Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Notre Dame, when “Gothic ticking” stopped

text - images: Babis Pavlopoulos - iconstravel photography
language: English, Ελληνικά

Paris, Notre Dame, begun 1163.

It was February of 1998, when the time found us for first time in Paris. An unbelievable road trip, started from Utrecht Netherlands, brought us in the “city of light”. I remember that I knew almost nothing about the city, but I was sure that I was feeling very nice walking along the Parisian streets, even though Paris was architecturally very heavy for us. Wandering by foot on these streets, from the Eiffel tower to Montmartre, we reached Ile de la Cite. This small island in the middle of the flow of Seine, the core around which Paris developed. Suddenly, my “architectural” time stopped. All the heavy Parisian buildings had disappeared. In front of my eyes a specific elegant and elaborate stonework was standing.  A huge building ready to dance on the rhythm of the wind. But… a so strange building. My first thought was that it reminded us of a spider.
It was the church of Notre Dame! Notre Dame was the first of the most impressive and important Gothic cathedrals that built in Europe during the Middle times, which I visited. Later, I learned that the element that created the image of a spider on my mind was the flying buttresses of the building, one of the most typical elements of Gothic architecture.
Since that time, a large amount of water run on the bottom of Seine. In the meantime, I learned about Gothic architecture, I also visited other monuments, built in this architectural style, some of them important, some others not so much, and my Gothic “architectural” time continued ticking. Until yesterday evening, that my “Gothic ticking” stopped. I am sure not only mine…

Paris, Notre Dame, southeast view, after 1258. We can discern all the typical features of Gothic architecture, the choir, the transept, the flying buttresses, the spire and the west towers. 

It is considered that we can detect the first breath of the Gothic style on July 14, 1140. Actually, it can be argued that the foundation stone of Gothic architecture was laid very close to Paris during the rebuilding of the choir of the Benedictine abbey church of St Denis on this day. A work of the highest artistic achievement, the choir harmoniously integrates the elements and motifs we now consider typically Gothic, and thus effectively established the basis for the emergence of the style. Even though, the choir’s importance is undisputed, the building of the choir should not be seen in isolation. It was part of social, political and philosophical developments that have begun several decades earlier. Medieval era was much more than anything we have on our minds.
Notre Dame is probably the building that epitomized the history of Paris. The monument is built above the remnants of a Roman temple. The first stone was laid in 1163, making the start of two centuries of toil by armies of Gothic architects and medieval craftsmen, but was largely completed around 1260. After the French Revolution, the church was seriously damaged. Extended renovations, including the addition of the spire on the roof, were carried out in the 19th Century by the architect, Viollet le Duc.
As has been said the monument is a substantial example of the high Gothic architecture. The unique proportioned west façade is considered as a masterpiece of this architectural style. Simultaneously, its innovative use of the rib-vaults and the flying-buttresses, its enormous and colourful rose windows and the naturalism and abundance of its sculptural decoration place it in an outstanding position in the world architecture.

Paris, Notre Dame, the transept with the rose windows. 
Right, the massif  buttresses which counter the outward thrust from the rib vaults of the nave.

Notre Dame is roughly 128 meters in length, and 12 meters wide in the nave. Its cruciform plan, elevated nave, transept and tower were borrowed from 11th-Century Romanesque architecture, but its pointed arches and rib vaulting were strictly Gothic. In fact, it is one of the first Gothic Cathedrals to have arched exterior supports known as “flying buttresses”. There were not incorporated into the initial architecture of the building, but were included when stress fractures began to appear in the thin upper walls as they cracked under the weight of the vault. In addition of the flying buttresses, over a dozen supporting piers were constructed to support the exterior walls and counteract the lateral thrust of the nave building.
The church, as most of the Gothic churches do, consists of the nave, the choir, the transept, the apse and the ambulatory. The nave is covered by early six-part rib vaults. The ribs transferred the thrust of the weight of the roof downward and outwards to the pillars and the supporting buttresses.
The church is also famous for its external statues and gargoyles arranged around the outside to serve as extra column supports and drainage pipes. As Gothic buildings designers hoped, the additional reinforcement provided by the buttresses, piers and other stone supports enabled the main walls of the cathedral to become non-structural, and thus a greater wall area was available for stained glass, in order to inspire worshippers  and illuminate the cathedral's interior. Indeed, Notre Dame cathedral exemplifies the main contributions of Gothic art to Christian architecture: churches soared higher and were awe-inspiring, while their stained glass windows let in more light and provided additional Biblical art for the congregation. Thus the clerestory windows of Notre Dame's original nave were enlarged in the 13th Century, filling the interior with light, thanks to the improvements achieved in structural support. 

France, Reims, cathedral of Notre Dame, west façade, after 1254

Notre Dame's stern façade is decorated with a mass of stone sculpture, notably around the central portal, which is flanked by statues depicting the Last Judgement. The façade design balances the verticality of the twin towers (69 meters in height) with the horizontal banding of the decorated galleries. This produces a simple but powerful western elevation, which dominates the square in front.
The cathedral's transept portals are also richly decorated with architectural relief sculpture; the south door features scenes from the lives of St. Stephen along with other local saints, while the decorations around the north door depict the infancy of Christ and the tale of Theophilus.

Prague, Gothic cathedral of St. Vitus, begun 1344. The choir covered by rib vaults. 
The pointed arched structures dominate.

As we all know, on 15 April of 2019, Notre Dame was partially damaged by a fire during restoration works. Some architects said that one of the most vulnerable phase of a monument is the period of the renovation. Notre Dame could confirm it!

Cutaway of  the cruciform type Gothic basilica.

Germany, Nuremberg, Gothic church of Frauenkirche (1350-58), west façade

Netherlands, Utrecht, the Gothic cathedral of St. Martin, begun in 1254. 

Prague, Gothic cathedral of St. Vitus (begun 1344). The rose window of the main façade, internal view.

Prague, Gothic cathedral of St. Vitus, the west-work. 
Sculptural decoration around the main door and the rose window above.

Netherlands, Harlem, Gothic church of St. Bavo.

Prague, Gothic cathedral of St. Vitus, stained glass

Prague, Gothic cathedral of St. Vitus, Golden Gate (1362-67), detail. 
Until the 19th Century it was the main gate of the cathedral

Παναγία των Παρισίων, όταν ο "γοτθικός χρόνος" σταμάτησε

Ήταν Φεβρουάριος του μακρινού 1998, όταν βρεθήκαμε για πρώτη φορά στο Παρίσι, καταλήγοντας εκεί μετά από ένα απίστευτο road-trip, το οποίο ξεκίνησε από την Ουτρέχτη στην Ολλανδία. Θυμάμαι ότι φθάνοντας εκεί δεν ήξερα σχεδόν τίποτα για τη πόλη, αλλά ήμουν πολύ χαρούμενος που περπατούσα στους δρόμους της, αν και τέτοιου είδους πόλεις, μας πέφτουν λίγο βαριές αρχιτεκτονικά. Περιπλανώμενοι λοιπόν στην πόλη, από τον πύργο του Άιφελ ως τη Μονμάρτη κάποια στιγμή φθάσαμε και στο Ιλ ντε λα Σιτέ, εκείνο το μικρό νησάκι στη μέση του Σηκουάνα, το οποίο και θεωρείται ο πυρήνας γύρω από τον οποίο αναπτύχθηκε το Παρίσι αρχικά. Περάσαμε τις γέφυρες και βρεθήκαμε απέναντι, όταν ξαφνικά ο «αρχιτεκτονικός» μου χρόνος σταμάτησε. Όλα τα βαριά παριζιάνικα κτήρια είχαν χαθεί από τα μάτια μου. Εμπρός μου στεκόταν ένα υπέροχο αέρινο και συνάμα βαρύ κτίσμα, ένα κτίσμα που παρά το βάρος του ήταν έτοιμο να κινηθεί στον ρυθμό του ανέμου. Αλλά ήταν τόσο παράξενο το κτήριο αυτό. Η αλήθεια είναι ότι μας θύμιζε έντομο και ειδικά αράχνη λόγω αυτών των σειρών από εξέχοντα εναέρια τόξα. Ήταν βέβαια ο ναός της Παναγίας των Παρισίων, ο πρώτος από τους σπουδαιότερους γοτθικούς ναούς τους Ευρωπαϊκού Μεσαίωνα που επισκέφθηκα. Αργότερα βέβαια, έμαθα ότι αυτές οι, τόσο ανορθόδοξες στα μάτια μου, κατασκευές λέγονταν «εναέριες αντηρίδες» και είναι ένα από τα πιο χαρακτηριστικά στοιχεία της γοτθικής αρχιτεκτονικής.
Από τη ημέρα εκείνη πολύ νερό κύλησε στην κοίτη του Σηκουάνα. Στο μεταξύ ασχολήθηκα εκτενώς με την γοτθική (και όχι μόνο) αρχιτεκτονική, επισκέφθηκα πολλούς ναούς αυτού του στυλ, άλλους ιδιαίτερα σημαντικούς και άλλους λιγότερο και ο «αρχιτεκτονικός» χρόνος συνέχισε να κυλά. Ως χθες το απόγευμα όπου ο χρόνος αυτός σταμάτησε. Και είμαι σίγουρος, όχι μόνο ο δικός μου…
Χωρίς αμφιβολία η γοτθική αρχιτεκτονική εμφανίζεται με την ανακατασκευή της αψίδας (choir, «χορός», ουσιαστικά το τμήμα που περιέχει τον χώρο του ιερού) στον μοναστηριακό ναό του Σεντ Ντενί, λίγο χιλιόμετρα βόρεια του Παρισιού. Η θεμέλια λίθος του ρυθμού αυτού τοποθετήθηκε στις 14 Ιουλίου 1140. Η κατασκευή αυτή ήταν κάτι νέο για την ως τότε ευρωπαϊκή ναοδομία, ευρύχωρη, δυναμική και γεμάτη χρώματα. Η πολύπλοκη κάτοψη της νέας κατασκευής δεν μπορούσε να στεγαστεί με απλά σταυροθόλια (θόλους σε διασταύρωση), έτσι καταλληλότερος τρόπος κρίθηκε ότι είναι η χρήση οξύκορφων θόλων με νευρώσεις. Νευρώσεις μπορεί να είχαν ξαναχρησιμοποιηθεί, αλλά τώρα αποκτούν και δομικό ρόλο. Ακόμα, τα επίσης οξύκορφα τόξα που εντάσσονται στη νέα τεχνική μεταβιβάζουν πολύ μικρότερες πλάγιες ωθήσεις σε σχέση με τους ημικυκλικούς θόλους. Από εκεί και κάτω οι φέροντες πεσσοί ως συνέχεια των νευρώσεων των θόλων, μεταβιβάζουν το φορτίο αυτό στο έδαφος. Με αυτόν τον τρόπο τα κελύφη δεν έχουν πια στατικό ρόλο και μπορεί η μάζα τους να μειωθεί στο ελάχιστο. Έτσι γεννήθηκε ένας νέος ρυθμός, οποίος ουσιαστικά αποτελεί την βάση της σύγχρονης αρχιτεκτονικής (αρχιτεκτονική σκελετού) και η αψίδα γίνεται κυρίαρχο χαρακτηριστικό του γοτθικού ρυθμού.
Πάντως, παρά τη σπουδαιότητα της κατασκευής αυτής, δεν πρέπει να την ερμηνεύσουμε μονοδιάστατα, καθώς είναι επίσης αποτέλεσμα κοινωνικών, πολιτικών και φιλοσοφικών αναζητήσεων. Αυτό που ονομάζουμε Μεσαίωνας, συχνά μάλιστα με δηκτική διάθεση, ήταν σίγουρα κάτι πολύ παραπάνω από αυτό που έχουμε συνήθως στο μυαλό μας.
Η Παναγία των Παρισίων είναι πιθανώς ένα κτήριο επιτομή για την ιστορίας της πόλης. Ο ναός είναι χτισμένος πάνω στα ερείπια ρωμαϊκού ναού. Θεμελιώθηκε το 1163, αλλά χρειάστηκε να περάσουν στρατιές από αρχιτέκτονες και τεχνίτες για να ολοκληρωθεί μετά από δύο αιώνες. Βέβαια περίπου το 1260 ο ναός είχε, κατά το μεγαλύτερό του μέρος, ολοκληρωθεί. Το τέλος της Γαλλικής Επανάστασης βρίσκει το μνημείο με εκτεταμένες ζημιές. Σημαντικό πρόγραμμα αποκατάστασης εφαρμόστηκε τον 19ο αιώνα από τον αρχιτέκτονα  Viollet le duc, συμπεριλαμβανομένου και του βέλους της οροφής.
Όπως ήδη ειπώθηκε ο ναός αποτελεί ένα υπέροχο δείγμα της γοτθικής αρχιτεκτονικής. Η μοναδικά διαρθρωμένη δυτική όψη θεωρείται ένα αριστούργημα του ρυθμού αυτού, ενώ ταυτόχρονα η καινοτόμος χρήση των θόλων με νευρώσεις και των εναέριων αντηρίδων, οι μεγάλοι και πολύχρωμοι ρόδακες και η αφθονία της ιδιαίτερα πλαστικής γλυπτικής διακόσμησης τοποθετούν το ναό σε εξέχουσα θέση για την παγκόσμια αρχιτεκτονική.
Από τα πιο σημαντικά στοιχεία της πρώτης φάσης του ναού μπορεί να θεωρηθεί η τετραμερής καθ΄ ύψος  διάταξη (τοξοστοιχία, σειρά με αψιδώματα, τριφόρια, φωταγωγός με υαλοστάσια), οι στρογγυλοί πεσσοί και το σύστημα των θόλων σε έξι τμήματα. Η όψη ανακατασκευάστηκε σε μετέπειτα φάση όταν πια τα τριφόρια και ο φωταγωγός συγχωνεύτηκαν. Το σύστημα με τις εναέριες αντηρίδες, όπως ήδη ειπώθηκε, χρησιμοποιήθηκε εδώ για πρώτη φορά. Οι πλάγιες όψεις με τους πυλώνες και τους μεγάλους ρόδακες προστέθηκαν όταν επεκτάθηκε το εγκάρσιο κλίτος. Η σειρά με τα αγάλματα βασιλέων στη δυτική όψη είναι η πρώτη του είδους και αναπαριστά μία ιδεατή γενεαλογία των Γάλλων μοναρχών. Καταστράφηκε κατά τη Γαλλική Επανάσταση και τα κατάλοιπά της σήμερα βρίσκονται στο μουσείο Κλυνί.
Έτσι ο ναός έφθασε στις ημέρες μας ως ένα οικοδόμημα μήκους 128 μέτρων και πλάτους 12 (πλάτος κυρίως σώματος, δεν υπολογίζεται το εγκάρσιο κλίτος), στην μορφή της σταυροειδούς βασιλικής.
Δυστυχώς όμως, όπως όλοι γνωρίζουμε, στις 15 Απριλίου του 2019, ο ναός της Παναγίας των Παρισίων έπαθε σοβαρές ζημιές από φωτιά, κατά τη διάρκεια εργασιών αποκατάστασης. Πολλοί αρχιτέκτονες-αναστηλωτές λένε πως μία από τις πιο επικίνδυνες φάσεις ενός μνημείου είναι η περίοδος αποκατάστασής του. Η Παναγιά των Παρισίων θα μπορούσε πιά να το επιβεβαιώσει!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Mt Pelion, one of the most complete surviving complex-sets of the Urban Balkan Traditional Architecture

Texts & images: Babis Pavlopoulos – iconstravel photography

Vyzitsa, Kontos mansion (1792). 
A typical example of the urban Balkan architecture as presented in Mt Pelion.

Pelion Mountain is located in central Greece. Actually it is an arm-peninsula projected into Aegean Sea. Even though it is not a very tall and big mountain, Pelion is a beautiful place with forests and rich flora, in which we can find a large number of traditional villages that some of which are listed as A zone Traditional Settlements. In fact, these villages manage to preserve one of the most complete surviving complex-sets of the urban Balkan traditional architecture.

Pinakates in autumn. Stone buildings covered by slate slabs.

The images that can be found in Pelion are amazing.

In Balkan Peninsula, especially after its consolidation under the Ottoman Empire, a common type of traditional architecture is presented as the mainstream. The only part that is probably excluded is the south of the Greek area, where a different type of architecture, a more simple and introverted type flourished, but without the main Balkan style being completely unknown. The roots of the urban Balkan architectural type can be detected in the secular Byzantine architecture, perhaps also in ancient Greek architecture*.

Ano Lechonia, Olympios tower-house. Originally built in rectangular ground plan, in 1860 a small wing was added. The upper storey was rebuilt without its original bold projections. Nevertheless, the tower preserves its character as an early defensive building. Perhaps start of the 18th Century or earlier. 

The special characteristics of this Balkan traditional style that flourished from the 16th Century until the 19th Century, are the projected parts with the wooden skeletons and the soft masonries of the upper levels of the buildings, the repeating series of windows with skylights above, the wooden lace-like cornices of the roofs, the defensive features and the extroverted appearance. The projected parts are named “sachnisi”, a word with Persian origin that means the seat of Sachis, the Persian king. The term is referring to the often richly decorated internal spaces behind these projected structures.

Ano Lechonia, Kokoslis tower-house, a multi-storey building. The original bold projections have disappeared after the conversions of the end of the 19th Century. An added half-round staircase turret also belongs to these conversions. Perhaps, at the start of the 18th century or earlier. 

The generational roots of the settlements in Pelion could be queried at the establishment of some great monasteries in the area, during the 12th and the 13th Centuries. These monasteries became the cores, around which the settlements were built. After the Turkish conquest in the 15th century, Turks never settled on the high levels of the mountain, remaining close to the sea and to the plain.
During the second part of the 18th Century, the Greek population, living in the mountain settlements due to their commercial activity, reached great economic prosperity. They engaged in several kinds of craft industries, like tanning, silk-craft, weaving, simultaneously cultivating figs and olives and producing olive-oil and wooden dishes.

Makrynitsa, Skotyniotis tower-house (perhaps before 1700). This is a four-storey tower-residence, which may also have served as a gate tower for the enclosed property. For many years the tower was  in poor condition but it has been carefully restored. 

Makrynitsa, Konstantinidis tower-house, the main construction of a building complex.  This is a square, three-storey fortified building, restored with respect to its original form. The bold projected parts are very typical for the old tower-houses in Pelion.

As very often happens, the architecture became the reflection of this economic prosperity. It is worth noting that the first mansions, built at the end of the 18th Century, are known as “houses of prosperity”. These buildings were typical examples of the urban Balkan architecture.
The older structures that survive in the area, dated in the first half of the same century or earlier, were built in a similar type but more introverted, with more defensive elements, very close to the lone-standing countryside-tower. The main differences were the height of the building, and also the ground plan. These tower-houses were multi-storey with particularly bold projections on the upper levels, mainly built in square ground plan, with absence of openings on the main body, except for the high positioned door, guarded by a machicolation** above, and a number of shot-slits. In general, their appearance can be characterized as “brutal”. Most of them, especially the ottoman towers, were built in farmlands.

Ano Lechonia, the ruined Souleiman five-storey tower-house. The upper storey with the projected structures has disappeared. We can discern the high positioned entrance and the shot-slits above. The absence of openings on the main body is typical.

Agios Lavrentios, Zarifis early fortified mansion (1716). The impressive architectural projection and the large arched gate characterized the appearance of the mansion. It is difficult to classify the building to the category of the tower-houses but it stands very close.

The “houses of prosperity” (1750-1830) were three-storey buildings, usually built in asymmetrical L ground plan, so that the short wing guarded the door as a flanking tower. The naked masonries with incorporated wooden beams characterized the main body and the projected parts of the higher level. Shot-slits and machicolations can also be found, enabling us talk about fortified residences for most of them and for all of the early buildings of this type. In Pelion, security problems were present until the end of the 19th century. Another important feature was the richly decorated internal space of these buildings with colourful paintings or elaborate wooden structures, especially in the upper parts. The upper part of each mansion behind the projections was used as summer place. The roofs were always covered by slate-tiles.

Makrynitsa, the Axelos family tower-house in the central square of the settlement. The tower originally built in square ground plan has lost important features of its original form. Perhaps first half of the 18th Century. 

Makrynitsa, Vaytzis mansion (1761). This is the oldest dated example of the “houses of  prosperity” in the complete form of a tower-mansion. It is a very important mansion because it preserves the semi-open place at the upper level, the “hayat” (Turkish=life). It is believed that this feature was originally the mainstream for the upper floors of the mansions in Pelion. The character of the residence is completed by the large height, the high positioned entrance, the machicolation above it and the shot-slits pointing  in every direction. On the other hand the projected parts were lookouts for the place around like hanging turrets. Under the “sachnisi” the machicolation is discerned.

After the third decade of the 19th Century, constructions with symmetrical features on the façades began to be build, the “houses of the central symmetrical axis” or “houses of latent decline” (1830-1860). They preserved many features of the previous type. Except for the symmetrical positioned features on the masonries, the projections became more timid and the small, central, elegant, polygonal “sachnisi” dominated the main façade and the typical central axis.
The last category that we can classify the residences in Pelion is the “houses of decline” (1860-1910), the reflection of the impact of the industrial revolution in the area. Nevertheless, even in this period, important houses were built in a type which combines the local traditional architecture and the Neoclassical style. Some of these buildings are known as Egyptian type mansions, because they owned to cotton merchants who returned back from Egypt. The external staircase, the elaborate cages, the arcades in front of open porticos and the absence of the soft projected masonries mainly characterized these buildings.

Agios Lavrentios, Glavanis mansion. The bold projected wooden structures and the machicolation above the entrance can place the building of the mansion around the middle of the 18th century. Today, the original colourful skylights above the series of windows are walled as well as the central, semi-open once “hayat” at the upper storey.  

Makrynitsa, the Diocese mansion (1815). This a very different construction than anything that was built during this period in Pelion. This is a two-storey residence, made completely by stone with timid projected parts, built in a wide-angle L ground plan. On the corner of the wide-angle L we find a small balcony like a stone pulpit, while the ground level leaves barrel-vaulted passages from the street behind to the square of Our Lady. In this place the monastery that the settlement was built around, was located.

One of the important reasons that Pelion managed to preserve this large amount of traditional architecture was a State program in which the region was included. The target of this program was the preservation of the old mansions through their conversion into hotels. The mansions that most of them had fell into serious decay, were renovated with a big respect to its original forms.
The most attractive and representative settlements in Pelion are Makrynitsa, Portaria, Vyzitsa, Pinakates, Milies, Agios Lavrentios, Ano Lechonia and Tsagkarada.

Vyzitsa, Kontos mansion (1792) south view. A three-storey building, belonging to the “houses of prosperity”. The upper level with the projected parts never changed appearance internally, because early on it had stopped being inhabited and after the start of the 20th century was just a strange attraction for the new way of life. A typical appearance for the category, naked main body masonry with wooden bounds against earthquakes in a tower-like form, “sachnisia” (the projected parts) on the higher level, windows in a repeating motif with skylights above each one and the lace-like cornice of the roof. 

Makrynitsa, Mouslis mansion (1833). Even though a late example, it is a typical one for the “houses of  prosperity”.

Anakasia, Chatzianastasis mansion (start of the 19th Century). The added flanking tower on the north side of the building.

Vyzitsa, Karagiannopoulos mansion (1791). A remarkable building for the Pelion architecture. A particularly heavy construction, imposed in the place around. The internal space of the upper storey is richly decorated.

Vyzitsa, karagiannopoulos mansion (1791), the richly decorated internal space of its upper storey. The wooden structures dominate.

Vyzitsa, karagiannopoulos mansion (1791). The wooden ceiling of the best room (ontas) in the upper storey.

Vyzitsa, Karagiannopoulos mansion (1791). Upper storey, detail of the wooden decoration.

Vyzitsa, Karagiannopoulos mansion (1791). View of the internal space of the upper storey. Parts like this that enter deep between the rooms of the floor are named “eyvans” (Turkish) or “çikmat” (Turkish) when they end at an externally projected part, like here. 

Pinakates, Koliaedis mansion (1839). A typical mansion of the 19th Century. Here it is under renovation, so the wooden skeleton of the soft masonry of the “sachnisi” is discerned. It belongs to the “houses of latent decline”. The projected corner bartizan guarded the back of the building. Once a machicolation was projected above the door.

Vyzitsa, Psichoulis mansion (1841). A big mansion belonging to the “houses of the central symmetrical axis”. We can detect it on the main façade that the small central polygonal “sachnisi”, a cage window under the previous construction and the entrance below, create a vertical symmetrical axis. 

Makrynitsa, Topalis mansion (1844). Beautiful images are often created when the weather and the building and natural environment are combined. A small turret is discerned on the one corner of the roof for the defense of the mansion. 

Vyzitsa, Michopoulos mansion (around 1850). It belongs to the “houses of latent decline”.

Pinakates, Xyradakis mansion (1840). A small three-storey mansion. The central polygonal “sachnisi”, positioned on the upper storey, is discerned. Once a machicolation covered the entrance.

Makrynitsa, Mavrakis-Vatsareas mansion (around 1830). This is a mansion, belonging to the “houses of the central symmetrical axis”, with extended use of wooden skeleton on the upper storey.

Portaria, Kadartzis mansion (1864). This is a mansion that belongs to “houses of decline”, an “Egyptian mansion”. Staircase, arcade, open porch, wave-like cornice of the roof and painted elements on the façade of the upper floor, differentiate the new type of mansions after 1860. According to testimonies the mansion was built by a Venetian architect.

Portaria, Zoulias mansion (1864). An Egyptian mansion made entirely by stone. The wooden skeletons on the upper floor of the older mansions was already forgotten.

Portaria, a late mansion (end of the 19th Century – start of  the 20th century). It stands between the Egyptian mansions, the “houses of decline”, and the neoclassical architecture.

*The architectural wooden projections were in use in the ancient Greek architecture and Hypparchos imposed heavy taxes due to the extreme use of them (A. Zachos, “Αρχιτεκτονικά Σημειώματα», Η.Χ. no 3, Ioannina 1928). In Byzantine architecture, the Justinian’s law about these structures is preserved.
**Machicolation: stone box, projected beyond the wall, with opening to the floor, which allow the defenders to control the face of the wall. Usually above entrances.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Athenian suburb of Kifissia and its architecture. Manor houses in the north of Athens

text & images: Babis Pavlopoulos - iconstravel photogrpahy

The Athenian suburb of Kifissia and its architecture. Manor houses in the north of Athens
Atlantis villa (1897), built by the famous German architect Ernst Ziller in the Neobyzantine style, using elements from the European tradition. The frieze paintings and the richly decorated console on the cornice of the roof underline the romantic sense that the building exudes.

Kifissia is a suburb of Athens located in the north of the city. Originally, until the start of the 20th Century, it was just part of the countryside around the city; a place with many trees and a great climate to live. For these reasons, at the end of the 19th Century, rich Athenian people like businessmen and politicians and also artists like poets and authors chose this place to build their countryside houses. During this period, in the big cities of Greece, owning a second residence close to nature was the trend, of course only for those who could. The newspapers of that period advertised the suburb as the healthiest and the coolest place to be.  

The Tower of Kifissia (1910), a landmark for the Athenian suburb. 
In fact it was built as a hotel (Grand Bretagne) 
and has square ground plan with a round corner tower and an inner yard, 
typical example of the Greece-Swiss style.

The residences that were built in Kifissia were not simple buildings that just followed the main architectural stream of the period in Greece, namely, the Neoclassical style. The owners of them decided that these constructions might have something special, something projected out of the Greek trend or tradition, so as to represent their social status and at the same time meeting the surrounding natural environment. The result was the creation of a completely different architectural style than anything was suggested up until this time in the neighbouring Athens or in the whole of Greece. This architectural style was named “Greek-Swiss” style and it became the mainstream for this Athenian suburb. Nevertheless, the Kifissian residences have many differences in appearance, with a variety of original forms, and even though the word ‘homogeneity” is an unknown word for this local architecture, some common typical elements can be found on these buildings.

Actually, the “Greek-Swiss” style is nothing more than part of the Historicism and the Eclecticism style. The Historicism architectural style had been born almost one century before in Europe, representing older forms in new constructions within the frame of romanticism that flourished during this period. So, for example we had the revival of the Gothic style as Neogothic, the revival of the Renaissance style as Neorenaissance etc. When architects began to collect elements of more than one style to plan new buildings, the Eclecticism style was born.

Syggros tower (end of the 19th Century), planed by Ernst Ziller. It belongs to Neogothic style with corner bartizans and battlemented parapets. Neoclassical elements are also present.

  The chapel of Syggros tower, dedicated to Saint Andreas, planed also by Ernst Ziller. The pointed arched openings, the decoration around the door, the A frame roof, the rose window above the door and the Gothic spires classify the building in the Neogothic style. Perhaps it is the only one orthodox church, built in this style.

This was the frame that architects applied to attempt to satisfy the desires of rich Athenians who aimed to obtain a residence in Kifissia. The older architectural styles that they took their inspiration from was the Gothic style, the Renaissance style, the Byzantine style and the style of the European farmhouses and generally the European rural architecture. It is worth noting that many of the owners and the architects were aware of the European architectural styles, styles that never flourished in Greece, except for the Byzantine, long time ago. Some of the owners had lived in north and central Europe and some of the architects had studied there. In fact, there was a small number of stately houses built in the Historicism style until this time, like the Castello of Rododafni and the Vila Ilissia, both owned by Duchess of Piacenza, but they could not become the inspiration for the Kifissian residences.  

The Athenian suburb of Kifissia and its architecture. Manor houses in the north of Athens

Kassavetis tower (1910), Eclecticism building, close to the English countryside style. A square tower is added at the back of the building. Greek-Swiss style.

Kassavetis tower (1910), the added square tower with the pointed roof and the painting below the cornice.

Countess De Brook residence (1900). The building stands close to the medieval era with two corner bartizans but also to the German half-timbered structures. 

Penelope Delta’s residence (before 1912), built in Neogothic style with Neoclassical elements. Penelope Delta was an author.

As has been said the variety of forms that we can find in Kifissia is inexhaustible, but if we want to classify them in categories, even though there are not fixed limits, we could separate them in three: The Eclecticism residences, the Picturesque residences and the Neoclassical residences. Only a few buildings belong in the last category  because of the reasons we mentioned in the previous lines. The category of the Eclecticism residences includes buildings with elements from all the older styles which were mentioned before, even from the Neoclassical style. So, we can find Gothic added towers, usually as corner structures, turrets or bartizans, imitation of half-timbered masonries, point arched roofs, open Renaissance porticos with Tuscan arcades, monumental Renaissance staircases, Renaissance and Gothic consoles (=roof cornice ornamented with a curved out motive, for example small blind arches or corbels), Byzantine arcades and masonries, Byzantine and Gothic openings, Classical pediments, battlemented parapets or porticos, A frame roofs, and all these positioned in a variety of ground plans, sometimes in asymmetrical forms, imitating fortified buildings and imperial palaces. Into the Picturesque residences category we find more simple houses, which exude a sense of calmness. The most typical element for these buildings are perhaps the wooden elaborate structures of the cornices at the edge of the A frame roofs of the main body of the houses, and the roofs of the porticos. These residences are the closest type to European rural architecture.  

Atlantis villa (1897), architect Ernst Ziller. Symmetrical façade, Byzantine arcades, naked masonry, painting decoration inspired from Pompeii.

 Benakis residence (1900). A projected example of the Greek-Swiss style in Kifissia, close to European rural architecture. The elaborate wooden structure at the cornice is typical for this style.

The wooden elaborate structures are common and can be found at most of the residences in Kifissia, regardless of category, as well as some paintings in specific soft tones, positioned in friezes under the cornices of the roofs. Most of the Kifissian residences belong to a large scale architecture with great gardens around each one and easily can be characterized as “manor houses”.

Talking about the Greek or Balkan tradition which never found a position in Kifissia, it is worth saying that there are some newer constructions, belonging to the decades of the 60s or the 70s of the 20th Century that used elements and forms from this type of architecture. It was when Greeks began to appreciate their tradition, disconnecting it from the Ottoman past. Unfortunately, only a few of these structures have artistic value.

The Athenian suburb of Kifissia and its architecture. Manor houses in the north of Athens

Neogothic villa in Kifissia (1910-1919). The imposing corner tower includes the central staircase, a usual practice for the manor houses of the area.

Amaryllis villa, owned by the author and poet George Drosinis (last quarter of the 19th Century). It stands very close to the Greek tradition, especially to the traditional architecture of the east Peloponnese and the island of Spetses.

The Kifissian residence was perhaps the result of a period without a safe ideological orientation, perhaps a transition period, even though a very interesting and romantic style flourished. The physiognomy of Kifissia began to change in the 50s due to the intense urbanization. It was the period that some substantial examples of this specific architectural style were demolished and some of the streets successively became busy boulevards. Nevertheless, today a large number of this type of residences survive and 143 of them have been characterized as listed buildings, considered as important examples of the local architecture of the period 1870 - 1936. The characterization has to do not only with the buildings but also with the preservation of the area physiognomy. It is worth noting that most of these stately houses are greatly preserved and are inhabited.

 Protopapadakis villa (1897). Neogothic style, with stepped roof, spires and pointed arched openings. Protopapadakis was ex-prime minister of Greece.

Neobyzantine villa (1915). A square tower was added to the L ground plan main body of the construction. It is built in almost cloisonné masonry with a Byzantine arcade in front of the open portico and Byzantine type openings. The building can be characterized as an interesting example of the Eclecticism style, comparing all the previous elements with a tower-dome inspired by the central European tradition.

Kassavetis tower (1910). Detail with typical elements of the Greek-Swiss style that flourished in Kifissia.

Zouras villa (1872). An imposing countryside building inspired by the Eclecticism that the Neoclassical style meets the Baroque style. The half-round staircase and the added tower underline the character of the villa.

Picturesque style building in Kifissia (end of the 19th Century).

Picturesque style building, belonging to the Greek-Swiss style, part of the Greek Eclecticism.

Chloe villa (1897). It was owned by the ex-prime minister Alexander Diomedes.

Kazoulis villa (end of the 19th Century). The L ground plan villa is built in the Neoclassical style with elements of the Renaissance style, like the impressive dome. At the internal corner of the L ground plan, a square and a round part are added.

Neotraditional residence (possibly the decade of 60s or 70s), inspired by the urban Greek/Balkan traditional architecture.