In 1834 King Otto decided to move the capital of his newly acquired kingdom from Nafplio to Athens. His selection was based on emotion rather than reason, since Athens was little more than a pile of ruins covered in weeds. The few residents had to struggle daily against the dust, the lack of drinkable water, and malaria. The complete absence of infrastructure was accompanied by a serious lack of housing to accommodate the royal household, the government, the army or the civil servants.
Otto and his ministers arrived during a cold and damp winter. They occupied all the available buildings in town and embarked on a grand project of creating a capital out of nothing. A university, an observatory, a military and a civil hospital, as well as a palace (that resembled a barracks or a madhouse) were built in record time. However, no money or effort was expended on schools, ministries, public lighting, sidewalks or sewers.
During this two-hour walk in downtown Athens we will observe the transformation of an Ottoman village into a European metropolis. We will become acquainted with the leading figures of the period, we will visit the sites of seminal events during the reign of King Otto, and we will “meet” the women of Athens who welcomed guests by offering homemade spinach pie and halva. Our excursion will begin outside the first royal residence, in Klafthmonos Square. As we walk the streets of Otto’s Athens we will discover surprising continuities in the daily experience of living in this city and we will discuss the reasons behind the tense relationship between the European newcomers and the Greeks who fought for independence.
King Otto’s Athens is an exciting introduction to the modern history of Athens and a great opportunity to understand the character of a city unlike any other.