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  • Writer's pictureAlex King

A Brief History of Kotzia Square in Athens

What is Kotzia Square?

Kotzia Square is a paved public square named after a former Mayor of Athens, which is surrounded by impressive Neoclassical structures and is the site of an important ancient road.

Kotzia Square

Kotzia Square History

Kotzia Square doesn’t boast the grandeur and drama of Syntagma Square, the political heart of modern Athens, or the haphazard hustle and bustle of Monastiraki Square, the centre of the city during the Ottoman era. The commercial decline of central Athens has taken its toll on Kotzia Square and it’s often almost deserted. But there’s a wealth of stories to be found, if you take the time to look.

The City Hall of the Municipality of Athens stands on the western side of the square. Designed by Panagis Kalkos and completed in 1874, its Neoclassical style sets the tone for the surrounding buildings – perhaps the best place to appreciate Neoclassical Athens, after the ‘Athenian Trilogy’ on Panepistimiou Street, which includes the University of Athens, the Academy of Athens, and the old National Library.

Directly opposite the City Hall, on the eastern side, is the most commanding Neoclassical building on the square, the National Bank of Greece’s central site, composed of two 1840s structures fused together. If the tall doors like a fortified castle didn’t make it obvious: the site is off-limits to the general public. However, the Melas Mansion, across the pedestrianised Aiolou Street, is the National Bank of Greece’s cultural centre and is open to the public for special events. Decorated with Doric and Ionian columns and two towers at the sides, it was the largest and most expensive private building of the era when it was built for merchant Basil Melas in 1874. Melas chose his architect well: the German Ernst Ziller, whose Neoclassical masterpieces include the Royal (now National) Theatre and the Athens Municipal Theatre, which was on this same square until its demolition in 1940. Few people left more of a mark on Athens in the 19th century than Ziller, other than his teacher in Vienna, the great Danish architect Theophil Hansen (and his brother Hans Christian), whom Ziller worked for in the construction of the Academy, the Zappeion Hall, the National Library and the National Archaeological Museum.

Yet, Kotzia Square has been occupied since long before Athens’ Neoclassical revival in the 19th century, and evidence of the area’s ancient life is plain to see. You can’t miss the fenced-off enclosure that covers much of the eastern half. Kotzia Square is positioned just outside the Acharnian Gate of Classical Athens. The excavations reveal part of the ancient Acharnian road, tombs, and a small building. Stratigraphic evidence indicates that the Acharnian road, which led north towards Acharnae, was laid out in 480 BC and was widely used throughout that century. Excavations revealed another two ancient streets, a dense cemetery dating from the 9th century BC, a large complex of pottery workshops from the late 3rd century AD, and several houses.

The cemetery stretched across both sides of the Acharnian road. Objects discovered in the burial sites span a long time period and include human and animal figurines, glass and terracotta vessels, bronze mirrors, gold jewellery, coins, and terracotta vases. Following a devastating invasion of Athens by the Heruli (an early Germanic tribe) in the second half of the 3rd century AD, the cemetery fell into disuse and much of the area was eventually covered by a complex of pottery workshops in the 4th century AD, a prosperous period for Athens under Roman rule.

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