Saturday, July 24, 2010

Athens 1999-2004 (continued)-Monasteraki etc.

From the mosque (Ceramics Museum) and the Library of Hadrian and all the rest, everything was carefully excavated. This was no time or place for just barging through. That is why a selection of finds is exhibited at all the major stations. It's not just P.R., it's very instructive. Building the Metro revealed the water distribution system of Athens, beginning in the Peisistratid period.

When you Google, or otherwise search for "monasteraki", you will find nothing like what you see here. Of course, much of what they photograph is at the foot of Pandrosos or Metropoleos or one of the other streets that come into Monasteraki, but increasingly the show takes over the Plateia. The last time I was there, in Summer 2000, the whole area was constructively torn up so as to complete the Metro station where the two new lines join the old line, formerly simply the Piraeus railway station. But Hadrian's library and some other antiquities were properly studied in the process.

I have emphasized the transalpine 19th century character of Athena Street. So we need to do a thumbnail-level history.
In the plan, from John Travlos's Poleodomiki Exelixis ton Athenon (Urban Development of Athens), 1960, his doctoral dissertation, we see the neighborhoods of Athens on the eve of the War of Independence. The familiar European city plan is nowhere in evidence. Pazari, in the center, is the Greek for bazaar.

When the familiar mosque (though it was the tiny monastic church of the Pantanassa that gave the plateia its name) was built in 1759, it was this small, traditional town of ethnic neighborhoods that it was built in. All of the Athens that looks quite old nowadays, especially after earthquake damage in 1999 (not to mention earlier ones, and unrest through a century and a half), replaced an unplanned town governed by property rights and pre-existing paths. The newest buildings were Turkish, a medresa, some mosques, some ruling-class houses.
The 1759 mosque, 'Kato Sintrivani', with the Piraeus railway station at far right and, just as today, the Acropolis in the background

By the time that it occurred to me to photograph the Monasteraki mosque, on a cold February afternoon in 1960, the plateia was well established, but the tourist trade was largely confined to the tributary narrow streets. There were even shops that made nothing but turned wooden eggs, having learned that ladies would buy and collect them, just as men would buy plastic "worry beads" (not ill named; a very good alternative to fingernail biting). One street, Pandrosos, had many fake painted vases and even a few genuine ones (which had to be registered and taken to an office over by the Byzantine Museum to obtain an exit permit). But one could also buy miniature tsarouchia, properly made, for one's infant nephews. Still, Monasteraki looked very much as it did in photos taken before one's own birth.
The von Klenze proposal of 1834, in which, for the first time we see Athena Street running due NS crossed by Hermes Street due EW.

It was with the Bavarian king, Otto, in 1833, that modern Athens, Athens as we know it was born. Already in von Klenze's 1834 proposed plan we see the streets that still today are our compass. And compass is well mentioned, since strict compasss points may be part of the explanation for the Kapnikarea church and the Panaghia Gorgoepêkoös (Little Metropolis) churches being in the middle of the streets. If we look at the Kaupert Atlas (1875) plan, we see pretty much all of walkable Athens surviving today. We even can find the Grande Bretagne Hotel if we know where to look.
By the 1875 edition of Kaupert's atlas, the published street plan is even clearer; the Etoile charaacter of Omonia is plain, and the Panathenaic stadium, though not yet fully restored for the first modern Olympic Games, as well as Stadium, Panepistemiou, and Academy Streets, tying the Syntagma zone to that of Omonia, are present.

Probably the opening of a MacDonalds on the west side of Monasteraki (I wasn't there when it opened) also contributed to its becoming a mecca for Youth, the Youth who do not hang out at Kolonaki, peppering their small talk with bits of French for all the world like the Chinese tennis-playing court in Das Land des Lächelns by Franz Lehar. Well, in Sakellaridhis Greece had already had her operettas, just as the USA and Argentina and Spain (and doubtless everyone else) had had. But the Youth that crowd Monasteraki today (or yesterday?) are cosmopolitan in a quite different sense.

The aforementioned MacDonald's is on the upper floor of a building opposite the mosque, a previously unremarkable commercial site. This photo and the next were taken from its windows. Shooting through glass is not ideal, but gaining height can be critical, and the excavation crane makes a good repoussoir.
As for the little monastic church, and its somewhat later bell tower, I could almost swear that I never saw it before the semi-permanent stalls alongside the Kato Sintrivani mosque were demolished to dig for the Metro. In any case, we can see it in some old prints and it is there today.
Finally, leaving the other views to the Picasa album made for this post, and the close views of the Kapnikarea Church to the album on Byzantine Greece, here, two blocks east of Monasteraki in a view characteristic both of an early afternoon on a Sunday and of central Athens only ten months after the 1999 earthquake, is my favorite photograph of Hermes Street, with the Kapnikarea right across it.

All of the above images can be zoomed by clicking on them