The Apex of a “New” Athens

Triangle of Athens


Angelos Chiotis

Twenty-one guns saluted 17-year-old King Otto on the morning of December 13, 1833. It had been raining constantly for two weeks. […] It cleared just before Otto and his entourage were about to enter the new capital, where he was received by the Bavarian regents, the ministers of the interior and foreign affairs, and the municipality of Athens.[1]

“The town was lying in ruins. The streets were almost deserted and nearly all the houses were without roofs. The churches were reduced to bare walls and heaps of stones and mortar. Only a few of the houses had a roof and the streets were completely unrecognizable because everything had collapsed in boundless confusion” after the end of the war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, wrote Christopher Wordsworth in his journal of life in Athens.[2] In 1833, Athens, a provincial town of about 12 000 people, followed Aegina and Nafplion as the capital of the new Greek kingdom. Two young architects, Stamatios Kleanthes and Eduard Schaubert, trained under Karl Friedrich Schinkel in Berlin, were entrusted with the design for the new Athens. Their baroque-inspired plan, subsequently altered by Leo von Klenze and a number of other architects and engineers, formed the basis for the city’s growth and urban modernization. By 1900, Athens had been transformed into an elegant capital with a number of new buildings: a palace, a parliament, and a new cathedral, as well as a university, an academy, a national library, a refurbished ancient stadium, newly-built private residences, and several tree-lined squares and boulevards. More precisely, the new city included about half of the old one, extending from it to the west, the north and the east. The other half of the old city was expropriated for archeological excavation. But even the preserved section of the old city was maintained only as a geographical zone, and not as an already constructed space, since it was anticipated that its largest part would be divided up by new roads and standard rectangular blocks. The main axes formed an isosceles triangle, with its peak at today’s Omonia square, its sides defined by Piraeus and Stadiou streets, and Ermou street as its base. Its entire orientation was aimed at Piraeus, the Stadium and, primarily, the Acropolis, at whose feet it spread out in an open embrace. The Royal Palace was expected to stand at the peak of the triangle: a symbolic merger of the geometric apex and the apex of state power.


[1] Eleni Bastéa, The Creation of Modern Athens: Planning the Myth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 7.

[2] Christopher Wordsworth, Athens and Attica: Journal of a Residence There (Athens: J. Murray, 1836).