CULTURE

Revisiting an Athenian suburb

«Kifissia is not only unique among the suburbs, but it is also a folk museum, as it were, of the more extravagant examples of 20th-century domestic architecture, without compare in Europe,» noted Sir Osbert Lancaster in «Classical Landscape with Figures,» published in 1947. The cartoonist, author, art critic and stage designer acted as Foreign Office press attache in Athens right after World War II. Long before Lancaster was posted to Greece, the northern suburb had served as an idyllic area for country living, with affluent Athenian families erecting elegant mansions – many of which still stand. As the town became accessible by rail, Kifissia acquired European-standard hotels and an eclectic mix of visitors. All this and more is recorded in «Anadromi stin Kifissia» (Going Back to Kifissia), an exhibition that opened at the Benaki Museum’s Historical Archives in the Penelope Delta Mansion earlier this week. Showcasing material from the Historical Archives as well as institutions and private collections, the exhibition traces the town’s bustling activity, ranging from flower exhibitions (an ongoing annual event) and beauty contests to sports. Early 20th-century photographs of horse-drawn coaches (a Kifissia trademark to this day) and images of Platanos Square – now home to the town’s bus terminal – coincide with pages from books penned by 19th- and 20th-century travelers. And then there are the hotels: among them, the Renaissance Mansion, one of the first establishments to welcome visitors in 1858 – the building was later used as a mental clinic; the Grand Hotel de Kifissia, the former house of the Michael Melas family, which was transformed into a hotel in 1880 and now houses the post office; and the 1920s Semiramis, which still operates as a hotel – the establishment’s most recent renovation was carried out by design guru Karim Rashid. Besides the temporary display, the show provides a good reason to visit the Delta Mansion, the landmark Kifissia building and home to the Benaki Museum’s Historical Archives. Delta was the sister of Antonis Benakis, the Alexandria-born benefactor who donated his private collections as well as the Kolonaki family home on Koumbari Street to establish the museum of the same name. A beloved author – among her works is «Trellantonis,» recounting her brother Antonis’s adventures as a child – Delta committed suicide in the house on April 27, 1941, the day the first German troops entered Athens. Benaki Museum Historical Archives, 38 E. Benaki & Delta, tel 210.807.9878/808.1896. The exhibition runs to March 29, 2009. Opening hours, Mondays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.