A Brief History of the Presidential Palace in Athens
What is the Presidential Palace?
The Presidential Palace in Athens, also known as the Presidential Mansion, is a 19th-century Neoclassical mansion that was designed by Ernst Ziller for the royal family, and is now occupied by the president of Greece.
Presidential Palace History
It’s hard to imagine that 150 years ago this area, just beyond the eastern limits of the Greek capital, was home to fields and farmland. However, in 1870 the state allowed the sale of lands to private individuals from the ascendant bourgeoisie, which resulted in a series of magnificent mansions, imitations of noble residences for the new nobility. 20 years later, the German architect Ernst Ziller, whose memorable Neoclassical structures you’ll find dotted around Athens, was commissioned to design and construct a new palace for the Crown Prince of Greece, Constantine. Ziller was instructed by Constantine’s father, King George I, to design a residence that was neither overwhelming, nor similar to other European palaces; his son’s (relatively) humble dwelling, the king stipulated, ought to harmonise with the surrounding houses of the Athenian nobility.
The result was a masterpiece, an elegant three-storey Neoclassical palace with a stately but restrained façade. The only embellishment on the otherwise sober exterior is between the windows. A series of heraldic symbols, depictions of the four seasons, Greek mythological characters, and the letters kai and sigma – equivalent to K and S, and the first letters from the names of Constantine and his wife Sophia of Prussia.
In March 1913, King George went out for a late afternoon walk in Thessaloniki, a large city in northern Greece that had recently been liberated from Ottoman rule. The monarch, wandering the streets with only light protection, was approached by an anarchist who shot the king at close and fatal range from behind. As the deceased king’s eldest son, Constantine was proclaimed king and Ziller’s palace became the principal royal residence of the crown.
However, this honorific title was to last just eleven years. In 1924, 70% of the Greek parliament voted in favour of the monarchy’s abolition, and so the royal mansion became the residence of the president of the Hellenic Republic. However, this new republican function also proved short-lived, as the oscillating nature of 20th-century Greek politics saw the restoration of the royal family in 1935; in the 1970s both the constitution and the building’s function changed again, following the second abolition in less than 50 years.
As you approach the gates, you’ll catch sight of the Presidential Guard, known as the Evzones. You’ll recognise them by the odd combination of serious expressions with an unusual uniform – a pleated kilt and pom-pom shoes – based on the attire worn by the klephts, mountain-dwelling soldiers who fought against the Ottomans during the Greek War of Independence.
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