Tag Archives: Levantine bourgeoisie

Photo: Athens, c. 1865, colorized, and a Beirut addendum

14 Sep

From: George Kessarios@GKesarios Check out GK for fuller-size image, since WordPress doesn’t let readers do that anymore.

These photos are beautiful, but always also depressing, given what we’ve done to Athens, which was once one of the most beautiful cities in Europe/Mediterranean.* If you’ve been to Hermoupole/Syra on the island of Syros or to Nauplio in the northeast Peloponnese — think one of those two on a much grander, Bavarian Neo-Classical, large Haussmanian boulevards and public square scale, and that was Athens until the 1960s. No other city in Europe or the Med — that wasn’t bombed in the war or which wasn’t subjected to the psycho-whims of a Stalin-type dictator — was so wholly destroyed by its own inhabitants; 80% of Athens’ pre-WWII building stock is gone.

Athens from top of Lycabettus in 1929

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* An exception in the Mediterranean might be Beirut. And by that I don’t mean the whole-scale destruction the city endured through the war/s of the 70s and 80s, but that even before that the city’s pre-concrete architecture had suffered large-scale destruction to be replaced by the Mediterranean beton apartment house whose only saving grace is their large balconies. I don’t have this on any source other than old photos I’ve seen and from the great Samir Kassir‘s magisterial Beirut. That said, in watching news and footage of last month’s beyond-belief destructive explosion, one of the things that surprised me was how much nineteenth and early twentieth-century architecture had survived…survived only to be trashed in 2020.

If you’re interested in a deep immersion in traditional Beiruti architecture, try and find (won’t be easy) Jennifer Fox 1987 documentary: Beirut: The Last Home Movie, about the Greek Orthodox Bustros family in what I think is Achrafieh. It’s almost entirely shot in their family home and it’s a stunning look at the time-warp, physical, cultural and psychological ecosystem of the Levantine bourgeoisie. Yes, many of you will think it’s just a romanticizing of “elite minority supremacism” as my buddy X likes to say (IMBd says: “The movie shows how spoiled the Bustros family members really were, even during the horrors of the war.”) So I dunno — hold your nose, then, and watch it.

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P.S. Back to Athens and lead photograph — is there anyone else out there who thinks our much-mocked Parliament (at the time of photo above it was still the Wittelsbach Royal Palace) is actually a handsomely austere and Doric and impressive building? People seem to think it’s blocky and dreary and the quintessence of Neo-Greek, neo-classical, Hellenic-wannabe pretensions. But similar architecture in Munich isn’t as disliked; it may be thought creepily Teutonic, but nobody makes fun of it. And I think it’s gorgeous.

Below, von Klenze‘s (responsible for much of the construction, street plan and general idea behind modern Athens) Propylaea in Munich’s Königsplatz.

The whole panorama of the Königsplatz below.

And the reason it might make some people nervous:

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