When talking about Greece, I often find myself using the fact that everything there is really old as one of ways that it’s super interesting. Thinking about it a little more, it’s not just the fact that things are old that makes them cool, it’s that when things have been around for a long time, it’s that they can’t help but influence everything that comes after it in some way or another, big or small. And I think that’s especially true of the Greeks—when you visit Athens, sometimes it’s as if you’re watching a timeline of human history going back three thousand years. This is where we were and this is what we did then, and then this came after, and then this is now. It can be like a living time capsule. Just one of the many reasons I can’t get enough of it!
Nothing embodies that time capsule more than architecture. I’m definitely no slouch, but I’ve always been a little jealous of those people who know so much about style and structure that they can walk by a building tell you right off the bat around when it was built and why it looks like it does. The number of things that have stuck around for all those thousands of years is pretty small (hello, Acropolis!), but you really can walk through Athens with one of our architecture tour guides and be amazed by how many years of culture can be stored into a few different building styles.
One of the most prevalent of these that you’ll see all around Athens is the Neoclassical style, particularly the Greek revival stage of the 19th century. The reason I say it’s like culture is stored inside a building style is that you can’t learn a little about a kind of design without learning a lot about what came before it. Neoclassicism in Greece in no different, especially since the Greeks themselves were the original Classics! It’s definitely a lot easier to take artistic inspiration from the ancient Greeks when the Parthenon is sitting right in front of you. Anyway, that’s just the tip of the Neoclassical iceberg. You might know that the Renaissance was all about the “rediscovery” of all the artistic ideas of the ancient Greeks and Romans. It’s kind of cool to think about: even 700 years ago, people were just as captivated by those mysterious, ancient ruins and remnants on the Acropolis as we are now! In fact, the reason that we often think of early Medieval times as being the “Dark Ages” is really just because the folks who got the Renaissance going believed that the ancients had something amazing going for them that had since been lost, and now needed to be “rediscovered.”
Anyway, the Renaissance was a big, cool thing that happened, but after a couple hundred years, art continued to evolve along its own course, and at a certain point, the artists and architects of the day thought that it was a good time to check back in on those good ol’ fashioned Greek and Roman values. They got the idea that there was a kind of beautiful simplicity in the mathematical and proportionally inspired structures of ancient Greek temples (like I said, hello Parthenon), and so in the late 1700s you started to see a lot of big buildings that look like they might have been built in the heyday of Pericles. As you can imagine, this was especially true in Greece, which having finally achieved independence in 1832, went on a bit of a building spree. Some of modern Athens’ most interesting buildings, like the House of Parliament in Syntagma Square, the National Library building, and the”Zappeion” of the National Gardens (you can find pictures of all below) are shining examples of the “Greek revival” period in Neoclassical architecture. It’s this kind of reunion of the ancient and the modern that makes Athens today cool and fascinating in so many ways outside of your standard Acropolis-hike tourist fare. When you get a taste of the new, you can’t help but get a taste of all the old that helped make the new.
Those buildings might be some of the biggest and most prominent examples of Greek neoclassicism, but the whole point is that if you know what you’re looking for, you can really see it everywhere. It’s in the streets, it’s in the squares, and it’s definitely in the houses—if you decide to do a vacation with us, we can set you up in our “Heritage House,” a beautifully restored neoclassical home in the Thisseo neighborhood that lets you live and feel the aesthetic which has so much history and culture behind it. What that specifically means is a story for another post—tomorrow, perhaps—but until then, do some research on your own, and if you ask us, we’ll be sure to point you in the right direction!