Athenian survivor of the 1800s to be restored

Barely visible to the passer-by, the mansion set behind a high wall at 96 Adrianou Street in the heart of Plaka has a fascinating history. Nobody knows exactly when the mansion was built for the Benizelos family, who lived in the original house on the site in the 16th century. What remains today, a two-story structure with a roofed veranda, was probably built in the 18th century. The house is to be fully restored and converted into a museum, where visitors will be able to get an insight into daily life in such a house in Athens at a time that is not so much forgotten as unknown. It dates back further than neoclassical Plaka in the time of King Otto, to the time when Athens was a small town in the vast multiethnic Ottoman Empire. Greeks inhabited this house built in the Ottoman style that was common to all the area east of the Pindus mountain range. Yiannis Kizis, the architect who has undertaken, with his colleagues, to restore the building for its owner, the Archbishopric of Athens, emphasizes the ecumenical dimension of the architecture, with its veranda, large windows, skylights, and outdoor areas. Kizis sees the mansion as an old acquaintance. In the late 1970s, he and architect Constantinos Milonas did some work on the dilapidated house, discovering the olive press and the remains of two residences on the ground floor, which was probably home to the Blessed Filothei, a scholar. The house’s connection with the scholar Filothei (1522-1589) who was a member of the Benizelos family, adds to its legendary aura and was the original motive for the owner to restore it. In the 1980s, however, the Culture Ministry blocked every restoration attempt and the mansion was left in its current state. In the meantime it lost some land on both sides. During the junta a hideous building was erected next door at 94 Adrianou and a more recent building sits at 98. Now the Benizelos mansion is set for a new life, as a model museum for Athens. It is a pleasure to dip into Athenian life of the 18th and 19th centuries, and Kizis, an expert on the social and political aspects of international architecture, has a lot to share. «In the Ottoman Empire,» he told Kathimerini, «a common type of house can be found from the Pontus to Attica.» There were variations on the theme but the typical elements were the same, based on a shared way of life. The houses had large rooms, an upper floor with skylights, a roofed veranda, and rows of openings, which in poorer houses were closed with cloth or leather. Eaves often protruded from the roofs, which were steep; wood was the main building material, especially on the upper floor. This can be seen in houses in the Bosporus, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Thessaly, Athens, Halkida, Rhodes and Cairo.