Bene­fac­tor’s wishes a step closer to ful­fill­ment

New ini­tia­tive aims to as­so­ci­ate Zappeion Hall with the re­vival of the Olympics and the show­cas­ing of Greece’s art and in­dus­try

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

For close to 130 years since its com­ple­tion in 1888, the el­e­gant Zappeion Hall has stood at the cen­ter of Athens’s turbulent his­tory, through peace and war, de­vel­op­ment and de­pres­sion. It has been an in­te­gral link with the Olympic Move­ment, from the 1850s and the first ef­forts to re­vive the games up to 2004, when Athens last hosted the Sum­mer Games. Now, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that op­er­ates the build­ing and its splen­did grounds is work­ing to re­vive the wishes of the great bene­fac­tor Evan­ge­los Zap­pas, who had dreamed of re­viv­ing the Olympic Games and paid for the first mod­ern Olympics in 1859, long be­fore the first of­fi­cial games were staged in Athens in 1896, when the Zappeion Hall hosted the fenc­ing event.

Last year, the new chair­man of the Olympia and Be­quests Com­mit­tee’s board, which ad­min­is­ters the site, Gior­gos Chris­tou, an­nounced an ini­tia­tive aimed at plac­ing the Zappeion Hall back where Zap­pas had imag­ined it when he be­queathed the money for the con­struc­tion of the build­ing, for the re­vival of the games and for the show­cas­ing of Greece’s art and in­dus­try. The “Cul­tural Au­tumn-Win­ter 2016-2017” was marked by the grant­ing of an award last Septem­ber to Ark of the World (Kiv­o­tos), a nonprofit or­ga­ni­za­tion that Fa­ther An­to­nios, a young Or­tho­dox priest, formed in 1998 to take care of poor Greek and im­mi­grant street chil­dren, mostly from sin­gle-par­ent fam­i­lies.

The cer­e­mony took place on Septem­ber 30, a day com­mem­o­rat­ing Greece’s na­tional bene­fac­tors. More awards will be granted this com­ing Oc­to­ber. Ac­cord­ing to the Olympia and Be­quests Com­mit­tee board, “golden wreaths will be awarded, in ac­cor­dance with the wish of Evan­ge­los Zap­pas, to Greeks who have ex­celled and made Greece proud, as well as to or­ga­ni­za­tions and agen­cies, in­sti­tu­tions and foun­da­tions for their long-term con­tri­bu­tion to Greek so­ci­ety.” Win­ners will be se­lected in the cat­e­gories of pol­i­tics and so­cial con­tri­bu­tion, econ­omy and busi­ness, sci­ence and letters, cul­ture and the arts and, of course, sports. The win­ners have not yet been de­cided.

The Zappeion Hall and its land­scaped grounds (which in­clude gar­dens con­sist­ing of 8.3 hectares of flower beds and park­land and 240 square me­ters of in­ner court­yards) will host cel­e­bra­tions based on the an­cient idea of the Pana­thenaic Fes­ti­val, the board said. All of the ac­tiv­i­ties “con­sti­tute the re­vival and con­tin­u­a­tion of the ‘Olympics’ (1859, 1870, 1875, 1889) and the ‘Zappeion Games’ (1859, 1870, 1875) ac­cord­ing to Evan­ge­los Zap­pas’s will.” Their aim was “en­cour­ag­ing the fine arts and ex­hi­bi­tion of Greek prod­ucts,” the board said, quot­ing the bene­fac­tor’s wish.

Zap­pas was born in Epirus in 1800, and, af­ter fight­ing in the war of lib­er­a­tion against the Ot­toman Em­pire that be­gan in 1821, made his for­tune in Ro­ma­nia. In the 1850s, when the is­sue of re­viv­ing an­cient cer­e­monies and con­tests was de­bated in the newly in­de­pen­dent Greece, the poet Pana­gi­o­tis Sout­sos in­spired Zap­pas, who, as the Zappeion web­site says, “essen­tially in­tro­duced the con­cept of es­tab­lish­ing par­al­lel cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties and ex­hi­bi­tions mod­eled on the first world fair in Lon­don in 1851.”

“Zap­pas drafted a mem­o­ran­dum propos­ing that a new in­sti­tu­tion be es­tab­lished that would help Greece keep pace with the in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion. The mem­o­ran­dum was sent early in 1856 set­ting forth the pro­posal that the con- tests be or­ga­nized in Athens on March 25, 1857,” the web­site says. “Zap­pas would bear the cost of this event, as well as that of con­struct­ing an Olympic build­ing to house an ex­hi­bi­tion of sam­ples of Greek art and in­dus­try. The build­ing would also func­tion as a mu­seum dis­play­ing an­tiq­ui­ties. To ex­pe­dite this plan, he im­me­di­ately sent 2,000 Aus­trian florins to cover the costs of the First Olympiad, which was also called the First Zappeian Olympiad.” Zap­pas did not live to see the Zappeion Hall. He died in 1865. Con­struc­tion be­gan in 1874 and the neo­clas­si­cal build­ing was com­pleted in 1888. It was de­signed by Dan­ish ar­chi­tect Theophil Hansen, who is known also for the Par­lia­ment Build­ing in Vi­enna and Athens’s iconic Ho­tel Grande Bre­tagne. From the be­gin­ning, the Zappeion was at the cen­ter of sports and cul­tural events, of Greece’s rocky his­tory. Aside from host­ing the fenc­ing event of the 1896 Olympics, the build­ing was used as the Olympic Vil­lage in the 1906 Games. From 1936 and for the next 40 years, it housed the coun­try’s state radio sta­tion. In 1940 it was turned into a hospi­tal and in 1941 it was com­man­deered by Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion forces, serv­ing first as a store­house and later as a bar­racks. It was bombed in 1944. Af­ter the war, there was talk of de­mol­ish­ing the build­ing but, for­tu­nately, it was ren­o­vated in 1960. Its lat­est ren­o­va­tion was in 2004, for the Olympic Games on their re­turn to Athens.

One of the most im­por­tant events that the Zappeion Hall has hosted in its long his­tory was the sign­ing of the Ac­ces­sion Deed in May 1979 which opened the way for Greece to be­come a mem­ber of what is now the Euro­pean Union two years later. The build­ing now serves as a con­fer­ence and ex­hi­bi­tion cen­ter. It re­mains in­te­grally linked to the Olympic move­ment but also to the spirit of free­dom, cul­ture and en­trepreneur­ship that the great bene­fac­tor Evan­ge­los Zap­pas wanted to nur­ture among his com­pa­tri­ots.

of the Olympia and Be­quests Com­mit­tee’s board, which ad­min­is­ters the Zappeion Hall, Gior­gos Chris­tou (left). Cen­ter: Fenc­ing at the 1896 Sum­mer Olympics. Right: The site pho­tographed dur­ing a re­cent cer­e­mony.

The chair­man

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Greece

© PressReader. All rights reserved.