History of Greek National Theater

History of Greek National Theater

The theater was originally founded in 1880 as the Royal Theater, with a grant from King George I and Efstratios Rallis to give theater a long-standing residence in the capital of Greece.

The base for this new endeavor was set on Agiou Konstantinou Street, and the building itself was designed by the famous Saxonian architect, noted for many other public buildings in Athens at the time, Ernst Ziller. Despite problems getting the building done in time, it was eventually completed in the late 1890s and, in 1900, Angelos Vlachos was assigned to the position of its Director.

The National Theater began to expand its operations when, in 1901, a Drama School opened. The same year, the Royal Theater opened its doors to the public with a monolog from Dimitris Verardakis' play "Maria Dozapatri", and 2 Greek one-act comedies: Dimitris Koromilas' "The Death of Pericles" and Charalambos Anninos' "Servant Required". Following the first performance, the theater began to expand in popularity among Greece's upper and upper middle classes and produced more productions.


One of the most beloved at the time was Aeschylus' Oresteia, set in a prose translation by Yorgos Sotiriadis. The production sparked a long linguistic conflict, between the adherents of "katharevousa" (def. "pure [language]") and the modern Demotic Greek.

The result was that in an attempt to halt the performance and also incited by their Professors, students from the University of Athens School of Philosophy marched down Agiou Konstantinou Street towards the National Theater. The episodes that followed, known as the Oresteiaka, resulted in 1 death and 10 injuries on November 8th, 1903.

Following the assassination of King George in 1913, the Royal Theater was handed down to the son of the King, the Prince of Greece and Denmark, Prince Nicholas, who was a painter and a play writer.

The theater entered into a period of decline, occasionally playing host to foreign thespian companies, until 1932. It remained closed until was re-founded, as National Theater, under an act of Parliament signed by Education Minister, Georgios Papandreou, on May 30th, 1932. The first plays staged were the Aeschylus' Agamemnon and Gregorios Xenopoulos' comedy "O Theios Oneiros".

The first actor team included Katina Paxinou, Aimilios Veakis, Eleni Papadaki and Alexis Minotis. Fotos Politis was the first theatrical director to be placed and from 1934, Dimitris Rontiris.

In 1939, the Greek National Opera (Greek: Εθνική Λυρική Σκηνή) was founded as part of the National Theater. In 1955, the National Theater contributed in the foundation of the Athens & Epidaurus Festival (as a member of the Athens Festival), devoted to ancient drama.

Notable (general) directors of the National Theater, throughout its history, include Ioannis Gryparis, Kostis Bastias, Angelos Terzakis, Yórgos Theotokás, Dimitris Rontiris, Elias Venezis, Alexis Minotis and Nikos Kourkoulos.