All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org. Text edited by Rosamie Moore.
Page revised in November 2009.
Foreword: the Dukes of Athens
I do not know if today's students do it, but I used, as soon as I had the books for the new school year, rush through them to see the images they had. I still remember being quite puzzled by a black and white image which I found in my history book covering the period from the fall of the Roman Empire to 1492. Here is a colored image of that plate.
I could not understand what a Duke of Athens had to do with the Republic of Florence.
Dante made reference to a Duke of Athens (Inferno XII):
and Shakespeare set the first act of A Midsummer-Night's Dream in the palace of the Duke of Athens. But they both made reference to Theseus, the slayer of the Minotaur and the mythological founder of Athens.
The Duke of Athens shown in this XIXth century painting is Gautier de Brienne, a vassal of Robert I, the Angevin King of Naples. In 1342 the richest Florentine families offered him the lordship of Florence, but his rule was so despotic that in 1343 he was ousted from power. He was a descendant of Jean de Brienne, Latin Emperor of Constantinople (1231-37).
But let us see some key dates:
1204 At the fall of the Byzantine Empire, Athens becomes part of the Duchy of Athens under a Burgundian family. In the next 250 years the French are replaced by Catalan, Sicilian, Navarrese and Florentine rulers
1456 The Turks seize Athens
1467 The Venetians conquer Athens for a very short period
1687 The Venetian commander Francesco Morosini seizes Athens
1699 The peace of Carlowitz assigns Athens to the Turks
The 1687 siege of Athens
The Venetians approached Athens from the south and positioned most of their artillery on the hill of the Muses also called hill of Philopappus after a monument to the consul Caius Julius Philopappus. From the hill the Venetians could see the Acropolis, which had the appearance of a fortress with the notable exception of the Temple to Athene, the Parthenon. The early XIXth century print shown above is very likely a faithful representation of the scene in 1687. In the late XVIIth century most of the small population of Athens (3,000 inhabitants) lived at the foot of the Acropolis northern side.
At first sight today's view does not seem very different, but then one notices the changes in the Acropolis.
The Acropolis was from the very beginning a fortress and the view above shows that in the XIXth century it had merlons and artillery sites. A tower strengthened its defence. The Acropolis could only be accessed from the west through the Propylaea, the imposing entrance built in the Vth century BC. Its two wings were turned into fortified palaces which were used by the Dukes of Athens and by the Turkish governors.
In the XIXth century the Acropolis was the object of a vast campaign of archaeological excavations. Their aim was to bring back the Acropolis to the Vth century BC. All additions of the Byzantine, Frankish and Turkish periods were regarded as not being of any interest and were destroyed. Maybe today this aim would be achieved in a more sophisticated way (the image used as a background for this page is a Turkish relief I noticed in the rubble of the Acropolis).
In the short period of Venetian occupation after 1687 a topographer drew a map of Athens where the Acropolis is called Castello d'Acropoli and which shows that the theatre of Herodes Atticus was included in the fortification of the Acropolis. We can also see that there were very few buildings on the Acropolis. The Venetian conquest of Athens would be a very minor event in world history if it had not caused great damage to the Parthenon. Francesco Morosini, the Venetian Commander was given the title of Peloponnesiacus by the Senate for his swift victories in the Morea War (1684-87), a type of recognition the Romans had given to very few commanders (Britannicus, Germanicus, etc..). Certainly Morosini passed away in 1694 in the belief he would be remembered as a great commander. As a matter of fact today's encyclopaedias devote a line to his military records and a paragraph to the fact that the Venetian artillery hit the Parthenon causing the collapse of its central part (maybe a today's hero, tomorrow will be remembered for the damage he indirectly caused to an important museum).
The Venetians had little interest in targeting the Parthenon, because they were aiming at damaging the fortifications at the entrance of the Acropolis. At that time cannon threw metal or stone balls, which were not able to cause any major damage to the solid columns of the Parthenon. The columns of the rear façade show the impact of these balls (their left side - towards the hill of Philopappus - is more damaged than the right side).
Having learnt that the Turks were using a part of the ancient temple as a powder-magazine, the Venetians placed some mortars in a more advanced position and they shot incendiary bombs, one of which hit the roof of the Parthenon causing the explosion of the powder-magazine and the collapse of the central part of the temple.
When (in 2003) I was taking some of the pictures you see in this page I noticed three tourists who were speaking Turkish and after a brief explanation we arranged to take this picture, where on behalf of our Italian and Turkish ancestors, we formally acknowledge our wrongdoings and apologize for them.
Sitting at a cafè
Many tourists sit everyday at a Piraeus cafè near the departure of the ferries for the Cycladic Islands. Its menu brings back other memories of Francesco Morosini. At the time Piraeus was called Porto Leone after the statue of a lion at the entrance to the harbour. Morosini tried to take some of the statues which decorated the Parthenon, but a first attempt to bring down a statue ended with a technical disaster, so he gave up and contented himself with the statue of the lion, which was put at the entrance of Arsenale in Venice.
In the second half of the XVIIIth century Athens had a period of development and was embellished by the Turks. Certainly when in 1833 Athens became the capital of the Kingdom of Greece, it had a pretty oriental appearance with a bazaar, hammams, Koranic schools and mosques. After a long period of neglect, the few remaining buildings of that period are gaining increasing attention.
The Greek Kingdom was initially limited to Peloponnese, Acarnania, Boeotia, Attica and the Cycladic islands: its "obvious" capital was Nafplion (Napoli di Romania) which had had this role during the Venetian Kingdom of Morea (1699-1714). The majority of the Greeks still lived in the Ottoman Empire and there were far more Greeks in Istanbul, Izmir or Alexandria than in any other town of the infant kingdom. The choice of Athens as capital aimed at emphasizing the links between modern and ancient Greece: a view supported by the Great Powers protecting the new kingdom, less by the Greeks themselves who believed themselves to be the heirs of Justinian and the Byzantine Empire, rather than of Pericles and the Greek Democracy.
This explains why the expansion of Athens was so much based on Neoclassic buildings. The first king came from Bavaria and many buildings were designed by German architects. It was (like most of XIXth century architecture) a sort of Neoclassicism à la carte in the sense that the architects assembled in various ways elements of different styles. The image above shows buildings where Neoclassic elements prevailed, but in Athens there are also a few buildings with a distinct Renaissance appearance (image below).
Excerpts from Memorie Istoriografiche del Regno della Morea Riacquistato dall'armi della Sereniss. Repubblica di Venezia printed in Venice in 1692 and related to this page:
Introductory page on the Venetian Fortresses
Pages of this section:
On the Ionian Islands: Corfù (Kerkyra) Paxo (Paxi) Santa Maura (Lefkadas) Cefalonia (Kephallonia) Asso (Assos) Itaca (Ithaki) Zante (Zachintos) Cerigo (Kythera)
On the mainland: Butrinto (Butrint) Parga Preveza and Azio (Aktion) Vonizza (Vonitsa) Lepanto (Nafpaktos) Atene (Athens)
On Morea: Castel di Morea (Rio), Castel di Rumelia (Antirio) and Patrasso (Patra) Castel Tornese (Hlemoutsi) and Glarenza Navarino (Pilo) and Calamata Modon (Methoni) Corone (Koroni) Braccio di Maina, Zarnata, Passavà and Chielefà Mistrà Corinto (Korinthos) Argo (Argos) Napoli di Romania (Nafplio) Malvasia (Monemvassia)
On the Aegean Sea: Negroponte (Chalki) Castelrosso (Karistos) Oreo Lemno (Limnos) Schiatto (Skiathos) Scopello (Skopelos) Alonisso Schiro (Skyros) Andro (Andros) Tino (Tinos) Micono (Mykonos) Siro (Syros) Egina (Aegina) Spezzia (Spetse) Paris (Paros) Antiparis (Andiparos) Nasso (Naxos) Serifo (Serifos) Sifno (Syphnos) Milo (Milos) Argentiera (Kimolos) Santorino (Thira) Folegandro (Folegandros) Stampalia (Astipalea) Candia (Kriti)
You may refresh your knowledge of the history of Venice in the Levant by reading an abstract from the History of Venice by Thomas Salmon, published in 1754. The Italian text is accompanied by an English summary.
Clickable Map of the Ionian and Aegean Seas with links to the Venetian fortresses and to other locations (opens in a separate window)