The most complete information guide about Athens, Greece

View of Athens in 1870. – Ch. Giakoumis. -  Bastas Plessas publications, Athens



The first capital of Greece was Nafplio in the Peloponnese. Very soon, however, Athens took over this role. The choice of Athens had several symbolic and practical advantages. The city had been the focus of ancient Greek civilization, which dominated the ideology of the newly founded Greek State. Furthermore, since Athens had been largely destroyed during the campaigns of the Greek War of Independence, it could develop into a new city, unburdened by the Ottoman past.

Town planning studies were started to enable Athens to function as the new capital. The first study by the architects Stamatis Kleanthis and Eduard Schaubert aimed to promote the ancient heritage and the new public buildings of the kingdom. The fact that Otto, son of Ludwig of Bavaria, an admirer of ancient Greek civilization, had been selected as the first king of Greece emphasized the identity of the capital as the symbol of the glorious past and as the administrative centre of an organized modern state.

Kleanthis and Schaubert envisaged the creation of a city that would be equal to the other European capitals and that suggested the remodelling of the urban environment with plenty of wide, open spaces and gardens, wide streets and boulevards. Their plan included the demolition of the old Ottoman City and the suggestion to transfer the centre of Athens to the area between the Omonia and Syntagma Squares.

The city’s population changed both in quantity as in quality from 6.000 people in 1832 to 41.000 in 1870. Athens was attracting people from other urban centers in Greece and in the Ottoman Empire and Greeks of the diaspora who came to work in the public services, as well as immigrants coming to work as laborers and small-scale merchants and manufacturers.

The city was expanding without any specific planning and there was only a spontaneous separation of the different social classes in different areas. The lower classes settled in the southern and south-western areas, in the old Ottoman part of the city, in Thissio, Psirri and later in Metaxourgio and Gazi. People from the middle and upper classes settled in today’s city centre and around Vasilissis Sofia Avenue. Top

3 September Revolution

As the country’s capital, Athens was closely related to events that shaped the history of the newly founded Greek state. King Otto had tried to function as an absolute monarch, as Thomas Gallant writes, he "was neither ruthless enough to be feared, nor compassionate enough to be loved, nor competent enough to be respected.".

By 1843, public dissatisfaction with him had reached crisis proportions and there were demands for a constitution. Initially Otto refused to grant a constitution, but as soon as German troops were withdrawn from the kingdom a military coup was launched.

The night of 3 September 1843 - Painting by an unknown artist. Dimitrios Kallergis is discerned on a horse in the centre, while King Otto in a Greek costume and Queen Amalia stand at a window of the palace - L. Eutaxias Collection AthensOn 3 September 1843, the infantry led by Colonel Kallergis and the respected revolution captain Ioannis Makriyannis, assembled in the square in front of the Palace in Athens. Eventually joined by much of the population of the small capital, the rebellion refused to disperse until the King agreed to grant a constitution which would require that King Otto of Greece adopted the native Greek garment the foustanella which eventually became the official dress of King Otto's courtthere be Greeks in the Council, that he convene a permanent national assembly and that Otto personally thank the leaders of the uprising.

Left with little recourse, now that his German troops were gone, King Otto gave in to the pressure and agreed to the demands of the crowd over the objections of Queen Olga. The square was renamed Syntagma (Constitution) Square to commemorate the events of September 1843. For the first time the king had Greeks in his council and the French party, the English Party or the Russian Party (according to which of the Great Power culture they most esteemed) competed for rank and power. Top

Troubled times

Athens suffered in the years between 1854 and 1857 when the port of Piraeus was blocked by British and French forces to prevent Greece from participating on the side of Russia in the Crimean War. The situation became even worse with an outbreak of cholera in Athens.

The exile of King Otto and Queen Amaila in 1862 (lithograph) They left the same way they came, on a British warship – National Historical Museum AthensIn the following years there was increasing discontent with Otto’s interference in political affairs in Greece, which resulted in a widespread movement against him that continued until 1862 when he was exiled and left Greece.

In the period before King George I, his successor to the throne, arrived in 1863, different parties competed for political control resulting in the violence outburst of June 1863, known as “Iouniana”, when many people lost their lives. These conflicts ended with the appointment of a temporary government, which remained in power until the arrival of King George 1. Top

Athens grows

In the following decades, until the end of the 19th century, succeeding governments tried to modernize and strengthen the country’s economy. This was the time when the first vital infrastructure was put in place:

• Athens-Piraeus railway
• the gas factory (Gazi, now Technopolis)
• Evangelismos Hospital
• numerous public buildings

It also was in this period that increasing waves of urban migrants made the population of Athens grow to 123.000 by 1896. The city expanded to the south and south-west (Metaxourgio and Gazi) and to the north and north-west (Neapoli, Exarchia and Kolonaki).

The first industrial developments didn’t alter the city’s character. Athens remained a city of merchants and manufacturers with a large number of public servants. The port of Piraeus, on the other hand, developed rapidly into an industrial zone.

Athens was not only the capital of the Greek State but also a national focus for Greeks all over the world. This was combined with Greece’s irredentist (annexation of territories administered by another state on the grounds of common ethnicity and/or prior historical possession) aspirations in those parts of the Ottoman Empire with Greek-speaking communities.

Athens’ institutional framework, particularly the education system, and its European aura, attracted both the Christian Orthodox population and Greeks worldwide. Wealthy Greeks living abroad made significant contributions to the creation of an industrial infrastructure and to numerous educational and cultural organizations. Top

The Greco-Turkish warThe war fever on the eve of the Greek-Turkish war of 1897 reaches its peak. Picture of a manifestation in front of the royal palace for the declaration of the war. – K. Rose 1897 - Courier Publications, Athens

In late 1896 a rebellion broke out on Crete and on 21 January 1897 a Greek army landed in Crete to liberate the island from Ottoman control and unite it with Greece. The European powers, however, intervened, and proclaimed Crete an international protectorate. The Greek army retreated to the mainland, where it attempted to advance northwards into Thessaly and Epirus. This was the start of the Greco-Turkish War.

In Thessaly the Turks had concentrated six divisions of about 60.000 men under Ethem Pasha, with a seventh division joining a little later. The Greeks, led by crown Prince Constantine, numbered just under 46.000. The Greeks controlled the sea, outnumbering and outgunning the Turkish navy.

In early April Greek troops crossed the border, trying to start an uprising in Macedonia. The armies met at Mati. The Greeks were outnumbered and retreated past Larissa, which was evacuated. Near Farsala the Greeks re-established order and a counter-attack was planned. However, Greek morale failed, and they were only saved because the Ottoman Sultan ordered a cease-fire on 20 May.

The Greek-Turkish War of 1897. The Battle of Melouna (lithograph), published in the newspaper Le Petit Journal on 2 May 1897 - Hellenic Literary and Historical Archive AthensIn Epirus, the Greeks numbered 15.000, against 30.000 Turks under Ahmet Hifzi Pasha. On 18 April the Turks began bombarding Arta but they failed to take the city. Retreating to Philippiada, the Turks entrenched themselves and Greek forces counter-attacked but, on 15 May, they had to retreat with heavy losses because reinforcements failed.

Peace was signed on 20 September, arranged by European powers. Turkey received a large amount of money as indemnification, and gained a small amount of land on the Thessaly border. This was the only occasion during the century of conflict between Greece and the Turks that Greece was forced to cede land to the Turks.

The beginning of the 20th century in Athens was marked by a series conflicts. The first, “Evangeliaka” in November 1901, concerned the translation of the Bible into Demotic Greek. The second, “Oresteiaka” in 1903, was about the translation of Aeschylu’s Oresteia. Both conflicts reflected the ideological gab between the supporters of Katharevousa, an official language that resembled ancient Greek, and those who supported the use of Demotic Greek. The conflicts also reflected a large feeling of social unrest in Athens. Top


The disappointment caused by serious economic difficulties, the defeat in the Greco-Turkish war of 1897 and a general distrust of the political establishment, resulted in the Goudi movement of 1908. Its aims were to reorganize the army and to improve the country’s military capability and state institutions and functions.

The movement was a landmark in the modernization process in Greece. It brought Eleftherios Venizelos to Athens and the development of new national and internationals policies aiming at social, political and economic modernization and the expansion of the State.

TimelineIn the same period, the first years of the 20th century, additional vital infrastructure was completed in Athens as the supply of electricity throughout the city gradually increased, the public transport system developed, roads were opened up, municipal administrative services provided by the municipality of Athens (founded in 1835) were reshaped and municipal abattoirs constructed to improve public hygiene. Much of this endeavor was achieved through the mayors Spiros Merkouris and Emmanouil Benakis. Top


   3 September Revolution
   Troubled times
   Athens grows
   Greco-Turkish War

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