Outdoor sculpture has been everywhere in cities since antiquity. Sculptures have been made and adorned public spaces, buildings and private houses. Their purpose is to remind us of important historical events or people, but they are also used for religious and decorative purposes. Some of them, although very important at the time they were made, today seem forgotten and very few know their artistic and cultural significance. In this article, we want to present 7 unique sculptures, all very close to the center of Athens, that you probably don’t know exist or don’t know the stories behind them. They are lost in the noise and the traffic of the city.
Caryatids (Καρυάτιδες) : The House with the Caryatids (Το Σπίτι με τις Καρυάτιδες) is a two-storey neoclassical house in the popular district of Psyrri and is known for the two Caryatid sculptures located on the balcony of its facade supporting the roof. The house was built in the late 19th century and is a typical example of Athenian neoclassicism. The Caryatids that adorn the facade are the work of the sculptor Ioannis Karakatsanis. He was an Aeginian artist and the owner of the house, where he lived with his family, and the models who became Caryatids were his wife Xanthi and her sister Eudoxia. The urban legend that accompanied their story was created by the imaginative barber, Panagiotis Kritikakos, who kept his shop on the ground floor for years. He was telling his clients – possibly for reasons of fame- that the owner of the building had two daughters, who died. Then the unfortunate father, in order to alleviate his pain, ordered the Caryatids. The barber’s story was that the two daughters had been poisoned by their evil mother, the owner’s supposed second wife. However, none of his stories was true. The sculptures had also a strong artistic influence on various artists such as the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Greek painter Yannis Tsarouchis and the Greek novelist Costas Taktsis (who used elements of the stories related to the house in his famous novel “The Third Wedding Wreath”). In 1989 the house was declared a protected area by the Ministry of Culture and in 2001 the sculptures were fully restored. (Agion Asomaton 45, Psyrri)
Fountain of Metaxourgio (Κρήνη του Μεταξουργείου) : Metaxourgio Square is located in the centre of the homonymous and historic district. The square became known by this name from a silk fabric factory founded there in 1835, which over time remained for the entire area. From Metaxourgio Square began the carnival attractions of the old city of Athens, such as “Maypole” (aka “Yaitanaki”). Back then the square was twice as large as today. The square was also famous for its marble fountain, which was created by an unknown artist in 1853 with the monument of Lysikrates (in Plaka) as a model. It consists of a circular dome with an Ionian-style peristyle that rests on an octagonal pedestal. The fountain was initially placed in Dimopratiriou Square (between Mitropoleos, Aiolou and Kirikeiou streets) on the left side towards Aiolou Street. Due to the intense movement and crowds that existed there, the fountain was moved to its current location in 1925. For many years the fountain was the main place of water supply to the locals (until the late 1950s), while due to the coolness it brought, around it were gathered the tables of the cafes of the square, such as those of the legendary cafe Morias. The degradation of the area and the evolution of the water supply system led the fountain to disuse in the last decades of the 20th century, which resulted in the square itself being deserted. After the renovation in 1997, the fountain was preserved and a circular marble basin was added around it. (Metaxourgio Square, junction of Lenorman and Achilleos, Metaxourgio)
Charles Lenormant Memorial (Μνημείο Καρόλου Λενορμάν) : Charles Lenormant (1802-1859) was a French archaeologist. He was a professor of Egyptology at the Sorbonne and director of antiquities at the National Library in Paris. Together with Sampolion they managed to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphic writing. But Lenormant also, fluent in ancient Greek, made two large archaeological missions in Greece. During his third trip to Greece he organized an archeological symposium of Plato’s Academy, but a few days later died. The sudden death of the philhellene Lenormant shocked the whole country. At the request of the Municipal Council in 1859, the Mayor of Athens, George Skoufos, addressed a letter to the son of the deceased, asking Lenormant’s heart to be buried in a special place at Plato’s Academy, at the top of Ippios Kolonos Hill, next to his friend and admirer, the German poet Wilhelm Mueller (who was buried here in 1840 at his request). The original monument was designed by a French sculptor, erected in 1860 and was a marble bath carrier (aka hydroforos) that resembles the ancient Greek burial monuments. However, because the hill was then deserted, the monument was used as a shooting target. At the initiative of the Municipality of Athens, Michalis Tombros created a copy of the monument in 1936. Today, children play ball on the hill, couples sit under its pines, citizens of the nearby area pass by, and most of them are unaware of the hidden heart of the famous archaeologist. (Ippios Kolonos Hill, Kolonos)
Theseus saves Hippodameia (Θησεύς σώζων την Ιπποδάμεια) : The sculptural complex in Victoria Square is a creation of maximum artistic value. It is considered one of the most important outdoor sculpture works of the 20th century in Athens. The sculpture was created in Berlin in 1906 by the German sculptor Johannes Pfuhl (1846 – 1914) and it is made from galvanized bronze in a German factory. The whole sculptural construction is based on an octagonal marble base. The sculpture depicts the hero Theseus who is fighting to save the beautiful Hippodameia, wife of the king of Lapiths Peirithos, from the drunken Centaur Evrytion, while fallen to the ground a follower of Hippodameia watches the scene helplessly. The bronze sculpture was donated to the Municipality of Athens in 1927 and was initially put in Syntagma Square from where it was moved on Wednesday, September 29, 1937, to its current location in Victoria Square. The sculpture in the mid-1960s was the source of inspiration for the lyrics of Lefteris Papadopoulos in the song “The Statue” (Το Άγαλμα), which was a great success with singer Giannis Poulopoulos. The sculpture is also pierced by bullets, probably from the battles in the city during the Civil War. Today, neglected and forgotten, it is a meeting point for dozens of immigrants and refugees living in the center of Athens. (Victoria Square, Athens)
Alexandros Ypsilantis Memorial (Μνημείο Αλέξανδρου Υψηλάντη) : The burial monument of Alexandros Ypsilantis, the General Commissioner of the Friendly Society and leader of Hieros Lochos (the first attempt at a Greek revolution), is very reminiscent of the sculpture of Giannoulis Halepas with the name “Sleeping Female Figure”. Although there is no signature of the artist, it is attributed to the sculptor Leonidas Drossis in 1869. The dead body is lying on a sarcophagus with embossed decorations on its sides (laurel wreaths, the coat of arms of the family, the Phoenix, the sign of the Revolution and a sword). This is the only example of a male figure of this type in Greece. Some experts tend to recognize the figure as Alexandros’ younger brother, Demetrios, but this is not justified either by the physiognomic characteristics or by the military clothing of the deceased. The original location of the monument was at the Polytechnic School. But due to the fact that it was vandalized several times for political reasons (because Ypsilantis was considered a symbol of the bourgeoisie), in 1964, it was transferred in front of the church of Agioi Taxiarches in Pedion Areos, near the cenotaphs of the Hierolochites of 1821 and of the fallen soldiers at Domokos in 1897. In the same year, his bones were recovered from Vienna and were deposited in the monument. (Church of Agioi Taxiarches, Pedion Areos)
Eve (Εύα) : This sculpture, a full-length, naked statue of Eve holding the apple with her left hand while the snake crawls at her feet, has become the symbol of Kypriadou district. Kyrpiadou was the first garden city of Athens and one of its most beautiful neighbourhoods. The establishment of Kypriadou district was due to the actions of the agronomist – engineer Epamineondas Kypriadis. The neighbourhood was a model district. Kypriadis paved roads with large sidewalks designed lawns for buildings and arranged the area with large squares so that everyone looks at least at one. These plans were later used for the design of Psychiko district. Kypriadou was also an area of artists, writers and intellectuals. There was a gathering of workshops of well-known painters, writers and artists, partly representatives of the Generation of the ’30s. The statue of Eva was ordered by the architect Dimitris Pikionis, a resident of the area of Kypriadou and was made by sculptor Grigorios Zevgolis. The statue had also given its name to the square which was called “Eva Square”. During the Dictatorship of 1967, due to its nakedness, the sculpture was removed and placed in Kypseli Square and was almost forgotten. Its place took the marble bust of Konstantinos Nikolopoulos, former Mayor of Athens, thus the small square was renamed “Nikolopoulos Square”. Later, after many years of efforts of the cultural association “Anagennisi” of Kypriadiou area, the Municipality of Athens decided to return Eve to the square (1995). (Nikolopoulos Square, Kypriadou/Patisia)
Alexandros Papadiamantis (Αλέξανδρος Παπαδιαμάντης) : The relief portrait of Alexandros Papadiamantis, one of the most important and unique Greek authors of all time, is located on Hadrian’s masonry of Dexameni Square, in Kolonaki and dates back to 1923. The Municipal Council of Athens approved the cost of the project with the amount of 5,000 drachmas and the portrait was made by the sculptor Thomas Thomopoulos, whose works could be seen in many central parts of Athens. The author is portrayed in old age and his gaze is tired and thoughtful. Dexameni, at the beginning of the 20th century, was the hermitage of Papadiamantis and other artists. In 1900 there were two cafes known as “The Hermits” because they were far outside the established borders of the city. The cheapest was that of Barbayiannis, who sold coffee for a penny and the second was named Terpsi, which became the meeting place for writers and poets. The humble Papadiamantis used to sit outside Barbayiannis cafe, in the back, next to the small window of the fireplace. He would take his coffee from the window or ask for a fire to light his cigarette. This was the location of his only (and therefore famous) photograph taken by Pavlos Nirvanas; another writer who frequented the square (read here an article about the incident). The author’s hermitage is now at the center of one of the busiest areas of the city and his portrait is forgotten, while a bougainvillea is threatening to cover it. (Dexameni Square, Kolonaki)
We hope you find this article interesting and the next time you pass by one of these sculptures (you could find here a map with all the locations), stop for a moment and admire their beauty and uniqueness.