The rebirth of one of Athens’s 19th-century architectural treasures

By Dimitris Rigopoulos

I have often daydreamed, if I had the means, which of the many pre-World War II buildings around Athens that have been abandoned and abused I would choose to save. While a tough decision, I’ve always been pretty certain it would be the Athinogenis Mansion (Megaron Athinogenous) in one of the most run-down parts of downtown Stadiou Street, between Klafthmonos and Omonia squares.

I cannot remember it ever looking well-kept, even though it represents an important period of Greek history in the late 19th century and is the last architectural vestige of three buildings designed in Athens by French architects.

However, it seems I might have to find a new crumbling edifice to focus my daydreams on, as it appears a knight in shining armor has already stepped up to save the Athinogenis Mansion, because for the first time in two decades, a plan for the building’s restoration has been put forward that not only sounds reasonable, but also looks as if it may be getting under way, unlike numerous past failed efforts.

On paper, the owners of the emblematic building are four Cypriot companies – Korovina, Apure, Lagadia and Boyaca – but behind them, the plans for restoring the building belong to a well-known Cypriot shipowner who prefers to remain unnamed.

Crews have already started clearing the premises and the Culture Ministry will then carry out a study of its structural condition. Once it gets the green light, the owner can proceed with the study for its renovation.

What is known about the plan so far is that it will involve the complete restoration of the mansion itself and the construction of a new building in the courtyard at the back, which is currently occupied by auxiliary buildings added on to the original structure. In contrast to a plan presented in the 1990s by the building’s previous owners to use the space at the back for an eight-story building, this one foresees just five stories. It also sees the new building being placed around 6 meters from the original residence rather than up against it, so that there is room for a separate courtyard, which may possibly be used for a cafe or another such business. The overall plan is for the renovated building and its new addition to function as a single commercial space.

The Megaron Athinogenous was built during the 1880s and designed by a French architect whose name cannot be confirmed. Among other businesses, it housed the Ottoman Bank, one of the biggest lenders at the time, which adds to its historical value.

It is the last surviving building of three that had similar architectural characteristics. Together with the Vouros Mansion on the corner of Stadiou Street and Syntagma Square, where the Athens Plaza hotel currently stands, and the Skouloudis Mansion, now the King George Hotel, also on Syntagma, the Athinogenis Mansion was built in the neoclassical style with Ionic columns and strokes of French baroque. All three were temples to an emerging middle class of wealthy diaspora Greeks and commissioned by influential families of that era.

The present state of the Athinogenis Mansion is disheartening, to say the least. Part of its roof has collapsed, most of the wooden flooring is gone, many of the exterior decorative elements have long since disappeared and the ornate inner staircase has also been destroyed. In contrast, the ground-floor spaces reserved for businesses are in relatively good shape. There are also traces of murals on the interior walls, especially on the ceiling of the arcade on the right, which is in excellent condition. The restoration will include all of the paintwork on the walls and ceilings.