Makeover is shelved

The Metaxourgeio area has gradually been upgraded in recent years, but mainly in words. In fact, it has remained one of the most run-down quarters of downtown Athens. It owes what little regeneration it has seen to economic migrants who have re-endowed it with the character of a neighborhood. The focus of new social life in Metaxourgeio (as defined by the arrival of bars, restaurants and theaters) is the Dourouti complex, the first silk factory in Athens and a notable remnant of the 19th century attempt to industrialize Greece. The complex, which covers an entire street block and which gave its name to the whole area, is included in the program for the Reunification of Archaeological Sites in Athens (EAXA). There are plans to refurbish just the facades of the old silk factory buildings, as there is not enough time – or money, perhaps – to do any more. The City of Athens’s department of traditional architecture has produced a study, and work could have been well on the way had the municipality so decided. Tenders for the project were called in the mid-1990s, but the procedure was not completed for financial reasons. All that was done was a minimal reshaping of the square in the complex’s atrium. Grigoris Poulimenos, head of the city’s traditional architecture department, expresses some reservations about the plans for partial restoration: «I think something of that nature is not technically feasible. How can you fix up the exterior when the interior is falling down?» he wonders. The pressure of time may make this kind of facade-only restoration into a fashion in pre-Olympic Athens. The history of the silk factory is interwoven with the history of Athens. According to the first plan of the city by Cleanthes and Schubert, the palace and the administrative center of the new capital were to be built within the boundaries of the old town, where Omonia Square is now located. Giorgios Kantakouzinos, son of a well-known family from the Phanar in Constantinople, upon arriving in Athens from Wallachia, assigned the architect Christian Hansen the task of making a study for the construction of a complex which, according to researcher Aristea Papanikolaou-Christensen, would include his own private residence and a large corner building with shops and merchants’ residences. But the first city plan was not implemented and the palaces were relocated, putting an end to Kantakouzinos’s ambitious plan. Almost two decades later, an English company, A. Wrampe & Co., bought the block of land in order to set up a silk factory. There were similar factories in Piraeus, Sparta, Andros, Lamia, and Kalamata, but not in Athens. The silk industry had good prospects, due to an abundance of raw material, and already employed many rural Greeks. In early 1855, the factory went into operation. Ten years later Giorgios Douroutis became the owner. The silk factory began to slow down gradually until 1866, when the owner decided to turn it into residences (one of the biggest real estate investments of that time). This is why the former factory now looks more like a residential complex than an industrial one.