16 March 2021 

Urban Planning and the
Construction of Monuments in 19th Century’s New Athens

NTUAthens, School of Architecture

This presentation approaches the urban space of 19th century Athens, the capital of the new Greek state, as a field of establishment of newer monuments. The general research question addressed is under which principles pre-existing buildings find their place in the new urban plan as historical monuments a posteriori. The example of the medieval churches is examined, as the oldest urban elements of post-antiquity Athens, and in particular the case of Kapnikarea. This church bears the peculiarity of standing in the middle of one of the primary streets of Athens, the Hermes street, and had been a subject of controversy during the planning of the city. In the new plan of Athens, most of the numerous medieval churches, which were the points of reference in the existing ottoman town, were demolished to the benefit of the modern design axes and the grand perspectives of either the existing ancient ruins or the newly erected neoclassical buildings. A few decades following the initial city planning were needed so that also works of byzantine art would be treated as historically valuable, serving as evidence of the nation’s historical continuity from the ancient era, through the Middle Ages and ottoman occupation. But most importantly, as revealed by the conducted research in the case of the medieval Kapnikarea, international intervention was necessary for the definitive rejection of the church’s demolition. Just as the creation of the modern Greek nation and the capital of Athens were a “European affair”, so the evaluation of medieval churches as works of “Byzantine art” originated from transnational intervention.


Athens’ Built Heritage Post-1975:
The Nostalgic Shift

NTUAthens, School of Architecture

Given the fact that “ethical” facets of cultural heritage can be traced even etymologically in words such as patrimoine (pater[father]+mōnium[obligation]), the dissemination of ‘heritage values’ has frequently taken place through discourses that construct a particular kind of ethical reasoning. This presentation examines specimens of such discourses through the example of post-1975 Athens. After the fall of the right-wing military dictatorship known as the “Junta”, a regime that gave a final push to the building industry before the end of the greek urban reconstruction era, indications of a newfound appreciation for Athens’ recent architectural past became apparent on several different levels, in an overall favorable context; in 1975, a new article in the Greek constitution placed the protection of the cultural environment among the civil rights of greek citizens and among the government’s responsibilities. The European Architectural Heritage Year 1975 generated a focus on Greek “traditional” and recent heritage, while cultural production in Greece was generally making efforts to ‘catch up’ with the rest of Europe after seven years in a totalitarian regime. That is when the first representations of a nostalgia towards an earlier version of Athens started to appear in the form of publications, documentations, exhibitions etc. Interestingly, these representations often feature the impeachment of certain subjectivities that did not prevent Athens from becoming an ‘inhumane settlement’ or even worse, by participating in the replacement of its 19th century buildings with typical multi-story apartment buildings, leading to discourses about the ‘Fall of Athens’ and other similar catastrophologies. Such approaches are analysed here, revealing the neglect of several crucial historical factors, an evident lack of critical thought, as well as elements of social and class discrimination. It is suggested that features of the discourses produced in that era, which incorporate some kind of “ethical” reasoning and construct “unethical” subjectivities, have reached our contemporality, further distancing heritage practices from reflecting the social reality they are supposed to be addressing. Through the lens of critical heritage studies, this presentation will situate these discourses in their chronological context and contemplate on them, by approaching the preservation of architecture as a practice that produces space and attempts to construct the subjects that can be considered its heirs.

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