Architecture of Athens

Architecture of Athens

Athens, as a cosmopolitan city, provides a plethora of sightseeing and entertainment but also a unique repertoire of architectural styles and designs.

The city enjoys a fusion of structures that have merged through time and exhibit the influence and growth of various eras. Old and new mingle in the blend of Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods as well as Neoclassical and Postmodern compositional forms. Athens hosts some of Europe's most enduring monuments with the most famous example of Classical Greek architecture, the Doric Temple of the Parthenon, a case study for potential architects and the main landmark of the city.

The architects of ancient Athens showed a preference for marble, constructed temples, monuments, theaters, and stadiums with geometry, simplicity, and harmony. They established the 3 orders of classical architecture - Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian - and thus laid the foundation for the design basis of the Roman Period and subsequently the Western World. The city of Athens is an amalgam of architectural currents as the new buildings were erected upon ancient ruins, and churches were built atop ancient temples and shrines.

The Roman Period of the 2nd Century B.C. of Athens was marked by characteristic monuments with triumphal arches and domes and stone carvings of Roman battles. The Arch of Hadrian, the Roman Agora, and Hadrian's Library are examples of the Roman influence, which was also conveyed in the construction of bridges, basilicas, and aqueducts.

The Byzantine Empire and the preaching of St. Paul the Apostle in 51 A.D. in Athens, left a vivid sign of religious art and architecture as the Christian religion was established. The cruciform structure was introduced, and distinctive Byzantine churches were built like the Kapnikarea Church on Ermou Street, the Daphni Monastery, and the Church of Agioi Apostoloi in the Ancient Agora. The Byzantine and Christian Museum on Vasilissis Sofias Avenue displays a wide collection of sculptures, paintings, and other artifacts from that period.

The Ottoman rule of the 15th Century left a strong architectural influence that is evident to the present day in buildings like the Fethiye Mosque, located on the northern side of the Roman Agora, the Tzistarakis Mosque on Monastiraki Square, the Turkish Baths or Baths of the Winds in Plaka, and a few residences like the Kadis house on Shelley Street.

The arrival of King Otto in Athens marked the establishment of the modern Greek State and the beginning of the reconstruction of the city with remarkable public buildings spanning 2 to 3 stories, surrounded by gardens and courtyards. The substantial legacy of Athenian 19th and 20th Century Neo-Classicism is visible throughout the center of the city in buildings like the Athens Trilogy, the Presidential Mansion, the Numismatic Museum, the Zappeion Mansion, the Museum of Cycladic Art, and also in Kotzia Square, and Athinas Street.

The picturesque Anafiotika neighborhood in Plaka showcases the typical Cycladic islands architecture. Anafiotika was built in the mid-19th Century when King Otto summoned craftsmen from the island of Anafi to build his palace. The skilled workers had no roof over their heads so they constructed small functional houses during the night, as it was illegal to erect any buildings in the area. The white, cubic homes, the narrow streets, and the flower gardens created a small and tranquil island-like atmosphere directly in the heart of the city.

Examples of eclectic architecture in Athens are a few Art Deco buildings, like the Rex Theater on Eleftherios Venizelos Avenue, and scarce examples of the Art Nouveau movement due to the poor economic state of the Greek society at the beginning of 1900. The core of Athens hosts several impressive arcades (stoas), which used to be the most prestigious places for shopping.

Another wave of architectural innovation came in the 1930s with the Bauhaus movement and examples of this trend are the emblematic modern building of the United States Embassy completed in 1961, the Conservatory of Athens and the refugees' apartment buildings on Alexandras Avenue constructed in 1933.

After the Second World War, the rapid growth of Athens's population caused a housing problem, and multilevel residential buildings reaching 6 floors were raised, which resulted in the aesthetic downgrading of the urban landscape. Athens acquired its first and only skyscraper, the Athens Tower, in 1971 due to a briefly-imposed law passed during the 7-year Greek military junta. The era is marked by the replacement of the single-detached house of the 50s and 60s with cement apartment blocks.

Today, Athens is a mix of old and new with many businesses and residences following the international contemporary architectural trends. The buildings of the Athens Hilton hotel, the Athens Concert Hall, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art are fine examples of the modern architectural form. The contemporary design of the Acropolis Museum, inspired by the clarity of the Ancient Greek structures, provides a modern building with the use of natural light, movement, and mathematical precision to highlight the exhibits, while the glass floor allows visitors to observe the ancient ruins excavated during construction.

The splendor of the ancient architecture of Athens has given the world magnificent structures that have survived the rigors of time and continue to inspire admiration. More importantly, Hellenic design and especially the ancient Greek architectural forms are still prevalent and visible in many buildings around the world.