You can understand the evolution of a city through its buildings. These under-the-radar landmarks define the shifting trends of architecture in Athens, from the neoclassical to the post-modern.
By Diane Shugart
Athens will surprise you with its diversity of design. If at first glance, the city appears to lack a coherent architectural style, that’s only because it’s highly individualistic. Even the most seemingly nondescript street harbours architectural quirks from different periods. Just tilt your head skywards to see Rococo railings and Art Deco porthole windows, capstones and gables on buildings that mark different moments in the city’s layered history. Our virtual tour of some of the finest buildings in Athens tells the story of how the modern Greek capital took shape.
Athens is established as the capital of Greece and the modern metropolis takes shape. Drawing inspiration from ancient Greece, architects introduce neoclassical elements. Impressive public buildings dominate a landscape of low-rise, stand-alone residences with gardens. Ofthalmiatrio (Eye Clinic)
The building’s shape, narrow vaulted windows, and distinctive brickwork recall a Byzantine church. But it was designed as an eye clinic. As funds kept running out, construction spanned two decades and three architects. Eventually completed in 1869, this sedate clinic at 26 Panepistimiou Avenue offers a stark contrast to the flamboyance of the Athens Academy on the opposite corner of Panepistimiou and Sina streets. 8 Thrasyvoulou
A rare example of 1830s residential architecture amid the souvenir shops and cafes of the city’s oldest quarter, Plaka. Clean simple lines with few adornments characterise this beautifully-restored dwelling. 106-108 Adrianou
Doric columns and a triangular pediment dwarf this school building, completed in 1876 by noted architect Panayotis Kalkos. He also designed the first Acropolis Museum, a small stone building close to the Parthenon. This building is still used as a primary school, although it sits rather incongruously among the souvenir shops in the heart of Plaka.
The emphasis shifts from public buildings to private residences, as the city’s elite display their wealth in luxurious mansions with eclectic flourishes. 46 Kypselis & Paxon
This stately mansion harks back to the era when Kypseli was known for its splendid residences. Classical elements are overpowered by Italianate flourishes, so it’s fitting that it housed the Casa d’Italia before the First World War. Today it’s a public school.
Many of the city’s leading architects of this period studied in France, so the Gallic influence is much in evidence. 175 Ippokratous
This two-storey Exarchia residence in the Beaux Arts style is stunning, with its rounded corner tower, vaulted entrances, and subtle embellishments. 8 Athinas & Agias Irinis
Step back to admire the detail hidden by the awning of this once typical two-storey dwelling in Monastiraki, with its blend of neoclassical and Art Deco elements.
Architects turn back towards their Greek roots, seeking inspiration from Byzantine and folk art. 38A Eressou
It looks like a single residence in Exarchia, but it’s actually two. A fact carefully concealed by the mix of neoclassical elements, like the pediments over the windows and neo-Baroque embellishments on the façade.
An urban middle class emerges, giving rise to the polikatikia or Athenian apartment block. Through its architecture, Athens embraces modernity, but also glances nostalgically back. 6 Hatzimichali
The innovative Aristotelis Zahos fuses elements of northern Greek architecture and Byzantine style in this three-storey dwelling in Plaka with rounded lancet windows. Originally the home of folk historian Angeliki Hatzimihali, today it houses the Centre for Popular Art and Tradition. 20-22 Bouboulinas
A rare example of an early apartment complex with two connecting arcades and three internal courtyards. The 46 apartments originally occupied an entire block in Exarchia. Its first owner was Konstantinos Logothetopoulos, who served as Prime Minister of Greece during the German occupation. The Rex Theatre
Athens’ first New York-style skyscraper, this massive building at 48 Panepistimiou Street originally housed a cinema, theatre, and ballroom. Its sheer façade and Art Deco elements, crafted from concrete, hide some ingenious acoustic engineering. The building was restored in the 1980s after a fire and currently houses one of the National Theatre’s stages.
War and occupation bring famine and ruin to Athens. A decade of destruction.
Reconstruction sees the city’s architecture turn sharply towards a modern future, expressed in square or rectangular structures. Bodossakis Foundation
The style has been described as ‘classico-modern’, which perfectly suits the building’s prominent location at number 20 Amalias Avenue, opposite the National Garden. The recessed balcony is a feature typical of the decade. Stoa Emporon
This address (8 Voulis Street) is better-known for Ariston, the landmark cheese-pie shop on the ground floor than its architecture. But the infusion of classical elements into the Beaux Arts style is definitely worth noting.
With the post-war reconstruction of Athens complete, urban planners and architects are free to focus more on form than function. The Athens Hilton
A symbol of Greek modernism, this landmark on Vassilis Sofias Avenue emphasised the country’s ‘Western’ orientation. Classical elements like the use of Pendeli marble, a colonnade, and inscriptions are ingeniously adapted as part of the building's thoroughly modern look. A monumental relief by artist Yannis Moralis covers the western façade. National Research Foundation
Designed by the internationally-acclaimed architect Constantinos A. Doxiadis, number 48 Vassileos Konstantinou Avenue has a fluidity that belies its austere lines. Sculptures on the front lawn are the only embellishment to this modern landmark opposite the Athens Conservatory.
A mixed decade politically and socially—and by extension, architecturally. Greeks, freed from the shackles of a seven-year dictatorship, sought to catch up with European trends. The Athens Tower
The 25-storey “skyscraper” (still one of Greece’s tallest buildings) and its squatter counterpart at 2-4 Mesogeion in Ambelokipi ushered in the era of glass facades and metal frames. 64 Louizis Riankour Street. Power Company Substation
Guaranteed to make you do a double-take, this triangular structure at 111 3rd Septemvriou Street, near Victoria Square, perfectly captures the mood of the Seventies and the move towards minimalism.
Athens shakes free of conservatism and concrete. Architects start experimenting with new materials—mostly glass, steel, and granite—with an eye towards the 21st century. Alpha Bank HQ
The sleek, meta-modern design suits this building’s purpose: the administrative headquarters of one of Greece’s top banks. 40 Stadiou Street reflects the architectural trends of this self-regarding decade. Peace & Friendship Stadium
This sports arena in Neo Faliro, used in the Athens 2004 Olympics, perfectly captures Athens in the ‘80s. Its name reflects the political currents of socialist rule, and its space-age curve showcases the new design potential of modern materials.
The good times continue to roll, with plenty of cash around for institutions and individuals to indulge their architectural ambitions. National Bank of Greece
It’s rare that a single structure embraces so much of a city’s history. Sections of the ancient city wall of Athens are reflected in the glass façade of this modern annex of the National Bank at 86 Aiolou Street. Athens School of Fine Arts Library
It took a decade to complete, but the design is definitely rooted in the mid-1990s when it was commissioned. Sleek spaces, natural lighting, and an industrial design chime well with its location at 256 Pireos Avenue, which cuts through the city’s manufacturing district.