Ernst Ziller’s magnificent architecture

Ernst Ziller (1837-1923) was an extremely prolific architect. In Greece, where he spent most of his life, he designed over 500 buildings, including mansions, theaters, churches, markets, schools, museums, hotels, office buildings, shops and apartment blocks. His works were built not just in Athens but all over Greece. Aside from being a gifted architect, he was also an amateur archaeologist and a knowledgeable engineer. Today, the buildings that he designed stand out for their stately, noble style, a reminder of the late neoclassical period of architecture in Greece. «Classical Revival: The Architecture of Ernst Ziller 1837-1923,» a volume published recently in English by the Melissa publishing house, helps reveal the splendor of his architecture by presenting it in beautiful, large color photographs. A lengthy essay written by Maro Kardamitsi-Adami narrates Ziller’s life and gives a full scope of the projects that he undertook. (Michael Eletheriou’s English translation of the original Greek text is excellent.) The rest of the book includes sections on each of the 50 buildings that are presented in the volume. Giorgis Gerolympos, who photographed the buildings, provides the reader with unusual angles and details that draw attention to the wonderful decorative details for which Ernst Ziller’s buildings are known. Archival material fills out the picture when considering those Ziller buildings that have not survived in their original form. Such is the case with the Pesmazoglou Mansion, a three-story apartment building that the banker Ioannis Pesmazoglou had commissioned Ziller to build in 1893 on the corner of Herodou Attikou and Vassilissis Sofias Avenue. Originally the building took up the entire block, with a towerlike structure marking its corner side. Only a portion of this building remains today. Undoubtedly, the Schliemann mansion (Iliou Melathron), which Ziller designed in 1878, is his best-known work. It is one of the best expressions of Ziller’s architectural style – a blend of the neoclassical with eclecticism. The rich decorative elements, the ornate ceilings, superb woodwork and unusual wrought-iron railings that replaced the stricter design of neoclassical-inspired design with motifs borrowed from mythology and nature are also important aspects of Ziller’s work which are included in the Schliemann mansion. Reading Kardamitsi-Adami’s text, one also learns that Ziller was the first to employ ventilation and central heating and was very concerned with making his buildings earthquake-proof. Ziller first came to Greece to work as an assistant to the Danish architect Theophilus Hansen, whose buildings for Athens include the National Library. He settled permanently in Athens in the late 1860s and was soon appointed to a professorship in architecture and construction at the Athens School of Fine Arts. His career crested in the 1880s and early 1890s, but the economic crisis that followed crippled the family’s finances. Many of the projects that Ziller had designed – for example his plan to turn Lycabettus Hill into a recreation area – were never implemented. This book reveals all those unknown aspects of his work. It also helps the reader link the city’s contemporary architectural landscape to its past.