Because of her long and glorious history it is too seldom remembered that Greece as a modern state is less than two centuries old. Though by the second Treaty of London in 1830 the Powers had sponsored the creation of the new Greek State, it was not in fact until the signing of the Treaty of Constantinople of 31st July 1832, by which the Sublime Porte acknowledged Greece as a sovereign state, that full independence was achieved.
The dream of national liberation had at last been realized, but it was a completely exhausted and bankrupt state, a country of untilled fields, burned-out villages and ravaged towns, lacking both civil and judicial administration. It was in these circumstances that Great Britain, France and Russia made Greece a loan of 60,000,000 gold francs to meet the country’s immediate needs.
Not the least of the many urgent problems that had to be solved was the establishment of a future seat of government. In addition to Nauplion, then the provisional capital, the towns of Aegina, Patras, Corinth, Missolonghi, Syros, Argos and Megara all covered the honor of being chosen as the permanent capital of the country. Athens was the obvious choice, but Turkish troops were still in possession of the Acropolis. When, however, the Turkish garrison evacuated the Acropolis early in 1833, the choice of a capital was no longer a problem; Athens was solemnly proclaimed the capital city of the kingdom on 18th September 1834.
By the close of the War of Independence Athens had almost ceased to exist. Frequent bombardments combined with nearly four centuries of occupation had reduced the most renowned city of antiquity to little more than a large village consisting of three hundred or so mean dwellings clustered for the greater part at the foot of the Acropolis on its northern side. There lived the majority of the once prosperous population, now reduced to 5,000 souls, in abject poverty in the cramped and winding streets.
Such utter desolation offered the town-planner the unique opportunity of building an entirely new city, and Edward Schaubert (1804-68) of Breslau and his life long friend and fellow architect Stamatis Cleanthes (1802-62) of Velvendos in Macedonia were commissioned to prepare plans.
The plan they submitted was based on a triangle, Odhos Stadiou and Odhos Peiraeos forming the sides and Odhos Ermou the base. Odhos Stadiou was to be prolonged beyond the triangle to the Panathenaic Stadium, while Odhos Peiraeos – as its name implies – was to connect the capital with the principal port. Within this area broad thoroughfares were projected running from north to south and east to west. The apex of the triangle was Plateia Omonias, where Schaubert and Cleanthes proposed to erect the Royal Palace.
Unfortunately land speculation and other private interests prevailed over the public good and this plan was never executed in its entirety, the many modifications being in every case detrimental to the city and its future development. Most of the projected wide thoroughfares were transformed into narrow streets and the open spaces that had been planned as public gardens were built over with the result that the majority of the streets of Athens do not conform to the needs of a modern city.
The deficiencies of modern Athens are soon forgotten in the splendor of its setting. A sun-drenched city built around the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus, it is situated in the central plain of Attica, encircled by immemorial mountains. On the west stands Mount Aegaleo, 468 m.; on the north majestic Mount Parties, 1,411 m.; on the northeast Mount Pentelicon, 1,109 m., famous for its quarries of fine-grained white marble; on the east Mount Hymettus, 1,026 m., in antiquity celebrated equally for its marble and the incomparable honey that is still produced by the swarms of bees on its fragrant slopes, while to the south are the historic islands of Salamis and Aegina.