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A little bit of Paris: Christ the Savior Church in Athens

Updated: May 10, 2021

Agios Sostis Church is a very peculiar Christian temple located on the neighborhood of Neos Cosmos. On the church’s foundation stone it is recorded that it was erected in thanksgiving for the “miraculous” rescue of King George I of Greece, hence the name Agios Sostis which translates in English as Christ the Savior.

Christ the Savior Church on Andrea Syngrou Avenue. Photograph by Yannis Loizos.

The assassination attempt    On February 14, 1898 while King George and his daughter Princess Marie of Greece and Denmark were returning from their regular drive down to the sea at Phaleron Bay, in the vicinity of Athens, two well-dressed men, armed with rifles, and concealed in a ditch at the roadside, fired at the carriage.

The coachman immediately whipped the horses into a gallop. A youth then came boldly into the middle of the road, and deliberately aimed at the King, who was standing up to shield his daughter. The King saw the youth’s hand shaking, and his excitement caused him to miss his aim.

Attempted assassination of King George, © Heritage History.

Attempted assassination of King George I, © Heritage History.

The U.S. magazine Saturday Review reported on March 5: “The King of Greece is the hero of the whole affair on returning to the Palace he gave his own account of the murderous attempt to one correspondent after the other. It appears from what he himself tells us that he acted throughout with perfect self-possession and the most distinguished courage” [1]. King George was very lucky that day. Not so on March 18, 1913 when he was successfully assassinated in Salonika.

The Exposition Universelle The church which was erected during 1901-3 was originally built for commercial purposes. It was first constructed in 1898 to serve as Greece’s pavilion for the Exposition Universelle de 1900, a world’s fair held in Paris, France from 15 April to 12 November 1900. The Exposition Universelle was the fifth one to take place in Paris and is widely regarded as the most brilliant event of its kind [2]. More buildings and pavilions than ever were constructed, including the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais. The Eiffel Tower was also painted yellow for the occasion [3].

The Exp

The Exposition Universelle by night. Image source,

Each country participated in the exhibition with a separate pavilion which represented a characteristic monument or building. The British pavilion took the form of the 16th century mansion in Bradford-on-Avon, that of Belgium a Flemish town hall, there was also an Egyptian souk, a Swiss Alpine village and a Japanese pagoda, among many others. These buildings operated as small museums, with the opportunity to exhibit products characteristic of each country and to present some unique and valuable items, for example an object of note displayed at the Korean pavilion was the Jikji, the oldest extant book printed with moveable metal type [4].

The Greek and Serbian pavilions.

The Greek and Serbian pavilions.

The design of the Greek pavilion was assigned to the French architect Lucien Magne. It took the form of a Byzantine church with length of 432 square meters and weight that did not exceed 150 tons. In accordance with the spirit of the exhibition “to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next” the pavilion was built using modern materials and techniques [5].

The Greek pavilion on the Quai d’Orsay. Photograph by Joseph Hawkes.

National pavilions on the Quai des Nations at the port du Gros-Caillou. The Greek pavilion is second to the right. Photograph by Joseph Hawkes.

The frame was made of wrought iron, the walls were made from pink bricks which were interrupted by horizontal rows of turquoise ceramic with enamel coating.  The octagonal timber ceiling dome was roofed over with red clay tiles and supported on four cast-iron columns. The pavilion was set up next to the Pont de l’ Alma on the left bank of the Seine, at the port du Gros-Caillou, and was standing between the pavilions of Sweden and Serbia, the later also came in the form of a medieval church. Among the products of national industry in display were, textiles, wines and tobacco products.

A view of the pavilion's interior.

A view of the pavilion’s interior.

The pavilion was only one aspect of the Greece’s entry, which also included a series of paintings depicting local life: Iacovos Rizos and his Soirée Athénienne, a well-documented image of a seemingly laid-back encounter on an Athenian terrace with the Parthenon in the background; Nikephoros Lytras’s portrait of a sardine vendor; Giorgos Iacovides on one of his favorite subjects, children, with Le Concert des Enfants, a painting which earned him a gold medal in the exposition’s competition section [6].

Iacovos Rizos, Soirée Athénienne 1897, © The National Art Gallery.

Iacovos Rizos, Soirée Athénienne, 1897, © The National Art Gallery.

From Paris to Athens The final day of the Exposition drew more than 350,000 visitors, bringing the final total to over 50 million in seven months [7]. Nevertheless, the event did not bring any financial benefits and Paris was not to host any other World Fair until 1937 [8].

The Greek pavilion Photograph by Joseph Hawkes.

The Greek pavilion Photograph by Joseph Hawkes.

When the exhibition was over most of the pavilions were demolished, but some were dismantled and transported back home. The Ecuadorian pavilion was transported to Guayaquil while the Peruvian one was taken to Lima, and now serves as the Centro de Estudios Histórico Militares (Center for the Study of Military History) [9]. Greece’s pavilion was also dismantled and shipped to Athens by the initiative of the city’s mayor, Spyros Mercouris, grandfather of the actress-politician Melina Mercouri. Subsequently the municipal council decided to reconstruct the Greek pavilion as a temple of Christ the Savior, on the location where the assassination attempt of King George took place, on Andrea Syngrou Avenue [10].

Christ Savior

Written by Nicolas Nicolaides

End notes [1] John L. Tomkinson, (2006), Athens, Athens: Anagnosis. p. 129-130

[2] Richard Cavendish, (2000), “Close of the Paris Exposition Universelle”, History Today, Retrieved October 31, 2015

[3] Messy Nessy, (2012), “Unrecognizable Paris: The Monuments that Vanished”, Messy Nessy Chic, Retrieved October 31, 2015

[4] Wikipedia contributors, “Exposition Universelle (1900)”, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Retrieved October 31, 2015

[5] Wikipedia contributors, op cit.

[6] Elis Kiss (2010), “The spirit of the Belle Epoque”, Kathimerini, Retrieved October 31, 2015

[7] Richard Cavendish, op cit.

[8] Pauline de Tholozany, (2001) “The Expositions Universelles in Nineteenth Century Paris”, Paris, Capital of the 19th century, Retrieved October 31, 2015

[9] William Walton, Victor Champier and André Saglio (1900), Exposition universelle, 1900 : the chefs-d’uvre, Vol. 6. Philadelphia: G. Barrie & Son. p. 89

[10] John Tomkinson, op cit. p. 131

Bibliography L’Exposition de Paris, publiée avec la collaboration d’écrivains spéciaux, (1889), Vol. 1. Paris : Librairie illustrée.

John Alwood, (1977), The Great Exhibitions. London: Alta Vista.

Brigitte Schroeder-Gudehus and Anne Rasmussen, (1992), Les fastes du progrès, le guide des Expositions universelles 1851-1992. Paris : Flammarion.

Pascal Ory, (1982), Les expositions universelles de Paris : panorama raisonné, avec des aperçus nouveaux et des illustrations par les meilleurs auteurs. Paris : Editions Ramsay.

#ChristtheSaviorChurch #ExpositionUniverselleParis1900 #KingGeorgeI #NeosKosmos

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