Book Excerpt

PATRAS. Triantaphyllos E. Sklavenitis, Konstantinos Sp. Staikos


From Ancient Times to the Present
Athens: (Kotinos Editions), 2005. large 4to. cloth, dust jacket. (x), 523 +(1) pages. From Ancient Times to the Present. Patras was proclaimed Cultural Capital of Europe for 2006. This commemorative volume highlights important aspects of the development of the town and the intellectual and artistic expression of its inhabitants, giving prominence to the role it has played over time: that is, from the period when its mythical founder, Patreus, laid its foundations, to the present..... READ MORE

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Introductory Note

Patras has been proclaimed Cultural Capital of Europe for 2006, and we have taken the opportunity to publish the present volume, entitled Patras - from Ancient Times to the Present. Our objective is to draw attention to the most important aspects of the development of the town and the intellectual and artistic expression of its inhabitants, so as to give prominence to the role it has played over time: that is, from the period when its mythical founder, Patreus, laid its foundations, down to the present day, when it is a populous, vibrant town with a busy harbor, the 'capital' of the Peloponnese and an open gateway leading to Italy and the West in general.

Cultural remains are to be found in the area of Patras from as early as the prehistoric period, more specifically from the Early Helladic II period, about 2000 BC, and excavations conducted at various settlements indicate that the area continued to be inhabited in the Middle Helladic and Mycenaean periods (from 1900 to about 1100 BC). Nevertheless, the inhabitants of the town took no part in the Trojan War, while the Geometric period, which followed the Mycenaean, is represented by very few archaeological remains, such as funerary monuments and artifacts. In the Classical period, ancient Patrai experienced impressive growth from the 5th century BC onwards, when the small scattered settlements came together to form the city-state of Patrai. Thucydides confirms its development and refers to it as a naval yard for the Peloponnesian fleet. During the period of conflict between the successors of Alexander the Great, Patrai changed rulers, reacquired its independence in 281/280 BC, and played a leading role in the revival of the Achaian League. After a period of instability and political fermentation, the relations between the League and Rome were strengthened and the status of Patrai improved, bringing political and economic gains to its inhabitants. Augustus, appreciating its geopolitical significance, founded a Roman colonia here and adorned the town with architectural monuments. After the division of the Roman empire, the province of Achaia was attached to Eastern Illyricum, with its capital at Corinth, which was also the seat of the metropolitan see of Achaia.

In the Early Byzantine period (4th-7th century), the development of Patras was no different from that of the major urban centers of the Peloponnese, and its role was defined by the career of the current bishop of the area. During the Byzantine centuries, the town extended from the castle to the coast and the Early Christian basilica of the apostle Andrew, whose veneration was closely connected with the life of the town. From the 8th century onwards, Patras emerged as the second most important town in the Peloponnese after Corinth, and its harbor was a secure station on the sea route from Constantinople to Italy. At the same time, it became a metropolitan see and its population included some important figures of monastic and spiritual life, such as Arethas of Patras, archbishop of Kaisareia in Kappadokia, who was a major spiritual figure and an important collector of manuscripts. The economic flowering of the town at this period is attested, inter alia, by the career of the noblewoman Danielis, who acquired fabulous wealth through her weaving workshops.

A primary role was played in the history of Patras by its castle, which crowns the town, built on the ruins of the ancient acropolis. Work on its construction probably began in the second half of the 6th century, with the aim of protecting the inhabitants against barbarian raids. Historical testimony to its existence is recorded by the emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos, who refers to the raids of the Avars and Slavs in Greece at the beginning of the 9th century. In 1205 Patras passed into the hands of the Franks - without any great resistance, according to the Chronicle of the Morea and was ceded to William Champolitte and Godfrey de Villehardouin, who founded the Principality of Achaia with its capital at Andravida. After this, the town became a barony and was ceded to Aleman, at the same time being made a Catholic archdiocese. At this period the castle underwent significant structural modification and was converted into a strong medieval fort. Two centuries later, in 1408, the castle came under the jurisdiction of Venice, which improved its defensive structure in keeping with the machinery and weapons systems of the period. Constantine Palaiologos became master of Patras in 1430 and during the approximately thirty years of his control he, too, strengthened the defensive capability of the castle. Most of the interventions in almost every part of the castle, however, along with its defensive design, date from the period of Ottoman rule, though it gradually lost its strategic importance with the construction of the Fort at Rion.

For the period after the capture of Patras by the Franks (1205) there are several reliable sources relating to the political and economic activities of the inhabitants, and also to the effect on the ecclesiastical map of the establishment of Catholic bishoprics in the town. The creation of the Principality of Achaia and the feudal system had a significant impact on the political life of the general area. The Ottoman Turks made their appearance in the Peloponnese in the middle of the 14th century, and their fleet anchored in the gulf of Patras (1349). A few years later the Principality experienced a period of profound crisis and in 1408, Patras was ceded to the Venetians; in 1429 it was attached to the Despotate of Mystras, until 1458, when it was captured by Mohamed II.

Ottoman rule in the Peloponnese secured a period of peace that lasted about a century, until 1571, when the naval battle of Lepanto, which resulted in the routing of the Ottomans, gave rise to new expectations. The people of Patras rebelled and liberated their city, though a year later Patras reverted once more to the Turks. After this, despite all the raids by Westerners on the towns of the Peloponnese, Patras remained under Ottoman rule until 1687, when the Venetians again made themselves masters of the town, thereby completing their conquest of the Peloponnese. Venetian rule lasted until 1715, when Patras was once more ceded to the Ottoman Turks, remaining in their possession until the Greek War of Independence in 1821. The major event that left its mark on this period was the uprising of 1770 (the Orloff episode), when Patras was besieged by locals and fighters from the Ionian islands; the siege was raised after an attack by Albanians and the slaughter of Greeks. From the beginning of the 18th century, the economy can be observed to have grown, a development that continued throughout the 18th to the early 19th century, reaching its pinnacle at the time of the Napoleonic Wars and making Patras the commercial centre of the entire Peloponnese. With the outbreak of the Greek National Uprising, the town proved to be a vital point in the Greek plans for liberation, though the castle remained impregnable and was only surrendered by the Turks in 1828, to the French army under General Maison.

Fantastic depictions, testimonies and reliable sources for the life of Patras as a commercial centre, and for its harbor and the environs, are provided by the foreign travelers who visited it from the 15th century onwards. The town was marked on the map of an intellectual stream of travelers from West to East, whose objective was for the most part to locate and record anything connected with ancient and modem local populations, and also the customs and practices of the peoples who lived within the Ottoman empire. Information about Patras is also derived from texts written in the form of diaries kept by commercial representatives and diplomats during their journey to the Sublime Porte and the Black Sea, and also by pilgrims to the Holy Land. Alvise Manenti disembarked at Patras in 1499, inaugurating a travel chronicle that was to last until the beginning of the 20th century, and offering us a wealth of literary and visual material relating to the town, the castle and its geographical location, centered on the harbor. Many travel-writers called at Patras and the Peloponnese in general with Pausanias in their hands, in an attempt to confirm his descriptions and record the contemporary picture of the monuments and sites.

During the 19th century, until the middle of the 1870s, the image of Patras changed completely, and the town with an Ottoman character evolved into a commercial centre oriented to the western Mediterranean. with a flourishing industry and a busy harbor that formed a natural extension of a modern neoclassical town. The urban tissue was redrawn and the first mansions, the residences of merchants were built in the new section, the Lower town. This area of the town also housed the majority of the commercial and industrial establishments. The main export from Greece in the 19th century was currants, which were channeled primarily to the British market, and which made Patras the 'currant capital' and the largest export harbor for this product. This commercial development attracted entrepreneurs from the various parts of Greece that produced currants, such as Corinth, Elis, Messinia and Epiros, as well as commercial representatives from Britain and Germany. The growing of currants did not merely support the economy of the Peloponnese, but also radically changed the demographic picture of Patras, as its population increased continuously, and a wave of internal migration was created resulting in the town having a population of about 85,000 inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century. At the same time, significant industrial units began to be built from the final decades of the 19th century, and the railway was constructed. Steam-powered factories, such as flour-mills, thread factories, wineries, etc, began to process and standardize certain goods, giving the town another image. Alongside the growing of currants, a variety of local wines began to be produced from them, such as roditis, mavrodaphni and moschato, with a leading role in this played by the German currant merchants Gustav Klaus and Albert Hamburger. The currant crisis of 1895, however, was to cause great social and economic disturbance that marked the beginning of a wave of emigration to the United States.

The town planning and architecture of Patras changed radically from the time when Stamatis Voularis undertook to draw up a new town plan, in 1828. Using the castle as a central reference point, Voulgaris designed a plan based on the coordinates of modern Boukaouri and Yermanou Streets, and created a grid of streets intersecting at right angles with rectangular building plots that has defined the personality of the town down to the present day. The Lower town was created, spreading along the sea as an extension of the Upper town - the two areas were later (1930) linked by the great staircase of Ayios Nikolaos. One feature of Voulgaris's town plan was the creation of porticoes, which offered protection from the frequent rainfall and the rays of the sun. This plan marks the beginning of the reconstruction of Patras, in which a leading role was played by Greek and German architects, such as Lysandros Kaftantzoglou, Stamatis Kleanthis, Ernst Ziller, Theophil Hansen, Spyridon Tzetzos and others. Outstanding examples of neoclassical architecture, both private and public, began to adorn the town. The main reference point, down to the present day, is the Apollo Municipal Theatre in Vasileos Georgiou Square. The archontika (mansions) stand out with their richly decorated facades and ceiling-paintings in the porticoes, which give the town a distinctly Renaissance character.

The economic course followed by Patras from the beginning of the 20th century did not change the life of the inhabitants, since traditional industries continued to flourish, while new industrial and craft-industrial units were added to those that already existed. The opening of the Corinthian canal (1894) and the development of Piraeus were two severe blows to Patras and maximized the impact of the currant crisis. Patras harbor became the point of departure for a great stream of emigration to North and South America. The social tissue of the town, however, did not change: a limited number of families continued to control the economy and a group of newly successful industrialists and merchants was added to the traditional 'aristocracy'. The upward progress of local industry and craft-industry, and also of trade, supported the economy and a wider social group who formed the bourgeoisie. The continuous growth of education, moreover, rapidly gave rise to differences in the cultural level of the inhabitants of Patras, who took part in various intellectual and artistic event that have been characteristic of the town from that time until the present day, such as the theatre and the annual Carnival.

An important role in raising the intellectual level of the inhabitants of Patras was played by the primary schools and high schools that began to operate from 1834 onwards, with the establishment of free public education. Alongside the public schools were founded the Arsakeion, which made a significant contribution to the education of girls, and private schools such as the Vorelis Girls' School, attended by the daughters of the wealthy classes. The so-called 'People's Schools' also made their contribution to education and training; these followed a free curriculum of studies at secondary education level, with no examinations. And in 1897, the Patras Craft-industrial School was founded with the aim of training craftsmen to staff industries and craft-industries.

A separate chapter in the artistic and intellectual life of the town is formed by the theatre, opera, cinema, Karagiozis and the famous Patras Carnival. It is no coincidence that two of the most famous monuments of the town, which are still functioning, are the Roman Odeion and the neoclassical Apollo Theatre, built to designs by E. Ziller (1871-1872). Authors of plays, translators, directors and men of letters in general saw their works performed by professional and amateur companies. This formed a tradition of theatre in Patras which is still alive today. On the other hand, companies from Italy with a repertoire of operas, visited the town regularly, lending its theatre an international character: performances of opera were inaugurated in 1850, with Verdi's La Traviata and Bellini's Norma. Just before the turn of the 20th century, the cinema came to Patras and people rapidly embraced the new form of entertainment. At first, theatres such as the Apollo, Paradeisos, and Exedra were converted, and continued to function as theatres as well as cinemas, thus inaugurating a cinema history that has continued down to the present day. It should not be forgotten, moreover, that Patras is the birthplace of the Greek Karagiozis: it was D. Sardounis, known as Mimaros, who established the art of the shadow theatre. Finally, the Dionysiac-style carnival celebrations described by Mangeart in 1829 developed into the famous Patras Carnival, an event that transcended local borders from the early 20th century and has become a panhellenic celebration.

The chronicle of the Press in Patras has as its starting point the liberation of the town from the Ottoman Turks (1828) - that is, when the French philhellene Maxime Raybaud published the French language weekly political, commercial and literary journal Courrier d'Orient. The history of the Press, however, begins in 1840 with the publication of the local newspaper The Achaian Herald, edited by N. Maniakis. After this, other weekly newspapers appeared, such as Minos, Fortitude, Indomitable and Patras, many of them enjoying a reputation throughout Greece, like The Taxpayer, which first appeared in 1869. The publication of newspapers continued to intensify during the 19th and 20th century, while the publication of periodicals was at a lower level. The first printing-press founded in Patras was a branch of the Tobras-Ioannidis Press in Nafplio and operated from 1836 to 1839 under the direction of M. Deangelis and St. Nikolaidis. Thereafter, printing-presses multiplied, with the press of A.S. Agapitos distinguished by its longevity.

In the middle of the 20th century, more specifically in 1966, Patras acquired its own university, which has gained an academic reputation over the forty years of its operation, bringing beneficial results to the society of Patras and the surrounding area. In 1992, the Greek Open University was founded in the town, providing undergraduate and post-graduate education for broad groups of society and making continuing or life-education an attainable goal. The Centre of Advanced Technological Education of Patras, too, has functioned since 1974 and has developed into a Technological Education Institute, which has opened branches at Aigio, Amaliada and Pyrgos, with a student body approaching 20,000. These three higher education institutions, with their young, student population, set the tone for the life of the town.

Patras is now a modern town numbering, together with the neighboring municipalities, some 200,000 inhabitants. It spreads before the sea and extends to the Upper town around the castle. Many neoclassical mansions and commercial buildings are preserved, some of them together with their porticoes, giving the town a distinctive character. Patras is also its harbor, however, a vital lung, a gateway to Western Europe, which is increasingly a connecting link between East and West. The new Rion bridge, indeed, has given Patras and its harbor even greater importance.

In 2006 Patras is the Cultural Capital of Europe, and the events planned to celebrate this will allow visitors to form a picture of its history over time. They will also enable its inhabitants to realiserealizet the beginning of the 21st century, their town is called upon to emerge as the real capital of the western province of the Ionian sea, bordering with, and the Greek gateway to, the United Europe, in an eternal communication between people and movement of goods.

For the Publishing Committee
Tr. E. Sklavenitis — K. Sp. Staikos