Envisioning a New European Metropolis, Designing the Athens Observatory (1842)
(in collaboration with architect Spiros Flevaris)
As soon as Greece was declared an independent nation-state and became a monarchy ruled by King Othon (1833-1862), several educated Europeans settled in the new capital aiming to modernize it. Othon himself, enthused by the idea of reviving the spirit of classical antiquity in Athens, commissioned a number of European architects, mainly Germans, Danish, and Greeks who had studied in Germany, to design the new capital around the ancient city’s most significant monuments. The architect Theophil Hansen was among them and the National Observatory was one of the first commissioned projects that stood at the crossroads of modern science and political power.During this period Athens had the potential of becoming the Metropolis for both the Greek Diaspora—who had risen to prominence, particularly in Europe—and the Greeks that were still under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. While the city was indeed transformed from a small village into a European-like metropolis, the observatory symbolized the orientation of the new state towards the classical past. This orientation was the result of a network of powers defined by the Bavarians who administered the newly independent country; the King’s visions of modernity; the political and social expectations of those Greeks who had been educated in Vienna and made a fortune trading goods from east to west; the resentment of the Greeks for the monarchy that was forced upon the country – which was to remain without a constitution until 1843. At the intersection of urban history, architectural studies, and history of science, our project has the ambition to raise interest in the history of modern Greek science, among the least studied modern scientific culture, and to historicize the notion of metropolis, keeping in mind that the binaries it implies are always constructed by our own narratives.
Photo credit: The Athens Observatory, courtesy of Nikos Matsopoulos personal archive.