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The period of Otto (1830-1862)

A bit after the Ottomans had yielded Acropolis to the Bavarian detachment, the Bavarian officials decided to make Athens the capital of the newly born state, on the 14th of June 1833. King Otto would move to the new capital in December 1833; his arrival to Athens was celebrated by the whole population of Athens. The first residence of the king was at the actual Klafthmonos square, in the nice buildings that today house the Museum of the City of Athens. It is in this period that were planted the high trees that still survive at the southern part of the square.

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At the same time the architects Stamatios Kleanthis and Gustav Edouard Schaubert were appointed to work out a plan of the development of modern Athens, which would have to replace the older one in ruins. The architects worked hard and were ready very soon; they designed wide streets, open spaces and big blocks, following the concept of town planning of the period. However, the plan met with strong opposition by the landlords whose properties were involved. The solution was given by Ludwig, the philhellene father of Otto and king of Bavaria, who charged his court architect Leo von Klenze to review the plan; this latter left the old part of the town almost intact and designed a totally new part at the north.

The place of the new palace seemed to be the most puzzling issue of the architects; there were several suggestions, one of which considered the Acropolis as the most appropriate place (!), but luckily enough it was decided to build the palace at the low height opposite the actual Syntagma square; it is the building that now houses the Greek Parliament. Queen Amalia took care for the planning and realization of the so-called Royal Park, now renamed in National Park, an oasis within the heart of modern Athens.
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It is in this period that are dated the wide boulevards of the city and some of the most imposing and beautiful public buildings of various styles, as the ophthalmic hospital realized by the Danish architects Hansen brothers; also wealthy Athenians, diplomats and tradesmen from Constantinople, who decided to settle in Athens, had their mansions made in the new part of the city. One of the most characteristic cases of this was the eccentric duchess of Plaisance who had several houses built both in Athens and in the suburbs, among which the building actually housing the Byzantine and Christian Museum and the mansion at Pendeli, actually used for cultural events. Nice buildings, mostly hotels, were erected along central roads as Ermou and Athenas streets. In 1837 it was founded the University of Athens, initially housed in Plaka, at the impressive house of the architect Kleanthis. A few decades later, the University moved in the simple and austere building of Panepistimiou Street and was “framed” by the equally nice and imposing buildings of the National Library and of the Academy.

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It is in these times that a lot of craftsmen and workers from other places of Greece, mainly from Cyclades, came in mass to work in Athens. As they needed a place to stay they built up two neighborhoods which extended the city, but without any planning. Some of the newcomers settled around the church of Zoodohos Pighi (actually at Akadimias street); the quarter was given the name Proastio (suburb). Many people, most of them coming from the small island of Anafi, settled on the rocky foothill at the northern part of Acropolis, as the place resembled a lot to their home landscape; ever since the place is called Anafiotika. Also, several tradesmen of Jewish origins came to Athens; they founded their stores at the newly constructed Ermou Street. The area of actual Exarhia square was settled mostly by students, as the place was very close to the University; the new quarter was given the name Neapolis (“the new town”). Another quarter, settled by workers, was established around the silk industry and was called Metaxourgio after this industry; at the beginning the name of the quarter was Nea Sfera (“the new sphere”). More workers’ quarters were gradually established at Petralona, at Thesseio and elsewhere. And, around these newly founded quarters, shepherds grazed their flocks and brought fresh milk at the city center.

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It is in the same period that many Byzantine churches were demolished in order to uncover the ruins of more ancient buildings, as the epoch encouraged return to antiquity. Apart from that, several other Byzantine churches were renovated or restored, without taking into account their initial design. Kapnikarea, Agioi Theodori and a few more churches, mainly of the 10th and 11th centuries were saved at the last moment. Finally, in 1862, by the end of the reign of Otto, it was completed the Cathedral.

Several excavations were carried out and many archaeological sites were restored, some successfully, some others not. In 1837 it was founded the Greek Archaeological Society which ever since was responsible for all archaeological activities. It was also raised the need for an Archaeological Museum which was initially housed in the well preserved ancient temple of Thesseio, until the actual building of Patission Street was completed.

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Meantime, in about 1840 it was designed and constructed the new road to Piraeus which had already started to develop, along with the town that was extended around the old port. Until 1843 all plans about expansion ad planning of the city was in the hands of the Bavarian officers and officials of the State. After the revolt of the 3 rd of September 1843 that obliged Otto to assign a Constitution, the Bavarians were expelled from government, as during their domination they had behaved as conquerors and not as officers appointed to serve an independent state. However, if the domination of the Bavarians ended, it was not the same with the interventions of the great powers, who not merely intervened, but it was them that set the policy of the Greek government. A fact that is confirmed in various cases in the future, as the Pacifico case, the Piraeus harbor blockade by the British and French fleets, which resulted in a cholera epidemic, or the rebellion that resulted in the dethronement of Otto in October 1862

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