Stamatis Kleanthis ΣΤΑΜΑΤΗΣ ΚΛΕΑΝΘΗΣBorn 1802, Velventos Died in Athens 1862
Not everyone buried in the First Cemetery is still there and some may be there but we cannot be certain where. That is the probable fate of Stamatis Kleanthis, architect and town planner extraordinaire who studied in Germany and then returned to Greece some years before Athens became the capital of the new state. Still, in anticipation, he proceeded to plan a world class city out of the ruined small town. Of course he did not do it alone. There were hosts of town planners and architects in Greece after 1830, but Stamatis was one of the first. In 1831, he and his German friend Eduard Schaubert bought one of the few houses still standing on the north face of the Acropolis hill, and began drawing up plans. As a team, they had some notable successes, and a few disappointments. They had to compete with German power houses like King Ludwig’s personal architects who had different ideas and other civil engineers and architects whom the government had hired to create town plans and public buildings. There were a lot of fingers in the planning pie back then.
Kleanthis made a fair bit of money during his career. He bought up numerous properties in Athens and eventually owned marble quarries on the island of Paros and Tinos. These were good business decisions. Ironically it was marble that brought about his death. A chunk fell on his head during a visit to one of his quarries; he died in Athens a few days later. For some reason the image of Jason of Argonaut fame comes to mind. I hope he did not die disappointed like Jason though because I have a soft spot for Stamatis. He came to Greece to take part in the great adventure of building a new nation : from the ground up.
Stamatis was born in 1802 in Velventos, a prosperous Macedonian town under Ottoman rule.
His family were well enough off to send him to the Greek high school in Bucharest in the Ottoman principality of Wallachia (now Romania). He remained there long enough to become a member of Alexander Ypsilantis’ ill fated ‘Sacred Band’, a group of soldiers modelled on ancient Thebans who were to be the soul of an army fighting for freedom in 1821.(1) This first Greek effort to defeat the Ottomans ended in a resounding defeat and Stamatis’ capture.
A painting of this losing battle by Peter Von Hess who had accompanied King Othon to Greece in 1833 in order to immortalize and glorify the struggle for Independence.
Unlike Ypsilantis who died in prison, Stamatis managed to escape to Vienna and then moved on to Leipzig. He decided to become an architect. His studies were completed at the Berlin Baukacademie where the great Karl Friedrich Schinkel was one of his teachers.
There he met fellow student Eduard Schaubert and, before returning to aid the Greek struggle and begin their careers in earnest, the two young men embarked on a European tour – a de rigueur step for young architects at the time .
The end of 1829 saw them both arriving in Aegina where they initially offered their services gratis. Greece was not yet formally recognized as a country and the idea of Ottoman occupied Athens as a capital city was still a far off dream. The island of Aegina would have to do. Their first design plans for buildings in Aegina never got off the drawing board because of lack of funds. Still, they caught the attention of people who mattered including the governor, Ioannis Kapodistrias. (Although Nauplio was the capital of the emerging nation, Kapodistrias spent the years 1828 and 1829 in Aegina.)
In 1830, Kapodistrias issued the following:
Not bad for a twenty eight year old Greek architect and his 26 year old partner. Their brief would involve town planning as much as architectural design.
The first building Kleanthis designed was a large orphanage on Aegina. It later became a prison and it is not hard to see why:
Money was in short supply and this building had to be strictly utilitarian
The first joint build by the Kleanthis-Schaubert team was more interesting because there was money involved. It was paid for by a wealthy Swiss donor and philhellene Jean Gabriel Eynard (1775-1863) and was named the Eynardeion. It was a school of purely neoclassical design and was Greece’s first neoclassical building, a humble start to the country’s long love affair with neoclassicism.
Still impressive and rather charming
Severe Neoclassicism: A Greek Remedy for Greek Ills.
Kapodistrias was a realist and painfully aware of economic restrictions. That the style of new buildings would be neoclassical was a given, but it would be a pared down version in most cases. Kapodistrias devised strict rules for new builds: no wooden houses and no wooden porches and enclosed balconies that he considered Turkish. There were clear directions given as to height, sturdiness, sewage systems and chimneys. Proportions for facades were dictated; clarity and simplicity the order of the day and all builds were to be supervised either by architects or civil engineers. It almost does not need saying that all must blend into, or hearken back to whatever monuments of ancient Greece were still extant. It was a challenging brief.
As for town planning, Kapodistrias did not exactly have a tabula rasa, but something close and town planners came up with rational geometrical grids that always worked perfectly on paper but often needed tweaking to accommodate local property owners or ancient ruins.
Kleanthis and Schaubert arrived in Athens in the early months of 1831 and this in spite of the fact that the Turkish garrison did not depart until 1833. Athens was not declared the capital of Greece until 1834. You have to admire their chutzpah and optimism. Kleanthis was just shy of 30 years old when he and Schaubert bought a large ramshackle building hard against the north slope of the acropolis in an area still called Rizocastro. It was likely built before 1700. Renovating these two was a doddle and it was soon habitable, parts of it even suitable for renting – a godsend to anyone needing a roof over their head in the early 1830s. There were not many roofs to be found.
This is how it looked after their renovations
They would later donate this building for use as the First University of Athens which was situated here from 1837 to 1841. It is now the Museum of the History of the University of Athens and well worth a visit. Their bird’s eye view from the upper balcony would have revealed a small town at their feet and then endless fields stretching north to Mount Parnitha and east to Mount Pendeli. If they looked up, they might have spied a member of the Turkish garrison staring back.
The museum is situated at 5 Tholo Street in the Plaka
The City Plan
Apparently Kleanthis and Schaubert received the go ahead to plan the city of Athens soon after they arrived. Kleanthis wrote, ‘it must be equal to the ancient fame and glory of the city and worthy of the century in which we live’. Their proposal was presented in 1833. It included wide boulevards and extensive gardens.
I have colour coded this plan below:
It was a right-angled
isosceles triangle with what is now Omonia Square on the top of the picture
with the proposed royal palace for king Othon marked by the red square. The
king, had the palace been built, would have had a clear view to the acropolis
to the south via sumptuous gardens and what is now Athena Street. The bottom of the triangle is Ermou Street
(in yellow). The line running from the proposed palace in blue was to be
Stadiou Street and would extend in a straight line to the ancient stadium which
is in the bottom right hand corner of the plan. The green line is Piraeus Street
which would have extended via the Thission past the ancient cemetery of
Kerameikos. The grid system in the
triangle and beyond to the north is obvious in the pla
It didn’t all happen.
In the rash of land buying and selling that had been taking place in Athens as Ottomans sold up and left and wealthy Greeks from the diaspora came in buying whatever they could find, any plan of Athens submitted in 1833 would have to consider their concerns. And then there was the money issue. The gardens were deemed too expensive, the boulevards too wide. King Ludwig (2) that intrepid Philhellene and father of Greece’s future king brought in two of his own architects from Munich, Leo von Klenze and Friedrich von Gartner to tweak the plan. It is thanks to Klenze that we still have that rabbit warren of streets in Psirri. On the downside Klenze is also responsible for eradicating any monument in the centuries between 1830 and the classical period. The acropolis lost its famous medieval tower and any other buildings that were less than classical. He took on the Acropolis renovation with a vengeance and pared it down to the time of Pericles. Nothing that happened in between was to be visible nor was it considered interesting. The first tickets to the ‘new’ site were issued to visitors in 1835.
The prospective positioning of the royal palace was a thorny issue and the Kleanthis-Schaubert idea was scrapped. There were many ideas. The Thission area was considered. Another plan submitted by Freidrich von Shinkel was an extravaganza on the acropolis itself that luckily never happened:
Schinkel has been described as an architect of neoclassicism and the neo gothic. Well... The Parthenon was in there somewhere as was a sunken hippodrome!
Finally the palace was placed where it is today at the junction of Ermou and Stadiou Streets. It now functions as the Greek parliament.
In spite of the alterations to the 1833 Athens plan, the bones of the city centre still follow the Kleanthis and Schaubert plan as a look at any modern map of the city centre will confirm.
During this period, the pair also drew up plans for Piraeus. It was a busy time.
The 1834 Kleanthis-Schaubert plan for Piraeus
They designed warehouses for the city too; their ruins still stand today.
The Architect Strikes Out on his Own
Kleanthis and Schaubert eventually went their separate ways. Schaubert became more interested in archaeology than building. In 1843, he had lost his job for the Greek government because of a new law forbidding civil service jobs to anyone not native born, Greeks from the diaspora included. Schaubert did some archaeological work in Greece after that but left permanently in 1850.
Many of the buildings Kleanthis created for private citizens no longer exist because they were built in the city centre, an area constantly undergoing change. One prime example of a lost Kleanthis neoclassical design is the Ambrosios Rallis House on Klafthmonos Square. It was built in 1835 and later served as the British Embassy until it was torn down in 1939.
The imposing Rallis mansion
As far as public buildings such as a university or a library were concerned, he kept losing out to German architects or one of the Hansen brothers. According to one historian he did have a hand in the design of Saint Paul’s Anglican Church on Filhellinon Street (off Syntagma Square). It opened its doors on Palm Sunday in 1843 and is still going strong.
That gothic experience would have been good practice for his commissions to build for the rich and eccentric Duchess of Plaisance. She had married the French duke at 17 and regretted it not long after. She became a confirmed Phihellene, contributed to the cause, and settled in Greece in 1834. She was so wealthy she could afford almost any eccentricity. When her only daughter died in 1835, she kept her embalmed body in her home for years. She often claimed communion with the spirit world but was apparently afraid of being buried alive. She demanded that her own mausoleum must have doors which opened from the inside. They say she never completely finished a dwelling she had built because she was convinced that, if she did, she would die. There are so many myths surrounding the duchess that it is hard to separate the real from the imagined.
Her own self image was rather grand...
In 1841, Kleanthis built her tower house in Pendeli:
In 1848, he built the bucolic Villa Ilissia, for the duchess. Today it is in the centre of Athens and the Christian and Byzantine Museum. Back then it was a venue for soirees and, one assumes, the odd séance:
The Villa Ilissia
When it came to wealthy clients in the 1840s severity and simplicity, and even the canons of Neoclassicism went out the window. The picturesque and the romantic prevailed.
Kleanthis must have been delighted to have the opportunity to design for one of the wealthiest women in Greece at the time. I wonder if they had a lot in common. Like Kleanthis, she was a large landowner. (The Metro station of Dukissa Plakentias is named in her honour because it is built on her land.) Like Kleanthis she owned marble quarries, in her case on nearby Mount Pendeli. She had connections to the Greek royal court and he did too to some extent because of his marriage to Efrosini Karatza. Whatever the relationship was personally, it was a good business one. She commissioned Kleanthis to build yet another building in Pendeli, the castle of Rododaphni. It is a ruin today and, in fact, was not completed before her death in 1854. (3)
Kleanthis’ wife, Efrosini Karatza (1790-1890) was an extremely well connected lady from a famous Phanariot family. Her father had been dragoman (translator) for the Sultan in 1808 and her grandfather a prince of Wallachia. Her brother Georgios was a Greek general and he was married to Aikaterini Botsari, the daughter of famous freedom fighter Markos Botsaris. It would be hard to be better connected to the Athens elite than that! The marble business went well and his marble won a gold medal at the Great Exhibition of London in 1851. Life was good until the fatal accident in 1862 ended his life at the age of 60.
What was he Like?
There is little written about his personal life and the single photograph that appears in every article about him is a tad disappointing:
I wish someone had painted him on his arrival in Greece in 1829, or as a member of the sacred band in 1821. This just seems too tame for such an interesting life. The figure poring over a town plan at the beginning of this text has been labelled Kleanthis by some and Schaubert by others. The painter is unknown so we cannot ask him.
One Kleanthis work can be seen in the Protestant Section of the First Cemetery of Athens. He designed the austere grave marker in row F for Bettina von Savigny, wife of Konstantinos Schinas, who died young during an epidemic in 1835:
(1)The original Theban Sacred Band consisted of pairs of lovers. Philip of Macedon buried them together after their defeat at Chaeronea in 338 BC.
(2) King Ludwig did a great deal for Athens and there should be a main street or square named after him today. There was one once, but it got renamed. Greek history has more memorable events and heroes than squares. One wag said that it was not so much an honour to have a street or square named after you in Athens as it is having that street or square stay named after you.
(3) Alas she is not buried in the First Cemetery, her story would have been a wonderful one to recount. When she died, her nephew gave all of her lands to the Greek state.