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  • Writer's pictureAntonis Chaliakopoulos, MSc

A Brief History of Syntagma Square in Athens

What is Syntagma Square?

Syntagma Square is a paved public square in Athens that is named after the democratic constitution that was established in the mid-19th century, which is the location of the Greek Parliament.

Syntagma Square at night

Syntagma Square History

In the 1830s, the Greek state was a kingdom under the protection of the world powers of the time. As its head of state, they appointed a young Bavarian prince, Otto, and instructed the populace that his authority was to be absolute. This was viewed as a problem by the Greeks who didn’t appreciate a foreign monarch giving them orders.

From 1843, Otto lived and ruled from the newly constructed Neoclassical palace on the east side of this square (then known as Palace Square), built with funds donated by his father, the King of Bavaria. Thankfully the young man didn’t follow through with an earlier plan to place his new royal residence on top of the Acropolis! In September that year, Greek discontent with their Bavarian ruler peaked and a military uprising broke out, backed by popular support. The movement's goal was not to depose the king but to demand a Greek constitution. Otto remained besieged in his palace as the swarming crowd shouted ‘Zito to syntagma’ (or ‘Long live the constitution’). The king understood that he had no real option other than to give in to this demand. The old absolute monarchy had been replaced by a constitutional model. The bloodless revolution had been a success.

This paved area was thus renamed Syntagmatos Square (shortened today to Syntagma) in commemoration of the event that led to the introduction of the first modern Greek constitution. As for Otto, he kept his throne but at great personal cost. The Greek upper class and army had developed a taste for power. Otto had lost prestige in their eyes and was perceived as weak. Nothing would be the same for him from then on. Two decades later, in 1862, he was finally deposed.

Syntagma Square and Hellenic Parliament

In the 1930s, the Greek Parliament moved into the Old Royal Palace, and Syntagma Square became a popular symbol of democracy; a reminder to every citizen that their constitution was not a gift, but something that had been hard won. The square remained the place where Greek people would come to challenge political decisions and demand change. In 1944, following the end of the Nazi occupation of Greece, Georgios Papandreou, the country’s prime minister, delivered the speech of liberation here in Syntagma. In 2010, another prime minister of the same name watched thousands protest against the austerity brought on by the financial collapse that would haunt Greece from then on.

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