Athens Parliament / King Otto’s Palace

The New Parliament/ King Otto’s Palace

The New Parliament building in Syntagma Square, Athens was the former Palace to King Otto and his Queen, Amalia.  It has marked many generations of historical facts that have withstood many changes and adaptations in both the political and architectural patterns. Picture 017

Adaptations and renovations mainly took place after the outbreak of fires.  At some point in time the palace was transformed into a hospital and currently constitutes as the parliament building today.

In May 1832, London – the three protecting powers of Greece (Great Britain, Russia, France) signed their agreement on the election of the under aged Prince Otto of Bavaria as king of Greece (16).  Additionally, in June 29th of 1833 the Royal decree was issued, which made Athens the capital of the New Greek state.  Thus, the move of the capital from Nafplio to Athens created a need for the housing of the services, ministry and the new house of king Otto.

The choice of the location and construction of the palace were assigned to the architect Friedrich von Gartner; the director of the Fine Art’s Academy of Munich and the official architect of the Nation.  He accompanied the king Ludvic of Bavaria to Greece.

The Location:

The ground area of the New Parliament/ Otto’s Palace was called Boubounistra.  The area took its name after the great noise the running water produced, reminiscent to the noise of thunder.[1]  We could assume, that if the sound of the water was so great, then the quantities of water were satisfactory for the building of the New Palace, or possibly due to its fertile nature, along with the perfect climatic conditions for this particular area.  A story has been told that fresh meat was left or stored in many areas around Athens.  The area where it seemed to be best preserved was that at the Boubounistra’s hill due to the good climatic conditions.  Lastly, the hill was the highest point in the limits of the city’s centrality in the eastern part.  As a matter of fact this criterion underlined the presence of the building in the city and consequently the Bavarian presence, or else its power over Greece.  Yet, one should try to visualize the Palace as an isolated and quiet place and it being very close to the old city.

The palace overlooked the Syntagma square and seemed fitting that the palace and the square be connected, or related.  King Otto approved its construction, because he controlled the area around the palace.  The only other building that was erected was what is today – the hotel Grand Bretagne.  Nevertheless, the Grand Bretagne has undertaken major changes and does not reflect the original appearance.

Meanwhile there were two other proposals by Kleanthis and Shaubert in terms of the erection of the New Palace, only to be rejected.  Kleanthis suggested the area of the current Omonia square, while Shaubert the area of St. Athanassiou hill in Thisio.  The third proposal came from Schinkel, who advocated the point above the Acropolis as a suitable region for the palace, only that it was perceived as an unethical or an unwise move.

Never the less, the actual architect of the palace, Fridrich von Gaertner not only took into consideration the ancient Athenian heritage, but in reality he respected it.  It is for this reason that some elements on the exterior of the parliament’s house refer to architectural elements of the Parthenon and that one could view the old city and the remains of some of the surrounding ancient temples.  It isn’t a coincidence that the Acropolis was seen from the palace, as buildings didn’t exist to block the view.  Still, the king could view from his chamber the temple of Zeus, as well as the hills of Lycabetus and Imitos.  Once the construction begun, Queen Amalia requested the design of the Royal Garden at the back of the palace.  The palace was surrounded by the natural beauty of the hills, the Royal Garden and the ancient buildings.  The latter connected the past to Otto’s era.

The building’s style was simple due to the square geometric shapes that added great volume.  The strict rectangular building and its austerity are reminiscent of the Bavarian architecture.[2]   It consisted of four exterior wings and three floors.  Each side has an entrance, serving a particular purpose.  Today, we distinguish ten Doric columns at the porch of the western side, initially there were only six.  On the eastern side, the porch has four Doric columns.  At the northern and southern sides there are porches too with six and sixteen Doric columns.  The fact that Doric columns are placed along the four wings signifies repetition and similarity being maintained along all the sides.  At the top of the fourth floor, above the western and eastern porch there are pediments; the typical neoclassical element.  It is not hard for the viewer to realize that Gaertner adopted the Doric columns and the pediment, in order to create a parallel to the Parthenon.  (If one visualizes the porches and the pediment by eliminating the second and the third floors that exist in-between, then a resemblance with the Parthenon is apparent).  At the second and the third floor, pediments are placed on the walls.  Although the exterior decoration is reminiscent of an ancient Doric temple, due to the pediment, the pilasters and the columns – it manages to avoid any flamboyancy, thus keeping it simple.

In terms of the interior arrangement: the palace chapel, vaults and the kitchens were housed on the ground floor.  On the first floor, the reception areas and the royal chambers were found.  On the second floor, the residence of the heirs and of the chamberlain was present.  It is said that the first floor was the most luxurious, since it was the area in which the king relaxed and received guests.

The interior decoration consisted of more than 270 murals.  The themes portray scenes of Greek mythology and history – therefore creating continuity with the Greek culture  throughout the structure, since the paintings and the exterior architectural elements draw such references.  Today, only one of these murals exists in the hall of the Eleftherios Venizelos.  It depicts the Greek revolution and the raising of the flag in Aghia Lavra at the arrival of king Otto.  Another connection should be drawn; that of the relationship between the Greek and the German state.  270 of the murals are hosted in Munich that depict mythological themes.

Otto of Greece.jpg

Portrait of Kong Otto.  Artist: Joseph Karl Stieler

Considering the role played in the construction of the palace on the selected plot, the following factors are made prominent:  the palace was visible from afar and it was codified as the palace of the Bavarian king.  Therefore, it initiated the Bavarian influence and power over Greece, as well as the relationship with the three Great Powers.  On the one hand Otto needed to satisfy the Greeks, but on the other he had to remain in good terms with the three Great Powers.  Concerning the architectural style, the Bavarian architecture is most evident.  It is a fact that this type of architecture influenced the development of the Greek Neo-Classical style.

Foot Notes:

[1] Boubounistra has its roots to the Greek word boubounito that signifies the noise of thunderstorms.

[2] It is mentioned that Greek Neo-classicm was molded from European architectural trends.  It is not a style with pure Greek elements.  People usually categorize the influences in three groups.One of these influences is coming from Germany.  People usually categorize the influences in three groups.

 

By Demetrios Voulgarellis

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