A guided visit to the Hellenic Parliament and the exhibition “Ioannis Kapodistrias: his course over time”, organized by Caritas Athens on Saturday, April 14th, was met with great success!
Sixty-two persons from all parishes of Athens Catholic Diocese, among them members of the Organization’s Board, Fr. Ioannis Patsis (Deputy Chairman and Director), Helen Carabott (Communication, Public Relations and Third Age Sector Officer) and Stanislaos Stouraitis (Treasurer), had the opportunity to admire the Senate and “Eleftherios Venizelos” Halls. The Plenum Hall remains closed until the end of next September for reconstructions on its rooftop. Participants were informed at length on the Parliament’s organization and operations, while they were guided through the very interesting exhibition/tribute to Greece’s first Governor who endorsed significant reforms for promoting State operations, setting its legal framework and reorganizing the army.
The striking neoclassical building, designed by Friedrich von Gärtner -official architect of the Bavarian court and director of Munich’s Academy of Fine Arts- resonates with modern Greek State’s history. Construction works began in 1836 and were completed in 1847. It initially served as the residence of King Otto and Queen Amalia and subsequently King George I and Queen Olga up to 1910 when they settled at the newly-built Palace on Herodus Atticus street (current Presidential Mansion).
As of 1929 the building houses the Hellenic Parliament, which includes the Plenum Hall, as well as rooms for its Committees, offices for its Speaker and Deputy Speakers, a hall where the Cabinet convenes, a fragment of its Archives (the rest are located in the Tobacco factory on Lenorman street), offices for the parliamentary groups affiliated to political parties, its tv station and various administrative services.
It should be noted that its broader area, dubbed Boubounistra Hill, prevailed as an excellent location in the center of the new capital, easily defendable and cool thanks to its micro-climate, with a unique view to the Acropolis and the outskirts of the then-new capital.
Gärtner designed an austere, functional and compact building which respects the heritage of ancient Athens, in keeping with the ideas of urban classicism. It was accessible from all sides. Its four exterior wings had three floors each, while the middle wing had two floors and two courtyards and staircases that facilitated contact among the floors.
Mainly due to two large fires that broke out in 1884 and 1909 respectively, the building called for renovation and alterations to the initial construction. Nevertheless, political and financial instability of the years to come (Greek-Bulgarian war, the assassination of King George I and World War I) prevented any such plans from developing.
In the aftermath of the Asia Minor Disaster in 1922, the building served a new purpose. It initially housed 4,000 refugees and subsequently government authorities, as well as private charities and international organizations that undertook joint efforts to address the complex reality that has emerged.
In November 1929 the government of Eleftherios Venizelos decided to relocate both Parliament and Senate chambers to the old Palace building, based on designs by the architect Andreas Kriezis, while the first parliamentary session of the Fifth National Assembly took place on July 1st, 1935 in the brand-new Plenum Hall.
Political transition in 1975 also brought necessary reconstructions to modernize and technologically upgrade the building. The most important among them was the construction of a five-story parking lot under the perimeter of the building.
Finally, among the most important additions to the building’s exterior was the addition of the statues of Charilaos Trikoupis and Eleftherios Venizelos, both works of Yiannis Pappas, as well as The Mother, by Christos Kapralos, who also created a
Monument of the Battle of Pindos.