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The origins of the monumental axis of neoclassical Athens and its relationship with the
antiquities
Denis Roubien

Department of Renovation and Restoration of Buildings, Technological


Educational Institute of Patras, Greece
Version of record first published: 24 Apr 2013.

To cite this article: Denis Roubien (2013): The origins of the monumental axis of neo-classical Athens and
its relationship with the antiquities, The Journal of Architecture, 18:2, 225-253
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13602365.2013.791337

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The origins of the monumental axis


of neo-classical Athens and its
relationship with the antiquities

Denis Roubien

Department of Renovation and Restoration of


Buildings, Technological Educational Institute of
Patras, Greece

This essay attempts to illuminate some aspects of the creation of the monumental axis of
Athens: a line containing most of the citys monumental buildings and touching the
eastern side of the urban triangle which, according to the original master plans, constituted
the citys core. Although that triangle concentrated the essential part of the citys activities, it
never became its representative centre. For, contrary to the master plans predicting a dispersion of the monumental buildings within the triangle, these are to be found along an
axis seeming to ignore it. This article seeks an explanation of that fact in the existence of
a special need in the process of creating the re-born city of Athens after Independence
(1830) and during the whole nineteenth century. Apart from creating a modern European
capital, like all the others, an additional requirement emerged: according to the citys neoclassicist creators, its monumental buildings ought to be closely related in space to the antiquities which were also their stylistic prototypes and even the reason Athens became the
capital. That idealistic demand led necessarily to choices different from those resulting
from a rational town planning process. This essay presents the conditions set by that idealistic requirement and explores its impact on the Greek capitals monumental architecture.
Introduction
The recently launched European competition Rethink Athens,1 the most ambitious of a series of projects for the rehabilitation of the centre of the Greek
capital beginning several decades ago, demonstrates once more an impressive fact: the monumental neo-classical buildings of Athens, although
representing innitesimal volumes in todays enormous metropolis, contrary to their complete domination in the time of their construction, have not
lost their symbolic power as major elements of the
Greek capitals urban landscape. What all the
above projects have in common is that the axes of
intervention they propose result from the location
of these buildings and their relationship to the
# 2013 The Journal of Architecture

urban fabric, making them the projects major references. However, if we compare the initial master
plans of Athens with those axes of intervention,
we identify an interesting observation: while the
initial plans predicted a very balanced distribution
of the capitals monumental buildings within the
urban fabric, according to all rational principles of
their time, todays situation shows a very clear displacement of those buildings along the axis of the
recent competition, which unites in one long line
the more fragmentary previous projects (Fig. 1).
That axis is formed from the North to the South by
the avenues Patision, University (Panepistimiou) and
Amalias, including most of the monumental buildings of the Greek capital: the Archaeological
1360-2365 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13602365.2013.791337

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The origins of the monumental axis of neo-classical Athens


and its relationship with the antiquities
Denis Roubien

Figure 1. Athens
towards the end of the
nineteenth century,
with its monumental
buildings: the line
indicates the
monumental axis of
today (drawn by the
Author).

Museum, the Polytechnic, the Council of State


(former Arsakeion School for Girls), the National
Library, the University, the Academy of Athens, the
Catholic Cathedral, the Numismatic Museum (the
former mansion of the famous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, the most luxurious private building
of neo-classical Athens), the Bank of Greece, the

Parliament (former Royal Palace) with the National


Garden and the Zappeion Exhibition Hall, in the
homonymous Park. As this essay will endeavour to
demonstrate, that change from a triangular layout
to a linear one is the result of a process which has
its roots in the essence of the creation of modern
Athens after Independence and the accession of

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Otto of Bavaria to the Greek throne: an effort to


satisfy the two main aims for the process of creating
the new Greek State: its reconnection with the
ancient past and its entry to the family of the civilised
nations of Western Europe. Namely, to replace the
provincial Ottoman town with a modern European
capital, but at the same time to take advantage of
the presence of its internationally famous ancient
monuments and create a city unique in the world.
According to that concept, every important building in Athens should be a monument worthy of the
ruins of classical antiquity. That meant that it should
have the best relationship in space with those monuments and sites of great historical value, and the best
view towards them, even more so since the ancient
monuments were also the stylistic prototypes of the
new ones. That idea was naturally welcomed by
everyone, but especially by the enthusiastic architects, archaeologists and other learned individuals
who got involved in the reconstruction of Athens.
In their eyes, such an approach would contribute
to the citys glory and to the reconnection of
Greece with her ancient past, erasing the recent
history of barbarism and obscurantism, as they
regarded the Ottoman period.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century,
during the reign of the next king, George I of
Denmark, the more rational spirit of the time led
to a gradual abandonment of idealistic projects
and the domination of more practical ones. That
spirit was due both to the new dynastys different
antecedents and to the generally more practical
views prevailing at the end of the century as a
result of the impressive progress of science and technology. But it also arose from the realisation that

Greece would not become the large country envisaged at the time of Independence. And, unfortunately, many projects of both reigns often had to
be abandoned because of the impossibility of acquiring the necessary land. Nevertheless, as the facts
indicate, buildings of supreme cultural importance
seemed less affected by this problem.
The purpose of this article is to highlight the effort
made to connect the modern monuments of Athens
to the ancient ones and to investigate its role in
issues which inuenced the contemporary aspect
of the Greek capital. This exploration is carried out
through an investigation of sources from those
days with the aim of enriching the material offered
by the existing literature through adding to it unpublished sources, mostly public records kept in the
Greek General State Archives. In addition, other
documents of that time are identied, most of
them not republished since their rst appearance,
such as decrees that appeared in the Government
Gazette, articles in newspapers, etc., as well as documents written by the original protagonists. There are
also necessary references to certain publications of
recent decades or even contemporary ones which
have already become classics in this domain, focusing on the most comprehensive ones, especially
those of Alexander Papageorgiou-Venetas, Eleni
Bastea and Irene Fatsea.2 The purpose is to demonstrate that the new information emerging indicates
that the subject as a whole is far from exhausted.

The idealistic era of King Otto (18331862)


Athens has a particularity, differentiating considerably the context of its urban and architectural evolution from all other European capitals, with the

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The origins of the monumental axis of neo-classical Athens


and its relationship with the antiquities
Denis Roubien

exception of Rome, of course. This particularity is the


existence of classical antiquities, which include
monuments of supreme artistic value. Until the
mid-eighteenth century, when all the routes of the
Europeans grand tour were leading their footsteps
to Rome, their acquaintance with antiquity was
taking place through the Roman lter. However,
after the publication in 1762 of Antiquities of
Athens3 by the Britons James Stuart and Nicholas
Revett, initiating their systematic study, Greek antiquities became for the rst time widely known and
attracted the interest of European antiquity lovers.
This was shortly followed by the emergence in
1764 of the German art historian Johann
J. Winckelmanns major work, Geschichte der
Kunst des Alterthums (History of Ancient Art),
which supported the novel idea for the time that
Greek antiquities were equal in value if not superior
to the Roman and which thus played a decisive role
in their progressive re-evaluation. The evolution of
that process achieved by the time of the Greek independence4 led to the conviction that any construction activity in the new city of Athens resulting
from the mediaeval towns transformation (Fig. 2)
could not but take seriously into account the existence, the position, the scale and the state of conservation of those antiquities, with all new monumental
buildings being subservient to them.
This belief found expression from December,
1834, when Athens became the new capital, replacing the provisional one, Nafplion. It was chosen
precisely because of its antiquities, contrary to all
practical arguments which would have led the
choice to any city other than Athens, it having the
least economic and geographic qualications to

assume that role. Moreover, among several alternative solutions for the exact siting of the new city, the
nal choice was specically that which located it
spatially closest to its ancient predecessor, against
all practical considerations. (This process and its
ideological context have already been presented in
detail in several publications and especially in those
of Papageorgiou- Venetas, Bastea and Fatsea).5
The newly appointed King of Greece, who transferred his court to Athens, was Otto, the young6
son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Ottos father was
perhaps the greatest antiquity lover among all European monarchs of his time, as is suggested by his
extensive neo-classical building programme in
Munich and his rich collections of ancient Greek
art. The choice of his son for the Greek throne by
the Great Powers had as a natural consequence,
therefore, the particularly intense inuence of
German classicists in Greece which reinforced the
decisive role of antiquities in the capitals creation.

General plans
As many studies have already analysed in detail,7 the
rst decades of the independent Greek State were
characterised by an intense idealism in every
project, which had no connection with the material
reality of the country, but envisaged a short-term
expansion into all territories inhabited by Greeks
and a consequent spectacular change of circumstances. That idealism is also reected in the rst
propositions made for the new capitals city plan.
The rst ofcial city plan made in 1833 (Fig. 3) was
commissioned by the Greek Government from the
Greek architect Stamatios Kleanthes and his German
colleague Eduard Schaubert. (For a detailed descrip-

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Figure 2. The town of


Athens at the time
when it became the
capital of Greece in
1834, with the
mediaeval street
network surrounded by
the eighteenth-century
walls (re-drawn by the
Author, with the
addition of location
names, according to the
plan made by Ioannis
Travlos,

[Athens, 1960], p. 211).

tion, see the works of Papageorgiou-Venetas and


Bastea.8) In this, the new city was planned with a complete respect for its antiquities, although we dont
know if that stemmed from Government policy or
from the plans authors. In any case, the two architects
went as far as proposing the demolition of an impor-

tant part of the Ottoman city, favouring the area of


potential archaeological excavations, as they
mention themselves in their Memorandum9 and is
demonstrated by comparing their plan and that of
the pre-independence city. In their plan, all the area
between the Acropolis and Hadrians library, densely

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and its relationship with the antiquities
Denis Roubien

Figure 3. Plan of
Stamatios Kleanthes
and Eduard Schaubert
for the new city of
Athens (re-drawn by the
Author, with the
addition of location
names): 1. Royal Palace.
2. Cathedral. 3. Central
Market. 4. Ministries. 5.
Garrison. 6. Mint. 7.
Market. 8. Academy. 9.
Library. 10. Stock
Exchange. 11.
Parliament. 12. Church.
13. Post Ofce. 14.
Headquarters. 15. Oil
Press. 16. Botanical
Garden. 17. Exhibition
Hall. 18. Observatory.

built over at the time,10 appears with no buildings. As


for the proposed street network, it is clearly dependent
on the antiquities and ancient sites. Therefore, the
bisector of the urban triangle, namely Athena Street,
connects the Royal Palace to the Acropolis and the
ancient Agora. Stadium Street, on the right side of

the triangle, connects the Palace to the ancient


stadium, while Piraeus Street, on the left side,
ensures the connection to Athens ancient port of
the same name.
It is worth noting that, with the exception of the
Royal Palace, no public building lies on the plans

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visual axes. Here it is the antiquities which become


points of view, playing the role played in other capitals by public buildings. The latter keep a clear distance from the ancient monuments, although they
are substantially bigger in scale. Moreover, the architects plan completely lacks new monumental constructions such as triumphal arches, conrming
their respect for the antiquities. Nevertheless, the
intense symmetry of the plan makes it clear that
they did not consider either the grounds inclination
towards the southwest or the concentration of most
ancient sites in that direction vis--vis the citys historical core.11
The German architect Alexander Ferdinand von
Quast, who commented on the Kleanthes and
Schaubert project and offered his own proposal,12
is perhaps the most idealistic among the professionals who expressed their opinions on the creation of the new city. Although he never set his
foot in the Greek capital, he took, like many of his
countrymen, a vivid interest in what was to his
eyes the revival of the most glorious city of all
time. It hardly needs pointing out that he had no
idea of the actual current circumstances of the
object of his admiration nor did many of the visionaries who occupied themselves with the creation of a
modern Athens.
Von Quast thought that the new city should
develop at some distance from the archaeological
zone, along the axis connecting the old city with
the port of Piraeus to the southwest of the Acropolis.13 He writes that the public buildings of the new
capital should be concentrated as much as possible
in the same place, in order to create a strong
impression, imagining them around the foot of the

Acropolis. He even suggested the creation of a


viaduct connecting the Cathedral on the ancient
court of the Areopagus with the Acropolis Propylaea, thus joining religious to political power, since
the Royal Palace would have been built on the Acropolis, as in Carl Friedrich von Schinkels proposal.14
Von Quast put the Cathedral on the Areopagus,
where Saint Paul had preached. Like others, he
suggested placing the cultural institutions on the
shore of Ilissus,15 even referring to the spring Kallirroe, but ignoring, as did others, the lamentable
plight of the river and the spring at the time.
The Kleanthes and Schaubert project was too
expensive because of the expropriations needed to
create its wide avenues and extended gardens and
squares on private land, so the ofcial architect of
King Ludwig of Bavaria, Leo von Klenze, undertook
in 1834 to adapt it to Greek realities (Fig. 4). (For a
detailed description, see the works of Papageorgiou-Venetas and Bastea.16) Apart from changing
the scale of streets, gardens and squares to minimise
expropriation costs, he gave greater prominence to
the antiquities, with a city whose proportions
allowed them to dominate. He also connected the
Royal Palace directly to the antiquities, proposing to
site it in the area of the ancient cemetery of the
Ceramic, one of the most sacred archaeological sites
of all Greece. The royal residence would thus have
had a direct visual relationship to the Acropolis, the
ancient parliament of the Pnyx, the Areopagus and
the Royal Garden, including the Theseion (Temple of
Hephaestus, Fig. 5). Von Klenze also proposed relocating the cathedral and placing the cultural buildings
in their current positions, thus establishing a new hierarchy of God, King and culture vis-a-vis the Acropolis.

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Denis Roubien

Figure 4. Modication
of the Kleanthes and
Schaubert plan by Leo
von Klenze (re-drawn by
the Author, with the
addition of location
names): 1. Royal Palace.
2. Cathedral. 3. Central
Market. 4. Academy. 5.
Library. 6. University. 7.
Exhibition Hall. 8.
Ministries. 9. Senate.
10. Parliament. 11.
Camp. 12. Church. 13.
Post Ofce. 14. Prison
and Police. 15. Theatre.
16. Markets. 17.
Bishops Palace. 18.
Schools.

He was also the rst to introduce into the plan the


avenue constituting the central part of the monumental axis, known then as the Boulevard, todays
University Street (Panepistimiou).
Von Klenzes project seems to have given much
more consideration to the particularities of the Athenian landscape, since he adapted the initial plans
symmetry accordingly. On the other hand, unlike
his predecessors, von Klenze seems not to have preoccupied himself much with the question of functionality since the disposition of public buildings in

his plan was purely indicative. In effect, he was interested only in the siting of the Royal Palace and
placed other buildings simply to ll out the plan:
he himself wrote that it would be easy to nd
room for the missing public buildings in such a
large area.17 Unfortunately, in that he was very
much mistaken, as will be explained later.

Partial plans
Nevertheless, even von Klenzes simpler plan was too
costly, for the same reasons as its predecessor. In con-

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Figure 5. The Temple of


Hephaestus
(photograph by the
Author).

sequence, several partial plans modifying parts of his


project according to contemporary needs and possibilities followed.18 In contrast to the inclusion of practical principles in the rst master plan of Kleanthes and
Schaubert, succeeding projects for separate parts of
the city reveal an intense desire to locate important
public functions on sites of major archaeological
and historical value, without a matching priority for
functionality. This is apparent in von Klenzes prop-

osition for the Museum, which he called Pantechneion, siting it in 1835 where he had previously
placed the Royal Palace, at the Ceramic, on the hill
of Saint Athanasius, next to the Temple of Hephaestus (Theseion).19 The choice of the same spot for a
building with a use totally different from the one he
himself had initially proposed is eloquent.
The preference for that particular site is impressively insistent. Much later, in 1857, the same area

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Figure 6. Athens
towards the end of King
Ottos reign (1833
1862). The public
buildings are numbered
in chronological order
(drawn by the Author);
it is evident that most of
them are oriented
towards the historic
sites of Athens:
1. Military Hospital.2.
Mint. 3. Royal Printing
House. 4. Criminal
Court. 5. Civil
Hospital. 6. Royal
Palace. 7. 1st primary
school for boys. 8.
University. 9.
Observatory. 10.
Arsakeion School for
Girls. 11. Eye Hospital.
12. Queen Amalia
Orphanage. 13.
Hatzikonsta
Orphanage. 14.
Papadopoulos Lyceum.
15. Varvakeion Lyceum.
16. Military Pharmacy.
17. Parliament. 18.
Academy.

was selected by King Otto and the Government for


the construction of the Academy, with enthusiastic
remarks about the qualities of the location, none
of a practical, nature, however.20 Those in favour
of the choice maintained that the location was prominent and extremely safe.21 Others considered
the proposed construction of the new Athens on
its ancient ruins to be an incorrigible sin, feeling
moreover that the proximity of the classical monuments would diminish any new buildings architectural value.22 Nevertheless, as we will see later, the

same location was proposed in 1865 for the construction of the Archaeological Museum. King
Ottos Queen, Amalia, also initially intended the
Royal Garden, created under her supervision, to
extend as far as the Temple of Hephaestus in the
same area; she withdrew her proposal because of
the reactions generated by the presence of antiquities, which would be put in danger.23
Similar controversy arose with the construction of
the Observatory on the Nymphs hill (gs 6, 7[no. 9],
8) despite the intense objections of the Academy of

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Munich.24 Yet a professor of the University of


Athens, Georgios Vouris, speaking at the Observatorys foundation ceremony, emphasised the fact
that the new building was being built close to the
Pnyx, where the famous ancient astronomer
Meton had his heliotropium.25 That reference by
itself identies for us the emotion evoked by such

comparisons and, especially, the pride that no


other city in the world could boast of such a privilege. In this light, we can understand what would
now be the unacceptable insistence on building
new monuments next to ancient ones.
It seems that the ideological/symbolical factor was
the only one capable of surmounting the objective

Figure 7. Athens
towards the end of the
nineteenth century: the
public buildings are
numbered in
chronological order
(drawn by the Author):
1. Military Hospital. 2.
Mint. 3. Royal Printing
House. 4. Criminal
Court. 5. Civil
Hospital. 6. Royal
Palace. 7. 1st primary
school for boys. 8.
University. 9.
Observatory. 10.
Arsakeion School for
Girls. 11. Eye Hospital.
12. Queen Amalia
Orphanage. 13.
Hatzikonsta
Orphanage. 14.
Papadopoulos Lyceum.
15. Varvakeion Lyceum.
16. Military Pharmacy.
17. Parliament. 18.
Academy. 19.
Polytechnic. 20.
Archaeological
Museum. 21. City Hall.
22. Municipal Foundling
Hospital. 23. Municipal
Theatre. 24. Zappeion
Exhibition Hall. 25. 2nd
primary school for boys.
26. Schools of the
Ladies club for
womens education.
27. Municipal Market.
28. Annunciation
Hospital. 29. Court

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Martial. 30. Chemical


Laboratory. 31. National
Library. 32. Crown
Princes Palace. 33.
Royal Theatre. 34.
National Bank. 35.
Marasleion School. 36.
Central Post Ofce.

Figure 8. The
Observatory
(photograph by the
Author).

difculties for the materialisation of the projects concerning the siting of public buildings, at least those
whose function could associate them with famous
ancient buildings and therefore bestow upon them
an intense ideological weight. The most debated
case is that of the so-called Athenian Trilogy (see
gs 4 [nos 4-6], 7[nos 8, 18, 31]), not by coincidence,
since that complex (University, Academy, Museum
initially and then the National Library; gs 9, 10, 11)

was destined to include the capitals major cultural


foundations, which could thus be associated with
their equivalent ancient predecessors.26 The buildings
composing that complex were the only ones built at
the location proposed by all the city plans, although
in a different combination (Figure 12). This was in
no way fortuitous since it wasas then believed
next to the ancient Lyceum,27 close to the Stadium
and Ilissus, constituting a direct reference to the

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Figure 9. The University


of Athens: its painted
frieze represents King
Otto as the protector of
the arts and sciences,
reborn in liberated
Greece (photograph by
the Author).

historical continuity between ancient and modern


Greek civilisation. It is only in their case that von
Klenze put limits to possible changes to his plans, discouraging the transfer of cultural foundations from
the eastern part of the city.28 Additionally, to ensure
that the complex would be completed, special construction terms were imposed.29 Thus the only
public structures which maintained their initial
location after so many changes and new local plans

were the cultural buildings retaining their connection


to the supposed location of one of the most famous
cultural institutions of antiquity. That is perhaps the
best indication of the strong presence of the ideological factor in the siting of public architecture in the
Greek capital.
At the same time, more practical minds thought that
it was preferable to avoid constructing public buildings
in vicinity of the antiquities, because of the compli-

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Figure 10. The


Academy of Athens
(photograph by the
Author).

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Figure 11. The National


Library (photograph by
the Author).

cations arising from such a decision. The Minister of


Justice reported to the Regency30 in 1834 that there
were in Athens three buildings belonging to the Government appropriate to house the Courts of Justice.
But they were in an area of intended excavations
where any construction, even restoration, was strictly
forbidden for members of the public making it difcult
for the State to do so.31 The following year the temporary Minister of Justice informed the Regency that the

church of Saint Mary of Kandilis was not appropriate


for repair to house the Supreme Court, because it
was close to the monument of Lysicrates (Fig. 13),
where it was anticipated that excavations, would
reveal antiquities.32
In spite of such reasonable objections, proposals
were still made to construct public buildings not
just close to the antiquities, but sometimes even
above them, with foreseeable negative conse-

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Figure 12. The proposal


for the Athenian Trilogy
dated 15.11.1862,
including a Museum
instead of the Library
(General State Archives,
City Plan, le 13; redrawn by the Author).

quences. The rst and most famous case is that of


Schinkels aforementioned project. In spite of his
great knowledge and appreciation of classical antiquity, his proposal involved the erection of a huge
complex which, in spite of his assurances to the contrary, would eclipse and practically destroy ancient
monuments. Additionally, the Military Hospital

(gs 6, 7 [no. 1]; 14) was built on what was believed


at the time to be the site of Pericles Odeon, with a
mosaic in its basement.33

The view towards the antiquities


After the practical difculties of locating public buildings in archaeological sites were accepted, efforts

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Figure 13. The


Monument of Lysicrates
(photograph by the
Author).

tended rather towards ensuring them the best view of


those sites. In perhaps no other city in the world was
the issue of the view and orientation of major architectural monuments taken as seriously as in Athens.
For nineteenth-century classicists, Greeks and
foreigners, Athens was the most privileged city from
that point of view, having a natural environment of
rare beauty, simultaneously charged with historical
and mythological memories unique in the world.34

The great diversity of the Athenian landscape, with


its multitude of hills, made it extremely sensitive in
human interventions. As had been realised, the hills
played the role of pediments or frames for the monuments: if small, they would disappear, if large, they
would overwhelm the elements of the landscape.35
Naturally, once the uniqueness of the Athenian
landscape was understood, the creators of the
new capital wanted to enhance it and to relate

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Figure 14. The former


Military Hospital in front
of the new Acropolis
Museum (photograph
by the Author).

monumental buildings to it. As early as his speech of


23rd May, 1833, when he visited Athens from Nafplion to lay the foundation stone of his palace,
King Otto mentioned the view of the monuments,36
while Lysandros Kaftantzoglou, the most famous
Greek architect of that time, referred constantly to
the advantages of the Athenian landscape. As he
maintained, his propositions for the new capitals
creation aimed, amongst other things, to ensure

better views.37 He believed that the new town


should be built west of the Pnyx, in order to have
the optimum visual relationship with the antiquities
and the historic sites.38
So from the start the effort to relate the new
monumental architecture of Athens to its historic
landscape was evident. Naturally, that desire was
more intense in the case of the Royal Palace,
because of its great symbolic value in a monarchical

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regime. The view through the columns of the Parthenon was one of the reasons why von Quast
approved of Schinkels bold project. He said that
the King would see the new Athens through the
golden marble columns of the Parthenon.39
The German architect Friedrich Stauffert40 and the
German archaeologist Ludwig Ross41 made similar
remarks about the view from the royal residence of
Kleanthes and Schauberts project. From the hill
where their palace was located, there would be a
view towards the Acropolis, the Areopagus, the hill
of the Nymphs, the Pnyx, the new town, Piraeus,
the islands of Aegina and Salamis, the Olive Forest
where Platos Academy had been and the mountains of Parnes, Lycabettus and Hymettus.
In a similar way, von Klenze writes, about his
chosen location for his project, that no other European capital presented such advantages for siting a
royal palace, giving a full description of all the interesting views.42 On the contrary, for the location proposed by Kleanthes and Schaubert he thinks that the
view is very disadvantageous.43 Moreover, we know
that the view played an important role in the selection
of the site where the Royal Palace was nally built.44
As has been observed before, the selected location
has the best possible view to all the historic sites of
the Attica basin, from the Acropolis to Salamis and
Aegina.45 The location the German architect Joseph
Lange had proposed for the Royal Palace is not
known exactly, but from the plans it seems that he
sited it at the foot of the hill of Lycabettus.46 That
means that it would have had approximately the
same view as the realised building.47
Naturally, the royal couple gave priority to securing such an advantageous view which no other

monarch in the world had the privilege of contemplating. This is evident in a document addressed to
the Queen:
the height of the ministerial building above the
ground on which it will be constructed is 18
metres 40/100. The height of the And.Koromilas
house above the same ground is 17 metres 50/
100. The height of the Anarghyros house above
the same ground is 18 metres 70/100. The
height of the oor of the big balcony of the
Royal Palace above the same ground is 23
metres 90/100, so that the oor of the aforementioned balcony will be 5 metres 50/100 above the
roof of the ministerial building.48
As well as the Royal Palace, a similar interest in orientation towards those sites is also observed in the case
of other public buildings. The University (see gures
6, 7 [no. 8]) is clearly oriented to the Acropolis, as
Stauffert observes.49 According to the text accompanying publication of the plans for the University
in 1851, the happiest among us are the students
of Athens because of the historic sites they contemplate from the Universitys Propylaea.50 Also, the
lithography of the Eye Hospital (see gures 6, 7
[no. 11]), by the Danish architect Christian Hansen,
reveals the same interest in the relationship of the
building to the landscape of Attica. The same goes
for the perspective view of the Observatory (see
gures 6, 7 [no. 9]) by his more famous brother,
Theophil Hansen, where it seems that the view to
the Acropolis has been taken into account.51
As is obvious, the southwestern orientation was
considered to be the most advantageous, offering
the richest view, as much to the Attica basin as
to the Saronic gulf, intensied by the grounds

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Figure 15. The


Arsakeion School for
Girls (photograph by
the Author).

inclination towards the bed of Cephisus, the main


river of the Attica basin. The siting of the public buildings of Athens shows that that view was aimed at in
most cases, contrary to the homogeneity of the
Kleanthes and Schaubert project. This applies also
to unrealised projects such as that of Kleanthes for
the Arsakeion School for Girls. By contrast to Kaftantzoglous realised project (see gures 6, 7 [no. 10];
Figure 15), Kleanthes put the main faade to the

southwest, although the faade of the other side,


destined to become the principal faade, related to
the Boulevard, the citys largest and most ofcial
avenue (today the central part of the monumental
axis, as already mentioned).52 Moreover, for the
Eye Hospital (see gures 6, 7 [no. 11]) the southwestern orientation was preferred to the northwestern
initially proposed, as revealed by the aforementioned
drawing by Christian Hansen.

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An important factor: the availability of land


However, when the time came for the plans practical application, nding room for the public buildings
was not at all easy, as von Klenze thought. Almost all
the land within the plans area was private property53 and the State lacked the funds to expropriate
it, as it is proved by several hundreds of documents
preserved in the General State Archives. Those documents include correspondence between public services stating the problem, and, especially, the
complaints and petitions of citizens concerning
their plots annexed for the construction of public
buildings or the creation of public spaces envisaged
by different city plans.54 Additionally, the State had
not the means to prevent either the usurpation of
public land, which was very extensive (encouraged
by the absence of an ofcial cadastre),55 or illegal
construction activities contrary to planning.56 Therefore, the nal siting of buildings often depended
upon where the few public plots happened to be
located,57 or upon the availability of the cheapest
private ones,58 or upon plots offered by rich
members of the Greek Diaspora, who saw such
donations as a means of participating in the
process of constructing the new Greek State.59
As was only natural, these realities generally
defeated most efforts based on specic principles.
However, despite this fact, some monumental buildings seem to have been built where intended, not in
the initial plans, certainly, but in subsequent proposals. It is readily apparent that these were specically
the buildings housing cultural functions, on the most
monumental scale. The monumental axis includes
these buildings, with the addition of the Royal

Palace, naturally: it housed the power from which


all the other functions were supposed to emanate,
the power of the enlightened King, protector of
the arts and sciences, as he is depicted in the
centre of the whole composition, the frieze of the
University.

The situation under King George I: the gradual


fading of idealism
At the time of George Is reign (18631913), which
started thirty years after Otto of Bavaria became
King of Greece, the idealism behind associating
monumental buildings with antiquities seems to
recede, judging by contemporary documents at
least. This accords with realistic spirit characterising
his reign in comparison with that of Otto.60 An
exception is the Archaeological Museum. As
already mentioned, thirty years after von Klenzes
projects rst for the Royal Palace and then for the
Pantechneion, it was again proposed to site the
building most closely related to the ancient monuments on the hill of Saint Athanasius, at the
Ceramic, and Lange put forward a proposal:61 a
specic ofcial decree was even published on 24th
February, 1865.62
There were objections to the project, especially its
location, however, and it was abandoned.63 Kaftantzoglou, who was a member of the committee
considering the issue, writes that, when the same
site was proposed in 1857 for the construction of
the Academy, as already mentioned, the artistic
section of the Paris Institute had maintained that
the locales and sites around the Acropolis should
stay untouched and sacred. Therefore, when it

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Figure 16. The


Polytechnic
(photograph by the
Author).

was a question of choosing the location of any


public building in Athens, the predominant
concept should be the original one, for which
Athens was assigned as the capital of Greece;
namely the ancient monuments.64 It is worth
noting how that text interprets the motive for choosing Athens as being its ancient monuments: that is,
in order to protect them, not to associate them with
modern buildings in a way which could harm them.
A very different approach from that of the 1830s.
Much later, in 1888, when the nal building at
Patision Street was almost nished (see Figure 7
[no. 20]), Theophil Hansen presented a grandiose
project for a Museum on the southern slope of the
Acropolis, in the area between the theatre of Dionysus and the Roman Odeon of Herod Atticus.65 That
project was as rmly rejected, partly because of its
excessive budget, but also because it was too late
to change the intended location. Other propositions
of the time were for the transformation of Hadrians
Library into a museum or the construction of a new
building on the hill of Ardettus, above the ancient
Stadium. Under George I there was also a case of
a public building being built on ancient ruins, as
happened with the Military Hospital during Ottos
reign: the Zappeion Exhibition Hall, which occupied
the supposed place of Hippias Baths, in spite of the
Archaeological Societys protests.66 The reactions of
architects and archaeologists of the time nevertheless demonstrate that monuments were regarded
in a more scientic way than during Ottos reign
it was not only their intrinsic value that was recognised, but also the dangers they encountered as a
result of their inclusion in the modern city.

As with the use of the antiquities to provide the


framework for the built environment, there is no
written evidence of the related desire to orient
public buildings towards the archaeological and
historic sites. However, one cannot ignore the
orientation of the three more monumental buildings
of the time, the Polytechnic (see Figure 7 above [No.
19]; Figure 16), the Archeological Museum (see
Figure 7 above [No. 20]; Figure 17) and the Zappeion
Exhibition Hall (see Figure 7above [No. 24]; Figure
18). And these are exactly the buildings which
prolong the monumental axis beyond the initial

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Figure 17. The National


Archaeological
Museum (photograph
by the Author).

urban triangle, the rst two to the North and the


third to the South.
Apart from those three examples, it seems that
interest had turned to the landscapes natural
beauty. It is interesting that even simple citizens
began to express an opinion about such matters,
which conforms with the development of the
middle class and its demand for better living conditions together with an active participation in

issues of concern. That is demonstrated by the


protest of some citizens to the Ministry of the
Interior, seeking the cancellation of the construction
of a cavalry barracks in Ares square. They observed:
Not only do we neglect, but we even destroy whatever we have and do not need to pay for, while the
civilised nations of Europe undertake at great
expense to replace by art whatever they lack, in
order to ensure a civilized life for themselves.67

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Figure 18. The


Zappeion Exhibition Hall
(photograph by the
Author).

An ofcial document concerning the view from


the Royal Palace indicates a similar change in the
authorities priorities concerning the Athenian
landscape. The following text, addressed by the
Ministry of Education to the Ministry of the Interior
and about yet another proposal for the siting of the
Archaeological Museum, is illuminating: We wish
to have exact information about the public sites
extending below the Royal Palace towards the

sanctuary of the Olympian Zeus, and a plan of


them also showing their surface. As these sites
appear not to be inappropriate for the construction
of the National Museum, it is necessary to level
these sites vis-a-vis the Royal Palace, in order to
make clear which height can be achieved by a
building erected there without it impending the
view of the sea from the upper uncovered portico
of the Royal Palace.68 Interest in the antiquities

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seemed now more scientic and less idealistic: the


perception of them as just a romantic decorative
frame for the modern city belonged to the past.
It has to be observed, though, that practical principles appear much more often in the case of public
buildings other than those housing cultural functions and, thus, less connected to famous ancient
prototypes, as illustrated by the case of the Athenian
Trilogy. However, the debate about the appropriateness of site had not much more meaning during
George Is reign than in Ottos time. The nal
choice of sites for public buildings often depended
on the availability of land, still offered in many
cases by the rich members of the Greek Diaspora,
or, additionally, at that time, and especially for institutions of welfare, by the rich Petraki Monastery,
situated on the slopes of Lycabettus.69 The result
was, once again, that day-to-day realities overshadowed efforts to plan the new capital according to
specic principles, either rational or idealistic.

Conclusions
From the foregoing arguments, it is apparent that a
very special factor underlay the process of creating
the new city of Athens in the nineteenth century
emanating from the enthusiastic discovery of
Greek antiquity some decades earlier. Antiquity
lovers saw the creation of the newly installed
Greek kingdoms capital as presenting a unique
opportunity to revive the source of their visions.
Unfortunately, that aspiration arising from the intention to create a glorious capital had to be subordinated to most prosaic possible reality. The new
kingdoms desperate nancial condition, together
with its lack of organisation, made impossible the

realisation of any strategic scheme, the Government


having no money to buy the necessary plots of land.
Additionally, the inevitable social complications
resulting from expropriations for all the aforementioned projects would have produced too heavy a
burden for a State of such limited resources. The
result was that the nal siting of a very important
proportion of the public buildings of Athens
depended often on the mere availability of usable
land wherever it was, independently of any consideration of view, historical value or functional advantages.
Nevertheless, the buildings representing the countrys rebirth and reminiscent of its glorious past in the
cultural eld seemed to escape that restraint and to
follow a different course, based on the idealistic
principles applying especially to them. More than
that, the importance attributed to them managed
to override the initial geometrical form of the new
capitals organisation, based on rational town planning principles, with a different, linear form, fullling
their visual connection to their ancient prototypes.
The outcome is visible even today, since those buildings are still the major part of the Greek capitals
recent architectural heritage and constitute the
indisputable focus of every project aiming at the
citys reformation.

Notes and references


1. Re-think Athens is a European Architectural Competition organised and funded by the Onassis Foundation
in 2012. According to the competitions ofcial
declaration, its aim is the creation of a new city
centre, a project centered around Panepistimiou
Street. Its objective is to connect the existing prome-

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2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

nade around the archaeological sites to a new promenade through the monumental centre of the modern
city and including its most prestigious buildings and
public spaces.
Alexander
Papageorgiou-Venetas,
Hauptstadt
Athen: ein Stadtgedanke des Klassizismus (Munich,
Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1994); Eleni Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens: Planning the Myth (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000); Irene
Fatsea, Monumentality and its shadows: a quest for
modern Greek architectural discourse in nineteenthcentury Athens (18341862) (PhD diss., MIT, 2000).
James Stuart, Nicholas Revett, The Antiquities of
Athens and Other Monuments of Greece (London,
1762).
This period was not so many years after the rst public
display in London in 1807 of the recently arrived
marbles from the Parthenon. Fatsea believes that
that event and the work of Stuart and Revett are the
pivotal points for the reconsideration of ancient
Greece by enlightened Europe: I. Fatsea, Monumentality and its shadows, op. cit., pp. 1001.
A. Papageorgiou-Venetas, HauptstadtAthen, op.
cit.; E. Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens, op.
cit., pp. 611; I. Fatsea, Monumentality and its
shadows, op. cit.
Since Otto was a minor when he became King of
Greece a three-member Regency Council operated
until he came of age in 1835, composed of Bavarian
court ofcials, and during this period the capital was
transferred to Athens.
To use Fatseas terms, the reign of Otto was characterised by an idolatrous attachment to the forms of classical antiquity, while that of George I represented a
critical stage, a stage of self-knowing, in which a
friendly, unprejudiced, and therefore no longer idolatrous, connection with the countrys historical past
emerged. See I. Fatsea, Monumentality and its

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.
15.

shadows, op. cit., p. 126. Bastea analyses in detail


the passage from the idealism of Ottos reign to the
realism of George Is time: see E. Bastea, The Creation
of Modern Athens, op. cit.
A. Papageorgiou-Venetas, HauptstadtAthen, op.
cit.; E. Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens,
op. cit.
They state that: the transfer of the new city onto the
plateau to the North has the advantage of leaving
free for future excavation the ground of the ancient
city of Theseus and Hadrian. Hans Hermann Russack,
Deutsche Bauen in Athen (Berlin, Wilhelm Limpert
Verlag, 1942), p. 189.
Dimitris Karydis, (PhD diss., National Technical University of
Athens, 1981).
As Bastea observes, except for the palace, the focus of
the plan, the rest of the institutions were given an
even-handed, undifferentiated treatment: E. Bastea,
The Creation of Modern Athens, op. cit., p. 78.
Alexander Ferdinand von Quast, Mittheilungen ber
Alt und Neu Athen (Berlin, George Gropius, 1834),
pp. 32, 34.
That opinion was also shared by Anastasios Goudas,
who published a manual about the medical chorography and the climate of Athens: see Anastasios Goudas,
w
, vol. 6 of (Athens, 1858),
pp. 8, 1112. It is commented in detail by Fatsea:
I. Fatsea, Monumentality and its shadows, op. cit.,
p. 81.
That project is not analysed here, since it is well known
and has already been much discussed.
One of the three rivers owing through the Attica
basin (the others being Cephisus and Eridanus), a
favourite promenade of the ancient Athenians due to
its beautiful nature and numerous sanctuaries: see
Plato, Phaedrus.

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16. A. Papageorgiou-Venetas, HauptstadtAthen, op.


cit.; E. Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens, op. cit.
17. Leo von Klenze, Aphoristische Bemerkungen gesammelt auf seiner Reise nach Griechenland (Berlin,
G. Reimer, 1838), p. 444.
18. Fatsea attributes the localised solutions of adaptation
of the city plan to the survival of the practices of the
pre-revolutionary organic and pre-modern city within
the new neoclassical and modern one, creating a
mixture which was neither of the two. See I. Fatsea,
Monumentality and its shadows, op. cit., pp. 2712.
Bastea explains the great difference between the
phases of the plans inception by the architects and
their implementation, where the initiative passed to
the authorities and the residents, who had totally different ways of perceiving the city: see E. Bastea, The Creation of Modern Athens, op. cit., pp. 845, 105, 1267.
19. Oswald Hederer, Friedrich von Grtner, 17921847
(Munich, Prestel, 1976), p. 144. He writes that the
northern slope of the Acropolis was decided upon as
the location of the Pantechneion.
20. , 2ndFebruary, 1857.
21. Ibid.
22. , 12thJanuary, 1857.
23. Giannis Kairofylas, (1834
1934) (Athens, , 1978), p. 27. Bastea
observes that in the 1830s the Press criticised the
excessive protection of antiquities: by the 1840s its attitudes had changed: see E. Bastea, The Creation of
Modern Athens, op. cit., pp. 1289.
24. Kostas Biris, (Athens, 19661967), p. 131.
25. Georgios Laios, (Athens, w A A, 1972), p. 108.
26. The equivalence was, of course, imaginary, since, for
instance, the Academy had very little to do with the
homonymous ancient institution of Plato.
27. The ancient Lyceum, Aristotles school, was discovered
in 1997, more to the South than was believed until then.

28. A. Papageorgiou-Venetas, HauptstadtAthen, op.


cit., p. 148.
29. Spyridon Markezinis,
18281964, 2 (Athens, , 1966),
p. 172.
30. See note 6 above.
31. General State Archives, Ottonian Record, Ministry of
Justice, , le 29, 1 July 1834, in French.
32. General State Archives, Ottonian Record, Ministry of
Justice, , le 29, 14 April 1835, in French.
33. Marinos Vrettos-Papadopoulos,
Athnes modernes (Athens, P.A. Sakellarios, 1860),
pp. 6870. However, the recent excavations for the construction of the new Acropolis Museum proved that
what they believed to be the ruins of Pericles Odeon
belonged in fact to dwellings of early Christian times.
The Odeon was discovered earlier more to the North.
34. L. von Klenze, Aphoristische Bemerkungen, op. cit.,
pp. 3889; Ludwig Ross, Errinerungen und Mitteilungen
aus Griechenland (Berlin, R. Grtner, 1863), p. 244; Carl
Hessel, Reiseskizzen aus Griechenland, in Program des
kniglichen Gymnasiums zu Wetzlar (Wetzlar, Ferd.
Schnitzler, 1874), p. 23; Georg Ludwig von Maurer,
, , , 31
1834, trsl. Christos Pratsikas (Athens, 1943
1947), p. 99; ., ,
(January, 1853).
35. F. Villard, Impressions de voyage. Lettres sur lAttique
(Guret, Dugenest, 1875), pp. 1314.
36. The speech was recorded in the Nafplion newspaper
: See , 18th March, 1834.
37. Lysandros Kaftantzoglou, w ,
, 8th March,1839.
38. Lysandros Kaftantzoglou,
(Athens, S. Pavlidis and
Z. Gryparis, 1858), p. 11.

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39. A. F. von Quast, Mittheilungen, op. cit., p. 32.


40. Friedrich Stauffert, Die Anlage von Athen und der
jetzige Zustand der Baukunst in Griechenland, Allgemeine Bauzeitung, Ephemeriden, 1 (March, 1844),
pp. 28; 2 (April, 1844), pp. 1725.
41. L. Ross, Errinerungen und Mitteilungen, op. cit.,
p. 159.
42. L. von Klenze, Aphoristische Bemerkungen, op. cit.,
pp. 4423, 481.
43. Ibid., pp. 4368.
44. , 12thFebruary, 1836; , 7thMarch, 1836.
45. F. Stauffert, Die Anlage von Athen, op. cit., pp. 17
25. About the location L. Ross, op. cit., observes that
that one too is not bad.
46. Aggeliki Kokkou, . w (paper presented at the
national
conference

, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,


Thessaloniki, Greece, 2nd-4thDecember, 1983), p. 136.
47. L. von Klenze, Aphoristische Bemerkungen, op. cit.,
pp. 4478.
48. General State Archives, Ottonian Record, Ministry of
the Interior, le 215.
49. F. Stauffert, Die Anlage von Athen, op. cit., pp. 1725.
50. Pavlos Vakas, .

.. .

(Athens, 1925), p. 27; see also F. Villard, Impressions
de voyage, op. cit., p. 14.
51. Dimitris Filippidis, 1811
1885 (Athens, ,
1995), p. 267: Filippidis book is the most complete
monograph on Kaftantzoglou.
52. Stefanos Galatis,
, 1 (Athens, 1957),
chapter 7, p. 4: a plan of Kleanthes project is included
in this publication.

53. Document of the Ministry of the Interior, Sur le carr


concder la commune dAthnes, General State
Archives, Ottonian Record, Ministry of the Interior,
le 213, 13 November 1835.
54. General State Archives, City Plan, les 120; General
State Archives, Ottonian Record, -, le 107. See
also F. Stauffert, Die Anlage von Athen, op. cit.,
pp. 1725 and E. Bastea, The Creation of Modern
Athens, op. cit., pp. 1319, 149.
55. General State Archives, City Plan, le 1, 7 December
1842; le 3, 1847; le 7, 15 November 1852, March
1853.
56. The Minister of the Interior to the Direction of the
Administrative Police of Athens and Piraeus,
,
General State Archives, City Plan, le 5, 15 January
1851; also the Direction of the Administrative Police of
Athens and Piraeus to the Minister of the Interior,
.
. ,
General State Archives, City Plan, le 5, 23 January 1851.
57. The Minister of Education to King Otto, , General State Archives, Ottonian
Record, Ministry of Education, L, le 57, 29 May 1856.
58. :
,

, General State Archives, City Plan,
le 1, 30 June 1844; also a document addressed to
the Ministry of the Interior,
, General
State Archives, City Plan, le 1, 7 October 1844.
59. A. Miliarakis,
, , 19 (1885), pp. 2327; Epaminondas Stasinopoulos, (Athens,
1973), p. 378; , 20 December, 1858; E. Bastea,
The Creation of Modern Athens, op. cit., pp. 14951.

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60. See, for example, E. Bastea, The Creation of Modern


Athens, op. cit., pp. 59, 196, 204.
61. K. Biris, , op. cit., pp. 21011; Aggeliki
Kokkou,
(Athens, , 1977), p. 224.
Kokkous book is the most complete research work
on the Archaeological Museum.
62. Decree
, Government Gazette 17, 8 March 1865.
63. A. Kokkou, , op. cit.,
p. 228.
64. , 25 March, 1865.
65. H. H. Russack, Deutsche Bauen in Athen, op. cit.,
pp. 151152.
66. A. Vernardakis, (Athens, 1902),
pp. 389; Lysandros Kaftantzoglou,


(Athens, 1880), p. 8.
67. General State Archives, City Plan, le 15, 10 December
1869.
68. General State Archives, City Plan, le 14, 2 October
1864.
69. Aristoteles Stavropoulos,
in, Yannis Tsiomis, ed.,
, (Athens, Ministry of
Culture, 1985), p. 130; decrees in the Government
Gazette 62, A, 30 March 1899; 75, A, 26 April
1899; 242, A, 10 November 1899; 220, A, 19
November 1902; 260, A, 7 November 1903; 29, A,
10 February 1904; 121, A, 9 July 1905; 96, B, 24
August 1896.