Athens becomes the capital of Greece

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The Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis in Athens in 1830. Credit: Wikipedia / Public domain.

When Athens was officially declared the capital of the new Greek state on September 18, 1834, it was a small village of 7,000 people living around Acropolis Hill.

After the assassination of Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias in the Peloponnesian city in 1831, the first Greek politicians had to decide where the new government and the first parliament would be established. At the time, Athens was an area of ​​ancient, Byzantine and medieval ruins surrounded by makeshift houses, all around Acropolis hill.

The decision was far from easy. Personalities of the time, politicians, as well as architects and town planners took part in the debate, trying to influence the developments and the final decision. The proposed cities were, among others, Corinth, Megara, Piraeus, Argos, as well as Nafplion again.

Eventually Athens won the race, and on September 18, 1834, it was officially proclaimed the “Royal and Capital Seat”. The main reason was the city’s glorious history as the cradle of Hellenic civilization. According to historians, King Ludwig I of Bavaria influenced the decision because he was a great admirer of ancient Greece.

Athens, from a small town to a capital

However, the city was not ready to bear the brunt of the capital of the new state. It was more of a town than a town, with 7,000 inhabitants and 170 ordinary houses, as the remaining Athenians lived in huts. In addition, the battles that took place in Athens had left many ruins. By comparison, at the time the population of Patras was 15,000,000, while Thessaloniki had 60,000.

Athens, the capital of Greece
Athens, the capital of Greece, is currently the largest city in the country and the main center of Greek economic, cultural and political life. Credit: Thodoris Karakozidis/CC-BY-3.0

Athens extended around the Acropolis (from Psiri to Makrygianni), having as its center the area of ​​Plaka (the old city). One of the major problems of the new capital was the lack of a water supply system, as well as the absence of public lighting and transport, while there was a total lack of social services.

The first king of Greece, Otto of Bavaria, commissioned the reconstruction of the devastated city from the Greek architect Stamatis Kleanthis and the Bavarian Leo von Klenze with a strict order not to damage the archaeological sites. For the protection of antiquities, Otto issued a decree prohibiting the construction of limestone at a distance of 2,500 meters from ancient Greek ruins, so that the antiques could not be damaged.

In four years, around 1,000 houses were built in Athens, many of them makeshift, with no architectural plan or street plan. Otto banned the exploitation of the quarries in the hills of the Nymphs, Achanthos (Strefi), Philopappou and Lycabettus and issued decrees with strict orders to immediately demolish any house built near archaeological sites and anything built in the outskirts of the Acropolis hill.

Strict house building measures caused Otto to lose his popularity among the poor masses, but he insisted on issuing further decrees.

In the years to come, Athens becomes the pole of attraction of the Greeks, who arrive in the capital of all the regions of the country. In 1896 Greece hosted the first modern Olympic Games. At that time, the image of the capital changed dramatically. It had grown and was now a city of 140,000 inhabitants with large buildings and important archaeological sites, and the intellectual commercial and cultural center of the country. A real capital.


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