Old Athens Photos Omonoia Square.

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Omonoia square like the Kotzia square a little further, has an important history and has changed faces many times. (Concorde Square in english) The name probably was borrowed by the Place de la Concorde in Paris and symbolize the concord of the greeks who were engaged into civil wars and troubles after the break of the greek war for independence in 1821. It’s a pity that it isn’t today a center for tourists. That characteristic is stolen by Syntagma square two decades ago. The true center of Athens and Greece is the Omonoia square. It’s the zero spot for all distances from Athens to other greek cities. This square is traffic hub for car drivers and daily commuters. Like the Place de l'Étoile with the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile in Paris, the most important streets of Athens radiate from it. Six big streets are directly end at it and another two big streets a few meters further.


After the greek revolution in 1821 the greeks warriors in 1822 forced out the ottomans from Athens. However in 1826 the ottomans Omer Vrionis and Kioutachis with a big army devastated the city and from the 3,000 houses before the war only 300 survived. Nearly all the inhabitants of Athens known as “gagaroi” immigrated to the liberated part of Greece. Everything was in ruins and Omonoia square was just an empty field.


Its first name was the Tziriti and it was a turkish one. After the liberation of ottomans in 1832 the area was named “Voria Akra”  (Northen Edge in english) because it was at the city’s edge to the north. It is the oldest square in Athens. The greek warrior Yannis Chaftas was granted the area of Omonoia square for his services to the country. He opened a coffee shop and until today a small area near the square is named Chaftia.

Omonoia was designed in 1834. Soon after Athens became the capital of Greece. The only reason Athens was chosen as a capital was historical. Nafplio and Tripolis were bigger and by far more organized cities. At the first city plan from the greek architect Kleanthis and the prussian Eduard Schaubert the area was intended for the greek palace. Both of them were students of the great prussian city planer Karl Friedrich Schinkel who loved neoclassical buildings and was inspired by ancient greek architecture. The city plan was very bold and the local landlords weren’t happy at all. The first city plan gave to the modern Athens a triangular shape. At the vertex of the triangle was the Omonoia Square and the greek palace, at the base the Ermou street parallel to the magnificent Acropolis. At left side was Piraeus street and the right side the Stadiou street. The plan was good and necessary. In front of the royal palace in Omonoia square was designed the very wide Aiolou street which was directed straight to Acropolis. From the balconies of the palace the royal family could have an uninterrupted view to the Parthenon and Hephaestus temple.
The city plan was against individual landlord’s interests. Many wealthy persons took the change and bought the land around the omonoia square. One of them was Kleanthis of course. It was certain that the royal palace would upgrade the region. The place of the main streets didn’t change. They supposed to be 23 meters wide but they ended much narrower. Most of the smaller street inside the triangle has been the same since the ottomans era. They city plan wasn’t enforced on them. They are a labyrinth mostly inside Plaka district. Heaven for tourists, hell for car drivers. In the future city plans of the position of the greek palace changed again again. From Omonoia square to Gazi district and finally to Syntagma square. The bavarian architect Leo von Klenze changed a little the Kleanthis plans and move the royal palace from Omonoia to Syntagma square. The area of Omonoia square was close to the labor districts like Psiri and Metaxourgio. That wasn’t nice for the bavarian rulers. Also many cunning greeks bought the whole area around it and that wasn’t moral. Another reason was that the microclimate of the area was rather unhealthy. In order to choose the proper place for the palace four pieces of meat was hung in tall pillars on four different places of Athens. After a few weeks the less deteriorated piece of meat was in Syntagma square.  Syntagma square is elevated and is open to the winds. Even today during summer Syntagma square is a much more windy and cool place than Omonoia square.


As it is common in Greece the place’s names changes at the pass of the time. Omonoia square was firstly named in 1846 Anaktoron Square (Palace Square in english). Later was named Othonos Square (Otto Square in english) to honor the bavarian king of Greece Otto. Before king Otto the area was a vineyard with figs.
Afterwards they were uprooted and were planted with more elegant trees like oaks, pines and cypress. The square was less Mediterranean and more central european. During that period the square had a military band who played western music and mostly bavarian. The thousand of bavarian soldiers and the courtiers had a place which resembled their home. The tradition continued until the early 20th century.


In 1863 battles took place between monarchist and anti-monarchists groups with many casualties. After the exile of king Otto the same year, the square took its symbolic present name Omonoia (Concord in english). Since then, the square has been the center of political turmoils. Its position permits the fast and easy gathering of thousands of people by any mean of transportation. Even today nearly all demonstrations start from Omonoia square and end in Syntagma square or the american embassy.   Until the late 19th century the square was desolated. After the 1880 many trees were planted and the square began to attract visitors and inhabitants around it. Hotels, shops and coffee shops are built around it.  In 1895 a tunnel extended the urban railway line Piraeus - Thiseio to the old Omonoia square station near Omonoia square ( Likourgou street and Athinas street).
Now the old station is partly demolished and in its place is the office building of the Urban Electric Railway public company of Athens. Actually until the construction of metro during 90s no tunnels was dug for the urban railway. Like the first underground lines in London, a deep ditch was dug in the place of the main roads and afterwards the road was supported by big steel beams.  Omonoia started to be a hub for commuters. Soon shops began to open and that attracted more people. In 1905 the mayor of Athens changes the face of Omonoia square. The oaks, pines and cypress are removed and at their place palm trees were planted and lawn was created. Today the square is minimalistic but it will change many, many times for sure.


The crucial point for Omonoia square was in 1930 with the unification of the two urban railways. The first line was the Piraeus - Omonoia line and the second Lavriou Square - Kifissia line. From Attikis Station an underground tunnel reached the railway station of Omonoia square. An new station was built right underneath the square. Omonoia square was totally reconstructed in order to accommodate the conjunction of the two lines. The underground station is only eight meters deeps and the surface of the square is supported by big steel beams and big columns from reinforced concrete.
The resulted railway was totally electric and faster than than the old steam one, nicknamed “Thirio”. The underground Omonoia station had one entrance and one exit right in the middle of the square. The square was a hub for the electric tram, the buses, the electric railway and the cars. Every day hundred of thousands of people passed over or under it. At the redesigned square there ware eight cements pillars with the statues of eight from the nine muses. In reality they were well designed air ducts for the proper ventilation of the underground stations. The square was nicknamed as a cake with candles. They were soon removed in 1934. After that until 2000 the Omonoia wasn’t ventilated properly. The statues were moved to the city of Karditsa the island Amorgos and other cities. One of muses, the Calliope was put near a public W.C. Since then Calliope (Caliopi in greek) is informally synonymous to the toilet. At the position of muses flower shops were built which were again were removed in 1953. In the underground station little shops were created for the thousands daily commuters. In the begging, they were successful. But not for long. The area was overcrowded and badly ventilated. The passengers were getting stuffy and were trying to leave the station as soon as possible. Until the construction of a second metro line in Omonoia station in 90s, there was a distinctive unpleasant and constant odor. During the December 1944 riots, Omonoia was the center of many battles between the communists and english troops. Omonoia with its many important roads has a strategic place in Athens. For weeks each side was trying to have the control of it. In 1944 after 6 PM the square was closed to the public and the next year after 8 PM. Nevertheless the rules were bend and didn’t applied.


After the war and its aftermaths, Omonoia square became the center of Athens. Restaurants, theaters, coffee shops, hotels appeared close to the square. Omonoia suited to the lower-middle class and became rival to the  the middle-upper class Syntagma square. Two of the most important shops were Bacacos pharmacy and Neon coffee shop. Bacacos pharmacy used to be meeting point for generations. It doesn’t exist in its old form and have moved on Agiou Konstantinou street, little further. Neon was a legendary coffee shop. It opened in 1920 with the name Neon Byzantio (New Byzantium in english) under the Carlton Hotel. But the name Neon prevailed. It still exist but it is closed for good. Some attempts for its revival during the last decades failed commercially. The square today is much downgraded to support such an effort.
After the 50’s the square was some-kind of Piccadilly Circus in London with many neon advertisements. A really interesting sight for the rural greek villager during the uncontrolled urbanism of Athens. Today the square is stripped from any big advertisement. Something I personally dislike a lot.


In 1960 the square was changed again. The public W.C closed and never reopened. People had to enter the nearby coffee shops. The square is hub for many roads. Car were multiplied and the traffic was a big issue. The square stopped to be approachable by the Athenias.  It shrunk and the road around it could hold more cars. More exits and entrances to the underground station were added at nearby street. For the first time in Athens moving staircases were used publicly. The old unique entrance and exit were removed. That indeed helped the crowd to enter and exit faster. Also in the middle of the square was built a huge artificial lake with two fountains. Around the lake white and green peddles were put. They resembled some kind of beach. The green peddles were creating a wavy shape around the lake. It was decided, the presence of ducks in the artificial lake. The first day ducks enjoyed their new home. Unfortunately the next morning all of them were missing.
Despite the poor ducks the result was magnificent. A view that most of old Athenian miss it a lot. Some leakage problem was appearing occasionally below, in the underground station but that wasn’t a big issue. The peddles a few years later were replaced by lawn. That period a crime started to occur. It is the start of the demolition of many historical buildings in Athens and specially around Omonoia square. New big office buildings were risen. They were built at the minimum cost, without taste as fast as possible in order to serve the enormous domestic immigration of Greeks. It was regarded as development, progress and modernization. The side effects were evident the next decades. Gradually people started to avoid the square and prefer Syntagma and Kolonaki district. Until 80s there were many street vendors who bought and sold golden items. They were called “Sarafides”. Omonoia square was full of them. They were an easy solution during difficult economic times. Today very few and old sarafides can be seen in Athinas street near Omonoia square. In late 80s a huge glass sculpture was placed in the middle of square. It wasn’t bad at all. As usual anything nice in Omonoia is short lived. In 90s the works for the for the metro began and the sculture was moved at the “Megalou genous sxoli” square between Evagelismos hospital and Hilton hotel.




Coffee Shops

Omonoia square from the beginning had many middle class coffee shops. Like Bernitsa, Soloneio, Zisi, Zaharatou, Geronton, Zouni, Charami. The coffee shops attracted men of letters, journalist and in general opened minded and democratic people. The Athinaion coffee shop was the haunt for workers. Cafe Santan and Cafe Santour were favorite for conspirators and free thinkers. Ivi (Hebe in english) coffee shop was the haunt for writers and scholars.
Neon survived until recently. It was painted by the famous greek artist Tsarouchis.

Due to the proximity with the Larisis, Peloponisou and the Lavriou train station, Omonoia square was the first place which provincials saw in Athens. Most coffee shop welcome them but the locals felt uneasy with people with different customs and descent. At Tritis Septemvriou street were the Charamis and Zounis coffee shops. Near them was the Lavriou square train station which was busy and supplied coffee shops with customers.



Omonoia  Theaters.

The oldest theater in Omonoia was open air and was built in 1871 by Georgios Sportakos. It was situated in the intersection of Athinas street and Omonoia square at the place where the Bagion Hotel was later built.


In 1876 the Chaftion Theater was built by Nikiforos in the Chaftia district very closed to the Omonoia square. It was soon renamed Efterpi.


The Kotopouli theater was inaugurated in 1887. It was named as Theatro tis Omonoias (Theater of the Omonoia in english) The leading actress was the Ekaterini Veroni. The theater was a humble construction but the actress Veroni made it very popular. In 1892 the leading actor was Panagos Melisiotis with his popular theatrical play “Haido”. In 1902 he was succeeded by the actor Christomanos who renamed the theater Theatro Neas Skinis. Christomanos with the economic support of the Petros Thivaios totally renovated the theater. The result was impressive. It was one of the first luxurious and modern theaters in Athens.

In 1912 the great greek actress Marika Kotopouli renamed the theater with her name. The theater was very successful with her as a leading actress. The nearby Ionos street was renamed Kotopouli to honor her contribution to the greek theater.

In 1936 the Kotopouli theater is demolished and the Kronos movie theater was built in its place. After the war the movie theater was renamed Marika Kotopouli. It was later demolished and its place a tall and ugly hotel was built.


In 1909 the theater Eden was constructed by Fotis Samartzis. It was at the Chafteia area.



Transportation.

Omonoia was the center of every mean of transportation in Athens.

_Tram

Until 1880 the street around Omonoia square were dirt roads. They were not even cobbled. The only way of transportation inside the city was the carriages. They were horse-drawn taxis. Their main taxi stands were in Omonoia square and Syntagma square. Even today the main taxi stands are on the same places. Greeks named them Vizavi from the french phrase vis à vis (face to face in english). The passengers were sitting opposite each other and for that they named the carriages Vizavi. Of course that way of transportation was expensive and with bad weather very slow.

After 1880 tram lines for horse drawn tram were laid. Eight lines were constructed in Athens and five of them started from Omonoia square. They were managed by a belgian company.
It provided 800 horses, winter and summer horsecars. The winter type was closed and could carry ten passengers. The summer type was open, lighter and could carry twenty passengers. Trams revolutionized the city’s transportation. They were cheaper and more frequent than vizavi. The next decades the network was expanded to eleven lines and eight of them started from Omonoia square.

In 1908 three of the tram lines became electric and all started from Omonoia square. Soon all horse drawn trams were replaced with electric ones.

In 1953 is the begging of the end for the electric trams in Athens. The trams lines are gradually removed from the street. The number of cars is huge and the extended tram lines are considered an obstacle to the car and bus drivers. Soon trams were replaced by trolleybuses. In 1961 all the tram lines were removed. However just before the Olympics games in 2004 a new tram line was constructed. It too many stations and is quite slow. Of course it doesn’t cross the downgraded Omonoia square but the prestigious Syntagma square and the wealthy northwest suburbs of Athens. 


_Train stations.

The train station of Athens is nearly one kilometer away from Omonoia square. It was a complex of two station. The oldest Peloponnese railway station was built in 1884 and was serving the Athens-Piraeus-Peloponnese line. The younger Larisis station was built in 1904 and was serving the railway Athens-Larisa line. Both the lines were shunted to provincial train lines. Larissa city was at the Greece frontier that period. Both stations at their beginning were controlled by private companies. In 1918 they bankrupted and in 1920 were unified as a public company.


No more than two hundreds meters from Omonoia square was the Lavriou square train station in Tritis Septemvriou street. It was built in 1889 and closed in 1926. It was the final destination of two urban railway lines of Attica.

The first was the northern line. It started from Pentelis mountain queries  Strofili-Kifisia-Iraklio-Attiki-Lavriou square line. After 1926 the line was ending in Attiki station. It was constructed in 1885 and closed in 1938.

The second was the eastern line. It started from Lavrio queries  Lavriou-Iraklio-Attiki-Lavriou square line. It was constructed in 1885 and closed in 1962. After 1926 it was ending in Atiiki station. The part of Iraklio station to Lavriou square station was common to both of lines.


In 1930 the electric Piraeus-Omonoia square line had been extended to Attiki station. The old Omonoia square station and the Lavriou square station were replaced by a modern underground station beneath the Omonoia square. In 1930 The Strofili-Kifisia-Attiki line and Piraeus-Attiki were connected in Attiki Station. In 1938 the Strofili-Kifisia-Iraklio-Attiki is shrunk to Kifisia-Iraklio-Attiki and the plans for its electrification began. However due to damages from the war, they were accomplished very late in 1957. Then the electric urban railway line from Piraeus to Kifisia is really made. The route was direct without train changes in Attiki station.


The oldest urban railway line in Athens was constructed in 1869. It was created only twenty five years after the liberation of Athens from ottomans. It was a great work and helped Athens to be developed as a european city. In 1893 the southern urban railway line was expanded to Monastiraki district and the old Omonoia station. Until 1893 the line was single - one way, afterwards it became double - two way. In 1904 the line became electric. The station was not exactly on the Omonoia square but a hundred meters away on Athinas street and Lycourgou street.
From Monastiraki station to the old Omonoia station a tunnel was dug. The tunnel was created by the cut-and-cover method. The whole Athinas street became a deep tench and was roofed with the support of heavy still beams. When you walk in Athinas street, remember, half a meter below there is a tunnel.The same way of tunneling was used some years later in Tritis Septemvriou street until Attikis Station. In 1930 the old Omonoia station closed and moved under the Omonoia square with the two urban railway lines.


_Cars

Omonoia square is a hub for many central roads in Athens. Inevitably it was influenced negatively by the explosion of cars ownerships after the second world war. In 1925 there were 1000 cars for private use, 1,250 taxi cubs, 900 buses and 890 trucks in Athens. The numbers may seem small but the vehicles created havoc in Omonoia square and the nearby roads.
Until 50s there weren’t any traffic lights in Athens neither a proper traffic code and rules. In 1920 the first traffic policeman in Greece was placed in the Chafteia area close to Omonoia. Until the 80s he was there everyday.

The following years the traffic problems was worsening. In 1961 the cars for private use were 39,000 in 1971 170,000, in 1981 492,000 and in 1991 943,000. Athens was designed to serve comfortably no more the 500,000 inhabitants. So Omonoia square after 60s faced an incredible number of cars and overpopulation.


_Buses

There ares two kind of buses that stationed in Omonoia square. The intercity buses “KTEL” which departed for various provincial cities of Greece and the urban buses who serve various neighborhoods of Athens and suburbs.

The start of intercity buses was in Agiou Konstantinou street very close to Omonoia square.

The first bus appeared in Athens in 1896 and was french. After the 20s buses started to be useful and popular. Their first usage of urban busses was to interconnect various places of Athens with the train station and the urban railway. The companies of urban railways and the national railways owned buses in order to serve their passengers. Until the 40s the urban railway and the tram were dominant in Athens. After 50s, the population explosion of Athens created new suburbs and only buses  were flexible enough to help their daily commuters. Until the construction of metro in 2000, buses was the main way of urban transportation. Inevitably the roads around Omonoia square was the starting point of the majority of bus lines in Athens. A bad thing about athenian bus lines for many decades was their centralism. All the lines were heading to the centre of Athens. Many passengers were obliged to deviated in Omonoia square in order to reach their final destination. That made the square very crowded, noisy and also very intolerable. Passenger were trying to leave the square as fast as possible instead of enjoying it.

 

Many old photos of Omonoia square with its nearby street and public transportation fully described

1890 Athens Omonoia Square.

1900 Athens Omonoia Square.

1900 Athens Omonoia Square.

1900 Athens Omonoia Square.

1900 Athens Omonoia Square.

1900 Athens Omonoia Square.

1908 Athens Omonoia Square.

1910 Athens Omonoia Square.

30s Athens Omonoia.

1930 Athens Omonoia square.

1936 Omonoia Square Kotopouli Theater renovation.

40s Athens Omonoia Square.

50s Athens Omonoia Square.

50s Athens Omonoia Square.

50s Omonoia Square Kotopouli Movie Theater.

1958 Athens Omonoia Square.

Athens Omonoia Square.

Athens Omonoia Square.

Athens Omonoia Square Underground Station.

1902 Athens Omonoia Square.

1910 Athens Omonoia square.

1910 Athens Omonoia square.

1920 Athens Omonoia Square.

1930 Omonoia Square.

1942 Athens near Omonoia Square ESPO building detonated.

1945 Athens Omonoia Square.

1947 Athens Omonoia square Agiou Konstantinou street Star movie theater.

1956 Athens Omonoia Square.

1964 Athens Omonoia Square Royal Wedding.

Athens Omonoia Kotopouli theater.

50s Athens Omonoia square.

1898 Athens Omonoia Square.

1890 Athens Omonoia Square.

1900 Athens Omonoia square.

1917 Athens Omonoia Square Prigipisa Sophia Hotel.

1950 Athens Omonoia Square.

1957 Athens Omonoia square - Stema Hotel.