The second half of the 19th century was a key period for the city of Athens; during the previous four hundred years Athens was just a small town in the immense territory of the Ottoman Empire. Its population was between 4000 and 6000 people and the only existing houses and neighborhoods could be seen just around the hill of Acropolis, the area known as “Plaka” nowadays. Following the establishment of the Greek state Athens was chosen as the capital, mostly for historic reasons, and it underwent a massive urban development construction plan. New streets, squares, and areas were built as the city steadily began to resemble a modern European capital. And what was a must have construction in late 1800s in any relevant city in Europe? The shopping gallery, obviously. Galleries, at the time, were what shopping malls are now, a shelter from the busy and noisy streets of the city when it is time to shop, eat, sip a coffee, or relax, with the only difference being that back then most of the customers were part of the city’s bourgeoisie. Throughout time more than 150 of these galleries (or Stoà in modern Greek) were built in the centre of Athens, some of real value both architecturally and artistically.
(cover photo credit @ author)
The first one in Athens, Stoà Mela was built in 1883, at n° 54 Ermou Street. The gallery, which now is fully occupied by a world famous fashion brand, stretches up five floors, has marble on all the walls, and still manages to surprise the visitors. Another good example of an early 1900s work is the Stoa Araskeiou, also known as the Gallery of Books, which connects two of the most central city’s streets, Panaoistimiou and Stadiou. Built by a German architect, this gallery stands out for its glass roof, a typical feature for important galleries, and has been for years the home for several Greek publishing houses, therefore its name. Now it is still buzzing with people during the day and hosts the famous “Karolos Koun” Theatre.
In the Syntagma area there is the beautiful Spyromiliou Gallery; probably the busiest one in the city, it is where you find high-end cafes, luxury stores, and the Pallas Theatre. The construction was completed in 1940 and records tell us that Athenians were quite impressed with its massive scale and with the combination of Neoclassical and Art Deco elements. For music lovers Gallery Pesmazoglou and Gallery Opera are a must-go; these places are where you go to find that rare album you looked everywhere for or that vinyl which would fit perfectly in your collection.
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