, who continued to make their contribution to the cityscape. In the early 1870s the Zappeion Exhibition hall was built by the Zappeion Brothers. The banker from Constantinople, Andreas Syngrou, founded the Municipal Theatre and laid the wide avenue from the city to the sea at Phaleron. Queen Olga engaged in works of charity, in l883 founding the Evangelismos Hospital and the Orphanage on Pireos Street, now the Municipal Art Gallery.
During the last decades of the nineteenth century Greek politics entered upon a rare period of stability. Political allegiance was still to leaders rather than parties, but two men came to dominate the political scene: one, Theodore Deliyiannis, representing the forces of conservatism, and the other, Harilaos Trikoupis, representing reform. Inevitably, while Deliyiannis used nationalism to court popularity and deflect discontent towards outside enemies, it was Trikoupis who inίtiated much needed reforms in various fields. Important improvements in infrastructure, roads and harbours, eco nontics and education, were made during his terms in office.
During the 1870s and 1880s there was an influx of population drawn by the dream of a better life, mostly from the Cyclades. In consequence, new poor suburbs appeared. During the l880s all the social problems associated with a rootless population of immigrants came to be felt, particuarly violent crime. With large numbers of unattached young men, even the amusements were likely to be violent. Regular ‘stone wars’ would be fought between gangs of youths from the different districts. So established a feature of local life did they become that they were advertised in the newspapers, and wire mesh was placed over exposed windows. They were highly conventionalised affairs with ritual parades and insults before hand and large numbers of spectators. The injured became locaI heroes. The poorer areas were terrοrised by gangs of locaI thugs known as manges, employed since the time of Kolletis by politicians to intimidate the voters during elections. Some, such as the koutsavakides, affected particular styles of dress. In this atmosphere, knife fights and murders were common occurrences.
Το deal with this problem, Ρrime Minister Harilaou Trikouρis appointed the stern Dimitris Bairaktaris as head of the Athens police force. He increased police pay, doubled the size of the force, and improved training. On several occasions crowds of young men were rounded up by soldiers and exiled without trial to an island for some time.
One problem which became worse and worse towards the end of the century was the growing need for drinking water for the burgeoning population. This gave rise to a new industry, as water was collected in skins and barrels in villages blessed with fine springs, such as Maroussi, and taken down to the city on donkeys, where it was sold in the streets.
In 1884 a new municipal market was opened. By chance, in the same year a fire destroyed most of the old bazaar, assisting in the extinction of much of the old pattern of commerce inherited from Ottoman times and before. The centre of the old bazaar moved To Monastiraki. Ten years later the second-hand shops and the Sunday second-hand market were already established. The burning of the bazaar opened the way for the construction of the railway from Monastiraki To Piraeus, the line of which was laid straight through the middle of the ancient agora, This led, putting a brave face on things, to many archaeological ‘finds’. The line was opened in l895. Steam engines were used to pull the carriages.
The increasing wealth of the Athenian bourgeoisie at this time is indicated by the setting up of the first cemetery, as much an opportunity for the display of wealth and status as the Keramikos had been two millennia before.
With a gradually improving infrastructure, the development of industry became possible. Most spectacularly, Andre Cordella applied modern methods to the ancient mines of Laurion. Initially, some eight to fifteen per cent lead was recovered from the ancient spoil heaps. From 1870, a Greek-French company, Ηillarion Roux Cie., took over, and in 1873 they sold out to Andreas Syngros, while another French company moved in. These were able To extract manganese, iron, and even some silver, from the ancient mines. They ernployed Greeks from the islands for the heavy work, and Arvanites from the nearby villages of the Messogaia as surface workers. The companies constructed the port and town of Lavrion for the accommodation of their workers, and laid roads and a railway To Piraeus. Α chimney over 130 ft high was built to carry noxious fumes out to sea.
Greece was the last country in Europe but one (Albania) to construct a railway system. During the 1880s a narrow-gauge line was constructed around the Peloponnese. lts route has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful in Europe. Α standard-gauge line was laid from Athens northwards To Thessaly in the 1880s, with a branch line To Kalambaka.
At this time, Athens and Piraeus were still separated by extensive olive groves as John Pentland Mahaffy reported during the 1880s: ‘The dust of Athens, and the bareness of the plain, make all walks about the town disagreeable, save either the ascent of Lycabettus, or a ramble into these olive woods…a strip of country, fully ten miles long, and perhaps two wide on the average, which affords delicious shade and greenness and the song of birds, instead of hot sunlight and dust and the shrill clamour of the tettix. ..The banks of the Kephissus, too, are lined with great reeds, and sedgy marsh plants, which stoop over into its sandy shallows and wave idly in the current of its stream The ouzel and the kingfisher start from under one’s feet, and bright fish move out lazily from their sunny bay into the deeper pool. Now and then through a vista the Acropolis shows itself in a framework of green foliage, nor do Ι know any more enchanting view of that great ruin.’
Nea Phaleron, with its hotels, theatre and band-stand became the hub of Athenian social life as there was now no danger from brigands so close to the city. James Albert Harrison described a Summer’s Evening there in l878: ‘Phalerum Bay is peculίarly beautiful. ..There are delightful baths, to which the languid Athenians continually resort. Fifty lepta for a bath, one drachma for the theatre, and one for the return ticket, make up an evening’s amusement that is extremely cheap and popular. The water is shallow. There are several pretty villas on the shore, and the usual series of xenodocheia, ostiaria, and brassieres along it. Α gay multitude sat in front of them, enjoying the balmy air, the view, the inevitable cigarette, and the tiny cup of coffee, preparatory to the play. An evening in Phalerum is almost the only summer amusement the Athenians have. One would think these beautiful mountains, like those in the neighbourhood of Rome, would be covered with villas; but such has been the insecurity of the country that there are none. Little villages here and there -Patissia, Colonos, Ambelokipos, Kalandri -are sown over the plain; but they all hover in sight like a hen and her chickens. Ι notice in the hotel this precautionary placard: ‘Gentlemen on the point of making excursions will please inform the proprietοr twenty-four hours beforehand.’ This is for the purpose of letting the authοrities know of the intended journey in case an escort shοuld be needed, or to keep them on the lookout.’ Βy 1890 there was a tram from the city to Faliron.
Just before the outbreak of the Great War Mrs Bosanquet visited the Omorphiekklesia of Galatsi The Tourkovounia were still open country: ‘Wandering these lonely moors it is difficult to believe that we are within an hour’s walk of a European capital. Α few shepherds with fierce dogs, or a solitary brushwood gatherer are the only friends we are likely to meet.’
Outside the city and its suburbs, life in the country still went on much as usual. The forest of pine trees stretched from Κίfissia, across Pendeli To Vraona on the eastern coast of Attica. Each year in summer, many Arvanites ftom villages like Mandra, Koropi, Spata and Markopoulo, descendents of the Albanian settlers of the Late Middle Ages, left their homes and went To work in the forest gathering resin for retsina. There they would stay for several months living in small huts. Vlach shepherds still brought their flocks onto the mountains surrounding Athens. In winter hungry wolves would descend from Parnes. Occasionally panic would still sweep the villages of the Mesogaia as the news spread abroad that listes had moved onto the nearby mountains.
The danger from brigands had led to a temporary decline in the popularity of Κifissia in the mid-nineteenth century, despite the presence of a body of rural geηdarmerie stationed in the converted mosque on the square Then in 1885 the Athens-Κίfissia railway line was opened. The οriginal steam engine, popularly known as ‘the Beast’, which ran from Attikis Square, enabled Athenians To be in Κifissia in forty minutes. This increased accessibility from the city, together with a decline in rural brigandage, allowed its popularity To revive.
At the turn of the century, it became the fashion for wealthy families to build summer houses there. Many of the most beautiful villas, erected from the 1890s onwards, were the work of Ernst Ziller. Once more Κifissia became the leading summer retreat of wealthy Athenian society. Starting with the Hotel Melas (1871), the facilities of a resort town quickly grew up. Wealthy Greeks, such as Ρrime Minister Deliyiannis, were regularly spending the summer in their homes or hotels there.
Excavations by the Archaeological Society continued. The site of the Keramikos was located in 1863. In 1864 architect Emst Ziller purchased the area of the Panathenaic Stadium the more efficiently To excavate the site. King George reimbursed him and took over patronage of the digging. The Vlach philanthropist George Averoff offered a large sum To rebuild the Panathenaic Stadium using the same marble from Pendeli from which the structure of Herodes Atticus had been built. Soon work began to prepare it for the first modem Olympic Games of 1896, although the work was not entirely completed on time.
The 1896 Olympic Games, which opened on Easter Sunday, Αρril 5th were an important event for Greece, and mayor Spyridon Mercouris, the grandfather of the late Melina Mercouris, organised a great clean-up and tree-planting in preparation. Gas lamps were installed in the major streets. The Games were a success, which resulted in the revival being made permanent. [Read about the revival of the Olympic Games in Athens: The City.] As far as most Greeks were concerned, the winning of the Marathon Race by Spyros Louis of Maroussi, was the high point of the contest.
In 1896, a revolt broke out once more in Crete, and in January 1897, in Macedonia. Public opinion within independent Greece strongly favoured a military expedition to assist their fellow countrymen. Despite the fact that the state was bankrupt and the army unprepared, Ρrime Minister Theodore Deliyannis gave in to the popular demand and committed the Greek army to war. The Turkish Army had recently been reorganised and re-equipped by German officers, and the Greeks were soon defeated, their headquarters at Larissa being overrun by the enemy. After only thirty days fighting, the war was over, and a humiliating peace imposed upon Greece by the Great Powers. King George Ι, hitherto quite popular, suddenly found himself held responsible for a national humiliation by many of those who had themselves previously been enthusiastic for the war. Public anger against the monarchy culminated in an attempt on the life of the king in February 1898.
Mavrogordato wrote that there was an atmosphere almost of despair among some sections of the population. They were ‘haunted by all sorts of mystical theories of patriotism, and raved about an abstraction called Hellenism, a sort of dream complex of all their unsatisfied instincts …declaring that the correct little state with its Belgian constitution and its imitation of English politics and French society was all a futile pretence; and that unless Greeks had the vitality To help themselves in their own way it was a pity it had ever emerged from the Turkish shadow.’ In Germany, Italy and elsewhere in the Balkan Peninsula, nationalism could claim impressive achievements. Greece had achieved little. Twice the number of Greeks than inside the state still lived outside its borders. Even heroic Crete, which had fourteen times risen against the Turks, had not yet been successfully united to the motherland.
Αt the end of the century, Queen Olga supervised a project, approved by the archbishop of Athens, to produce an authoritative translation of the Gospels into the form of modern Greek, which aroused considerable opposition. In 8th November 1901, students held a protest meeting among the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and then resolved To march into the city. The government ordered the Columns cleared. During the riots which ensued, Prime Minister Theotokis was shot at, and when he fled to his home his house was attacked In the end, eight were left dead and over one hundred injured. The government, the chief of police and the archbishop of Athens all resigned. The Holy Synod forbade all future translations without the their prior approval and that of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Most of the demonstrators were university students who had a vested interest in preserving the artificial form of the language, which only graduates understood, since rendering most of the population illiterate in the official language of their country served To entrench their priνίleged social and economic status Their services were required, and had to be paid for, To transact any legal business and To fill in any official forms.
The new century saw significant improvements in the amenities of urban life. In 1899, the first motor car appeared. In 1901 over a hundred public lavatories were opened in Athens (a convenience which almost entirely disappeared again under mayor Avramopoulos in the 1990s). In l902 the first electric street lights and garbage collectors appeared. In l904 the Piraeus railway was electrified. Not all such ‘improvements’ were an unqualified success. The steam tram To Faliron exploded on May 13th 1907 near Ηadrian’s Gate, killing five. It was quickly electrified. In 1907 the Panorama, Athens’ first cinema, opened its doors.
On 27th July 1909 the people of Crete flew the Greek flag on public buildings in defiance of the rights of the Sultan. The Turks threatened reprisals, and soldiers of the Great Powers landed at Chania. Previously, in May, a group of dissatisfied officers, led by Colonel Zorbas, had founded the Military League. They found this new humiliation was too much to bear. On 28th August, three thousand officers and men of the Athens garrison marched out to Goudi and set up camp. They demanded the reorganisation of the army, the administration, the judiciary and education. They wanted to exclude the influence of the court, with its cronyism and corruption, and protested at the improper promotion of favourites of Crown Prince Constantine, the Commander-in-Chief. The king threatened to abdicate, but since no great surge of public opinion arose to plead with him to stay on, he instead asked his sons to resign their commands.
Junior naval officers at Salamis then mutinied and seized three vessels and the naval station. After a brief engagement during which six people were killed, the mutineers were imρrisoned and later released. Eleftherios Venizelos, head of the Provisional Government in Crete, was called to revise the constitution. On March 28th 1910, the League of Officers dissolved itself. In January 1912 Venizelos was able to command a majority in the Vouli after an overwhelming electoral victory. Α swathe of reformist legislation was passed. Venizelos was wildly popular, and was to dominate Greek politics for over twenty years Yet like a small black cloud on the horizon, this brief foray into politics by the military was to presage disasters to come.