The University of Athens was founded in 1837. It was originally housed in the former residence of the architects Stamataios Kleanthi and Eduard Schaubert, in Plaka, the historic neighbourhood of Athens. It was the first university in Southeastern Europe and the second academic institution in Greece, after the Ionian Academy.
Its first name was Othonian University after King Otto of Greece. The original building was too small to accommodate the University’s expanding needs, so Danish architect Christian Hansen was commissioned to design a new one. Hansen took a neoclassical approach, “combining the grandeur of the monument with a simplicity of human scale” and gave the building an H-shape. Its main façade forms semi-enclosed porticoes of Ionic order.
Construction began in 1839. Its front wing, also known as the “Propylaea”, was completed in 1842-1843. In front of the façade at both corners are large-scale statues of Patriarch Gregory V and the poet-symbol of the Independence Struggle Regas Feraios, both by the sculptor Ioannis Kossos. At the top of the external staircase, the statue of the great Greek and patriot Adamantios Korais, by the sculptor G. Vroutos. In the small garden, the great English statesman Gladstone, by the sculptor Vitalis, and near him, a Pillar in memory of the young students who fell for their country.
The rest of the construction of the wings, supervised initially by the Greek architect Lyssandros Kautantzoglou and later by his colleague Anastasios Theofilas, was completed in 1864.
It is worth seeing the fountain in the courtyard, the circular staircase and the colourful frescoes with classical themes (designed by the Bavarian K. Rahl) that decorate the walls, which are behind the columns on the balcony.
The building is part of the “Athenian neoclassical trilogy”, along with the buildings of the Academy of Athens and the original National Library of Greece, which were built later and flank the university to the left and right. The Othonian University was renamed the National University in 1862, after the events that forced King Otto to leave the country. It was later renamed the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in honour of Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first head of state of the independent modern Greek state.
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