The Neo-Classical Legacy of Athens

The Neo-Classical Legacy of Athens

Architecture defines a city, they say. Kings and statesmen have sought to ‘brand’ them along the ages, creating structures that tell a story, a narrative that befits them. Something that will long outlive them and maintain their legacy. Well, Pericles can rest assured (no pun intended) that his name will live forever as the man who ordered the construction of one Parthenon. Little did he know that temple would become the face of western civilization. For it’s the Parthenon and its classical form that inspired countless other architects even up to this day. Pretty much the entirety of American turn of the century government buildings were built in the classical style. Scotland? Ditto. Denmark? The same. And that’s before you get to Rome.

The fluted columns of the Parthenon are an architectural stroke of genius that only master craftsmen like Phidias and Iktinos could pull off. The golden ratio principles are said to have been used to create it, which if true, really ought to blow your mind clean off. The Parthenon is by all accounts an architectural marvel that symbolizes all the great qualities of man. It’s a beacon that shines bright against the forces of tyranny, oppression and extremism. No wonder you see the characteristic triangle roof everywhere in the world.

In Athens, the Acropolis and the Parthenon are visible from just about anywhere. There are laws that prohibit high rises for that reason. However, one needn’t squint to get a look at it from afar. Nor should one have to fork out 20 euro to gaze at it from inside the citadel. One merely has to head straight to the Athenian Trilogy of neo-classical buildings built by Theophil Hansen and Ernst Ziller some hundred plus years ago.

The Athenian Trilogy consists of the Academy, National Library and the University of Athens. All situated within meters off each other in the busy Panepistimiou road, they are a living history of the place. Athens used to have an obscene amount of neo classical buildings back in the day. And heaps of palm trees, too. But palm trees were slowly phased out in an attempt to further Europeanize Athens and neo classical buildings were mostly left to rot and/or demolished in order to put up apartment blocks. Not cool, Athens. But of course there are plenty more instances to admire. The Greek parliament which used to be the King’s quarters is a fine example of the neo classical style. Located centrally and right next to the national gardens and the adjacent Zappeion (another marvelous neo classical structure) it has seen riots, depositions and civil war. The old parliament house on Stadiou street is equally impressive as is the Numismatic museum on Panepistimiou avenue. Just off the Acropolis lies the National Observatory which again provides a lucid vision of the neo classical style. Many more buildings scattered around Athens exist in various states of disrepair. Some are scaffolded and some are straight up crumbling.

A walk through the neighborhoods of Athens is like talking a walk through time. Enjoying the several aeons of history Athens has to offer is one of the biggest pleasures of living in this historic city. The real weight of Athens’s architectural legacy can be felt throughout the world as one catches glimpses of neo classicism in buildings throughout. This is after all the birthplace of western civilization.