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Getting acquainted with Vasilissis Sofias Avenue

It was October of 1889, when Sofia Dorothea Alice of the House Hohenzollern, sister of the later German Emperor Frederick III, was saluting in excitement the enthusiastic people of Athens, who were gathered in Syntagma Square in front of the palace, to welcome the blue-blooded German princess.

A few days after, she stood as a bride on the side of Constantine's successor, the man with whom she joined her fate. Next to him, she met moments of national happiness, such as the triumphs of the Balkan Wars, and tough days, such as the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the exile. She died in Florence, in 1932 and was buried next to her husband.

The City of Athens, shortly after her death, gave her name to Kifissias Anenue, which connected Athens, with the rural then, suburb.

Due to the fact that every rich family of the time wanted to be close to the palace, Kifissias Street initially-consequently Vasilissis Sofias, was the street on which they preferred to build their luxury houses. Today, these grandiose mansions have been converted into embassies, ministries and museums or have given their place to representative samples of modern architecture.

Let's take a walk on this street, where the buildings have interesting stories to tell about the past and the present of Athens.

Greek Parliament



While the best known aspect of the Parliament is from Amalias Street, the entrance from Vasilissis Sofias is the busiest, because that is the way that the ministers, the parliamentarians and the citizens, enter to the building. In the surrounding area of the Parliament, "the Mother", a great bronze statue by the sculptor Christos Kapralos, placed in the courtyard of the Parliament in 2003, faces the street.

On the same side of the enclosure of the Parliament, the "Little Palace" is located. The American architect St. Thomson, gave the small building an image of a Doric temple. "Little Palace", was built in 1925 and was used as station for the needlework and the embroidery of the refugees. The construction was undertaken by the organization " Friends of Greece in America", whose chairman was Penelope Delta. After the installation of the Parliament in the Old Palace, "Little Palace" turned into a storage space. Today, it is used by the television station of the Parliament.

Byzantine and Christian Museum



The Byzantine and Christian Museum is housed from 1930 until now in ‘’Villa Ilissia’’, in the building complex completed in 1848 by the architect Stamatis Kleanthis, on the banks of Ilissos, on behalf of Sophie de Marbois-Leburn, Duchess of Plaisance. The Duchess, used the villa as a winter residence until her death (Spring of 1854). Then, the complex was bought by the Greek State and for many years the Army service was housed there. In 1926, it was ceded to the Byzantine and Christian Museum, which, after the necessary modifications, completed the installation on the site in September 1930.

The main building of the complex, hosted the permanent collections of the museum from 1930 to 2004. Now that the permanent collections are housed in the new exhibition halls, it houses the reception hall and temporary exhibition halls.

Benaki Museum

When Emmanuel Benakis acquired the Charokopos mansion, he proceeded to a radical architectural reconfiguration of the building, giving it almost its current form. In the following decades, there were further additions under the supervision of the architect Anastasios Metaxas, who had taken over the restoration of the Panathenaic Stadium as well. In 1931, Antonios Benakis donated the Museum and its rich collection to the Greek State.

War Museum



In 1975, the War Museum, which houses collections of the ancient and contemporary military history of our country, was inaugurated. Peter Saroglou’s, collection of arms singles out. The building, designed by the architect Thucydides Valentis, is one of the most typical examples of the Bauhaus Movement’s Architecture in Athens.

Foundation B. & M. Theocharakis

The Fine Arts and Music Foundation of Vasileios and Marina Theocharaki, aims to the salience of the modern art. The building, housing the institution, was the Rendis family mansion, built in 1928 and was situated in a privileged position directly opposite the palace.

Museum of Cycladic Art



The neoclassical building of Stathakos Mansion, was designed by the architect Ernst Ziller, in the late 19th century. It was used as the residence of Otto and Athena Stathakos, but during the 20th century, it met various uses. It was purchased by the Greek State in 1981, in order to host esteemed guests. However, it was not considered ultimately suitable for this purpose, and so it was given to the Foundation of Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris, that benefited from it by housing one of the largest Cycladic Art collections in the world.

National Gallery

The National Gallery’s collection, presents a panorama of the Greek Art of Painting, from the post-Byzantine art to the contemporary, without an absence of works by important Western artists. The building of the Gallery, designed in projects of Pavlos Mylonas and Dimitris Fatouros, professors of Architecture, was inaugurated in 1976, providing a solution to the chronic housing problem that was faced. Recently, works of expansion and modernization of the facilities were launched.

Eleftherios Venizelos Museum

The Museum 'Eleftherios K. Venizelos' of the Cultural Organization of the City of Athens, was organized in 1986, based on the collection of the Cretans, Zacharias and Anthonios Makatounis. The stone building in which the museum is housed, located next to the Eleftherias Park Art Centre, was used during the dictatorship as the Greek Military Police(EAT/ESA) detention centre. The exhibition material is presented on two floors of the building and includes personal relics of Venizelos; recordings of events that occurred from his birth to his death (documents, letters) as well as photographs and lithographs.

The Athens Concert Hall

60 years ago, it was the dream of a group of people who had set up the association "Friends of Music". But since 1991, it is an institution that methodically and with stability, promotes the musical creation in our country and brings the Greek public into contact with great performances of artists from abroad. In addition to the ultramodern rooms of the Concert Hall, the great music library of Lilian Voudouri is hosted there.

Hilton Hotel



This year the Hilton hotel completes 50 years of presence in Athens. It was the first large hotel of the chain of hotels, that opened in the city, and from the beginning of its operation, it became such a powerful landmark, that the entire surrounding area was named after it.

The designs, were signed by the architects Emmanuel Vourekas, Prokopis Vassiliadis, Spyros Staikos and Anthonios Georgiadis, and in spite of its modern design, it retains a vivid Greek appearance, due to the use of Pentelic marble. The Hilton hotel, hosts important artworks of Greek artists. However, the most prominent is still the archaic abstract composition by Yannis Moralis, adorning the hotel wall, towards Vasilissis Sofias Avenue. During the opening of the hotel, the hotel chain’s owner, C. Hilton declared: "I agree with those who believe that Hilton of Athens is the nicest Hilton of the world.". Today, half a century later, the Hilton hotel, is considered the newest monument in Athens, as well as by the city’s inhabitants.

Memorial Column of Ion Dragoumis

On July 31, 1920, the assassination attempt against El. Venizelos, was known in Athens. Angry supporters of the prime minister and parastatals, staged retaliatory acts, directed against his political opponents. Despite the unsettled atmosphere and the danger, he knew he was under, Ion Dragoumis, did not hesitate to drive his car towards the centre of Athens. At the height of Ambelokipoi, he was arrested by a group of armed men, who stopped his car, and forcibly took him at the junction of Kifissias and Rigillis streets. After being forced to stand on a stone fence, he was executed by shooting.

Today at the execution point, almost opposite from the Hilton hotel, a commemorative monument has been placed, engraved with lyrics written by Kostis Palamas:

"White, let there be placed where thee fell, Pillar
(How thee have fallen, it writes not to tell)
White, with the image of the Fatherland
The only one fit to be crying for thee,
Silent, marbled crying for thee! "

The Runner



The glass runner of Kostas Varotsos, is located on the square of the Great School of the Nation, just across from the Hilton hotel. It was designed to be placed in Omonoia Square, but it was moved to Vasilissis Sofias, as it is today, when the Metro construction works started on the square. It was the first large public work of art placed in Athens, although when moved, its height was increased further, reaching 12 meters, in order to be integrated smoothly into the new position.

Sacred Temples

The church opposite the War Museum is called Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas) of the Poorhouse. The precinct of the temple, is adjacent to the surrounding area of the British Embassy, and a few meters away, next to the Rizarios park, lies the Church of Agios Georgios (St. George). Both temples are of neo-Byzantine architecture, a style that prevailed in the late 19th century.

Saroglio Mansion - Hellenic Armed Forces Officers’ Club



In the facade of the Hellenic Armed Forces Officers’ club (LAED), the inscription "Saroglio" has been placed, in honor of Peter Saroglou, artillery officer, who with his will, bequeathed most of his major assets to the General Club of Land and Sea Officers.

Embassies

Embassy of France
The mansion of Merlin, was built by the architect Anastasios Metaxas, upon request of the rich Englishman Charles Merlin, who lived in Athens, in order to rent it to the French Embassy. Its location just across from the Palace and the centre of the capital, makes the building an ideal choice. Indeed, the Embassy of France was positioned there in the late 19th century, while in 1914, it was bought by the French State. It is called HOTEL MERLIN de DOUA, in honour of the French revolutionary, great-grandfather of the original proprietary.

Embassy of Italy
The mansion of Psychas, where today the Italian Embassy is, was built based on the designs of E. Ziller, upon request of the banker Stephanos Psychas. It was purchased by the third son of King Constantine’s and Sofia’s, Prince Nikolaos, to be used as a personal residence. After the exile of the royal family, the mansion was rented to the hotel Grande Bretagne and converted into a hotel, under the name of "Petit- Palais". In the mid 20th century, it was bought by the Italian State, in order for the embassy to be transferred there.

Embassy of Egypt



Next to the house of his brother Stephanos Psychas, Nicholaos Psychas, built his own mansion. The designs for this mansion belong to E. Ziller. Since the mid 20th century, the Egyptian Embassy is housed there.

US Embassy
The US embassy in Athens was constructed in the middle of the 20th century by the famous architect Walter Gropius, and is another example of the Bauhaus Movement’s School of Architecture. The architect himself, said that his inspiration for the building was the Parthenon.

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