From the Fourth National Assembly to the Bicentenary of the Revolution: The vicissitudes of national gratitude

The Panhellenic Heroon that was to have commemorated in perpetuity those who played their part in the “restoration” of Greece graces no square, no hill or grove. But while there is no national monument to the heroes of the revolution, local monuments abound in cities across the country (Messolongi, Nafplio, Tripoli et al.).[1] Some reasons why this might have turned out so, reflecting the ideological and political conditions of the time, were expounded at the Fourth National Assembly in Argos in 1829, and continued to be made until the interwar period, on every anniversary of the revolution. Under the 8th resolution of the Argos Assembly, the nation promised to give thanks to those who had “rendered it so great a service”, but also due gratitude to God: when conditions allowed and the permanent seat of national government had been chosen, a church of the Saviour would be built in the capital, and a series of monuments added in fulfilment of this vow by philhellenic benefactors in both hemispheres.[2]

The Regency Council and King Otto ratified the establishment of a church of the Saviour in two decrees, issued in 1834 and 1838, respectively.[3]. Proposals such as that put forward by Lysandros Kaftatzoglou (the first of many submitted) for a “National Heroon in memory of the Greeks and Philhellenes who fell for the fatherland”, a structure resembling the Pantheon in Rome that would have introduced classicising architecture into the new nation and immortalised the preparations for and history of the national struggle from its beginning through to the coming of Otto, were destined never to leave the drawing board. Although Athens was by now established as a royal seat, the Heroon was not built because the country was too “poor” for mausolea of this stature. Adopting a dismissive stance to those who had answered the call to arms, Otto insisted on founding a church of the Saviour close by Asomaton Monastery in 1839; the money that was eventually raised for its construction sufficed only for the municipal church of the Evangelistria (the current Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens) which, dedicated as it was to the delivery of the word of Christ’s impending birth, also symbolised national rebirth.

The idea of erecting a Pantheon/Panhellenic Heroon re-emerged during the golden anniversary of the revolution, and King George I commissioned Ernst Ziller to draw up plans in 1870. The contemporary irredentist philosophy of the Megali Idea (Grand Idea) chimed with the concept of a monument, though it would also clash with Ziller’s plan, since several unredeemed regions did not figure on his memorial column which, though intended to be allegorical, in depicting only the Peloponnese, Central Greece, and the islands of the Aegean and Ionian, could be construed as a renunciation of the remaining territories.

Thus, neither at the golden jubilee nor at the turn of the century when George resumed his efforts to create a Heroon, did the plans come to fruition. Ziller, too, persisted, drawing up fresh plans in 1905, 1908 and 1910. His 1908 design provided for a monumental structure on Lycabettus Hill with a temple/church, a precinct, an open arcade, a heroes’ gallery, and a portico with a quadriga styled after the Brandenburg Gate.

As a victory for Greece, the Balkan Wars encouraged the connecting of the two heroic periods in the nation’s modern history, while also favouring certain types of activity to mark the centenary; these included forming the Grand Monument Committee, which, with Eleftherios Venizelos as its chairman, resolved to establish the Heroon to 1821 on Ardittos Hill. The Asia Minor Campaign forced a “postponement” of the centenary celebrations until 1930, and the new Heroon Committee chose the Pedion tou Areos as the site of the temple-Pantheon; contributions of all kinds were accepted and a symbolic building block was actually requested from every municipality and community in Greece, Cyprus and the diaspora for the monument. Tenders were invited for the construction of the monument and designs were submitted, but the monument was not built.

The Grand Idea had run aground by this time, and Greece would not be adding any more pieces to its territorial jigsaw puzzle, but the high cost of building a Pantheon in the midst of the great depression, given, too, the urgent need to get the refugees from Asia Minor and the Black Sea back on their feet, and factors such as the “composition by diktat” imposed on artists rendered the Panhellenic Heroon unfeasible. What’s more, the project aroused little interest among the citizens of Greece, whom it failed to move so many years after the Revolution.

Reviving the idea from a different perspective, the Colonels, in cooperation with the Holy Synod – nationalism and Greek Orthodoxy were happy bedfellows in post-war Greece)[4] – planned to erect a magnificent church to Christ the Saviour on the Tourkovounia, an area of high ground in Athens, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the revolution, and to fulfil thereby what they called “the vow of the nation” to erect a monument. The undertaking, which became a scandal for the dictatorship[5] would express, with a “‘healthy’ … non-communist sensibility”, both the Christian tradition and the nationalist regime[6] which, in an effort to legitimise its military nature,[7], sought to leave its mark on the time and place with this ambitious project.[8].

“The teacher asked for one drachma from every child”,[9] a “voluntary” contribution from each Greek family for the “vow”. Though the church, which would have been visible from the Saronic Gulf, was never built, the locals still refer to its prospective site as “the vow”.

Fifty years since the fall of the dictatorship, public and private initiatives honoured the bicentenary of the revolution in traditional and modern ways and at the local and national level. the festivities staged to mark the bicentenary of the struggle. The Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism (SHP), noting that the 1829 Argos resolution that provided for the establishment of two monuments to the philhellenes, one for those who died fighting and one for those who took part in the struggle, “unfortunately remained unfulfilled until 2021”, is fulfilling “the duty of gratitude with the erection of the Monument.”[10].

The project was scheduled for delivery in 2021, but its completion was delayed for technical reasons and the inauguration ceremony was postponed until Spring 2023. On six slabs of Pentelic marble to be erected in the grounds of the War Museum (the monument is being executed under the aegis of the SHP in cooperation with the Museum), the engraved names of approximately 1,600 Philhellenes will frame a relief carving of “Nike untying her sandal”[11] and the Homeric phrase “κλέος άφθιτον αεί” [imperishable glory].[12]

The commemorative “events are condensations of earlier trends,”[13] writes historian Antonis Liakos, a dictum which, in its simply form, serves this epilogue beautifully.

If the modern Greeks felt the need to act on resolutions made during the struggle, their desire to do so is a continuation of the tactic of referring to the glorious past as one encounters it in the anniversaries of the 19th and 20th centuries, which is to say romantically and in a manner which is imbued with the philhellenic myth, but simultaneously verifies the narrative of cultural ethnocentrism[14] as expounded “by the neo-Orthodox and ethnocentric intellectuals” of the generation whose coming of age coincided with the restitution of democracy in 1974,[15] and of the post-Metapolitefsi era.

 

Kristallia Markaki, Postdoc researcher in modern and contemporary European history at the Department of History and Ethnology, Democritus University of Thrace

 

[1] Τόποι μνήμης της Ελληνικής επανάστασης [Sites of memory of the Greek Revolution], https://topoimnimis.keni.gr/index.php/el/.

[2] Πρακτικά της εν Άργει Εθνικής των Ελλήνων Συνελεύσεως [Proceedings of the National Assembly in Argos] (Aigina: National Printing House, 1829), https://books.google.gr/books?id=tStCAAAAcAAJ.

[3] The information about the Heroon is from Theodora Markatou, “Οι προτάσεις για πανελλήνιο ηρώο του Εικοσιένα (1830-1930)” [Proposals for a national heroon commemorating 1821 (1830-1930)], Mnimon 17 (1995): 37–68, https://doi.org/10.12681/mnimon.524

[4] Antonis Liakos, Ο ελληνικός 20ος αιώνας [The Greek 20th century] (Athens: Polis, 2019), 381.

[5] “Το ‘Τάμα του Εθνους’ αποφάσισε (πάλι) η Ιερά Σύνοδος,” Lifo, 8 Jun 2012, https://www.lifo.gr/various/tama-toy-ethnoys-apofasise-pali-i-iera-synodos.

[6] Ελένη-Αργυρώ Κούκη, “Πολιτικές για τον έλεγχο του εθνικού παρελθόντος από το καθεστώς της 21ης Απριλίου: ιστορικές επέτειοι και μνημεία της Επταετίας” (PhD. diss, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, 2016), 278, http://www.doi.org/10.12681/eadd/39831.

[7] Vangelis Karamanolakis, “Η Επανάσταση του 1821 και οι εορτασμοί της στα 200 χρόνια της Επανάστασης,” Hartis 33 (2021), https://www.hartismag.gr/hartis-33/afierwma/h-epanastash-toy-1821-kai-oi-eortasmoi-ths-sta-200-xronia-ths-epanastashs.

[8] “Το Τάμα του Έθνους, η ιστορία μια εκκλησίας-φάντασμα,” a podcast hosted by Ophira ASKI/Istoria sto Kokkino, 12 June 2012, https://www.mixcloud.com/aski/1262016-το-τάμα-του-έθνους-η-ιστορία-μια-εκκλησίας-φάντασμα/.

[9] Oral testimony (20 August 2022) of someone who was ten-year-old pupil in primary school in Ambelokipi, Athens, at the time.

[10] “The Monument of Philhellenes in Athens,” Society for Hellenism and Philhellenism, https://www.eefshp.org/en/the-society/the-monument-of-philhellenes-in-athens/.

[11] “1821-2021: Commemorative jewel of the Museum of Philhellenism,” Philhellenism Museum, https://phmus.org/en/product/1821-2021-commemorative-jewel-of-the-museum-of-philhellenism/.

[12]. See n. 7. 

[13] Liakos, Ο ελληνικός 20ος αιώνας [The Greek 20th century], 19.

[14] Dimitris Tziovas, Η Ελλάδα από τη χούντα στην κρίση: Η κουλτούρα της μεταπολίτευσης [Greece from the junta to the crisis: The culture of postcapitalism] (Athens: Gutenberg, 2022), 388.

[15] Ibid., 389.

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