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Kleanthis’ Residence

Stamatios Kleanthis was born in Velvendo, Macedonia, in 1802. When the Revolution was declared he joined Alexandros Ipsilantis‘ Holy Regiment and fought in the battle of Dragatsani in 1821, where he was wounded and captured. He escaped however, and fled abroad. He returned to Greece in 1830 with his friend and colleague the engineer Edward Schaubert from Berlin where they had studied. Ioannis Kapodistrias appointed them engineers at the government’s provisional seat on the island of Aegina, where they designed various public buildings.

In 1831 S. Kleanthis and E. Schaubert came to Athens, where most of the approximately 1,500 houses existing then, were uninhabitable. The two colleagues bought and renovated one of the largest of the town’s buildings which belonged to an Ottoman woman named Sante Hanoum, at the foot of the hill of the Acropolis, at Rizocastro. After the building was renovated, they invited various personalities of the age, such as the future Professor of Archaeology of Athens University, Ludwig Ross, the Danish architect Christian Hansen, the Viennese painter Karl Rahl and others. In this house the two friends compiled the archaeological map of Athens and drew up the land survey plan of the old city, noting the sites of ancient monuments, Byzantine churches and medieval buildings, on the map. In 1832, the compilation of the urban plan of the city of Athens was assigned to them.

When the City became home to the government and ta all the intellectual activities of the Greeks, S. Kleanthis’ and E. Schaubert’s renovated house was chosen to house the First Gymnasium (High School) of Athens, the former Central School of Aegina (1835). From 1837 and for four years, the same building housed the first University of the independent Greek State and 150 years later, in 1987, its current function was inaugurated.

The Old University

The Universities of Europe were founded aroundbthe end of the 13th Century. After the end of the Middle Ages, approximately 80 Universities were founded in Europe (20 in Italy, 19 in France, 14 in the German States, 5 in Britain, 4 in Spain, 2 in Portugal and so on.) Some of the most famous of these are the Uppsala University in Sweden, the Leuven University in Belgium, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in England, the Sorbonne in Paris, the Universities of Bologna and Padova in Italy, the University of Heidelberg in Germany. Greece acquired a University in the 19th Century. The first Institution of Higher Education in the Greek realm was The Ionian Academy on the island of Corfu (1824 – 1864). In 1837, The University of Athens was founded by order of the King of Greece, Otto, and it was S. Kleanthis’ residence that was chosen to house the first University of the Independent Greek State. On the 3rd of May, an official ceremony was held to honour the foundation of the Ottonian University, as it was then called, in accordance with the Bavarian custom of Princes giving their name to the institutions they founded. King Otto on horseback, Konstantinos Schinas, the first Rector of the University, Professors, the State’s Dignitaries, students and other Athenian citizens arrived at the inauguration ceremony, while the curriculum was distributed to all the residents of the Capital.

Originally 52 students and 75 non-matriculated auditors (Theodoros Kolokotronis among the latter) were enrolled in the University. The students were of all ages and came from various professional classes, but were all male. Women were only admitted to the University towards the end of the 19th Century. Ioanna Stephanopoli was the first female student to be enrolled in the University’s School of Philosophy, in 1890.The first four schools constituting the University were the Schools of Theology, Law, Medicine and Philosophy. Later, the Sciences, which up till then had been taught in the school of Philosophy, were separated from it and the School of Sciences was founded in 1904.Of the 34 professors’ names published in the University’s founding Royal Decree in 1837, six were Bavarian, while the Greeks had all studied in Universities, mainly in France and Germany. Ultimately, only 26 of these would actually teach. Furthermore, once the University had been founded, professors from The Ionian Academy relocated to the capital city to offer their services to the newly established institution.Kleanthis’ Residence was one of the largest houses in Athens. Despite this, however, it was apparent from the beginning that it could not properly accomodate the requirements of a University. Subsequently, efforts to collect funding to finance a new building to house the University, began.

The first Rector of the University, Konstantinos Schinas, had the idea of requesting contributions from private citizens to help construct the new building. Georgios Rallis, a Professor and later Rector of the University himself, was the one who implemented K. Schinas’ idea. G. Rallis intensified the efforts to set up a committee consisting of the top personalities from the War of Independence (G. Kountouriotis, A. Zaimis, Th. Kolokotronis), Professors (K. Schinas, G. Rallis, G. Gennadios and N. Vamvas) and one of Otto’s’ counselors, Christian-August Brandis. This committee appealed to Greeks and Philhellenes for funds. Wealthy Greek merchants, the clergy, intellectuals (mainly from the diaspora) and many others instantly complied.

Thanks to these contributions, two years after it had been founded, the University had collected adequate
funds to begin work on the construction of the new building, based on the plans of the Danish architect, Christian Hansen. Thus, on July 2nd 1839, Otto set the foundation stone in place. In 1841 the University was transferred from Plaka, to a wing of the new building before it had been fully completed. On either side of the University building, the buildings of Τhe Academy of Athens (1887) and of Τhe National Library, which was created from the merger of the Public Library and the University Library (1903), would later be constructed. These three buildings on today’s University Road, constitute the neoclassical “trilogy” of Athens, as it is customarily called.

In 1862, after Otto had been dethroned, the University was renamed Τhe National University instead of The Ottonian University. In 1911, in accordance with the stipulations of the great benefactor Ioannis Dombolis’ will, which had been drawn up in 1849, the institution was designated a new title, bearing the name of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first Governor of Greece. I. Dombolis, a Hepeirote merchant from Russia, admired I. Kapodistrias, whom he had met in 1809 and with whom he shared the dream of the rebirth of education in Greece. In order to make use of Dombolis’ colossal fortune, the University was separated into two legal entities with separate property, but under common administration, these were: The Kapodistrian University (to which the Schools of Theology, Law and Philosophy belonged) and the National University (comprising the schools of Physics and Mathematics and Medicine, to which the School of Pharmacology also belonged). 

Finally, in accordance with the Statute of the University of 1932, the institute was renamed The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.

The Athens University History Museum

In 1861 S. Kleanthis sold his house to a private citizen. From then on, until 1962, when the house was appropriated by the Archaeological Service, Τhe Old University changed owners and uses (barracks, school,
house, tavern). In the 60’s the ground floor functioned as a taverna, whose clientele included intellectuals of the time, artists and also many students. In 1945 the building was declared a monument to be preserved. In 1959 the Athens University Senate began its efforts to acquire the building.

The University acquired ownership of the building in 1967, by exchanging it with two buildings it owned on Diogenous Street, which now house F. Anogeianakis’ Museum of Greek Folk Musical Instruments. After the last tenants had left, work on the restoration of the building began. These works lasted 10 years (1975 –1985) and were based on a study carried out by the architect and member of the Academy of Athens, Solon Kydoniatis. In 1985 the building hosted the Byzantium in Europe exhibition, in the context of the Athens –Cultural Capital of Europe events. The Athens University’s History Museum was founded under the Rectorship of Michalis Stathopoulos, in May 1987. It opened its doors with the Exhibition of Memorabilia of the Athens University in the context of celebrations for the 150th Anniversary of the University.