Between the National Gardens and the Temple of Olympian Zeus, lies a great place to wander around in Athens. The Zappeion Exhibition Hall or simply Zappeion has been around for the past 131 years. Named after the main benefactor behind its construction, Evangelos Zappas, it represents his desire to give birth to the first building to serve Olympic needs. This explains the establishment’s proximity to the Kallimarmaro Stadium, located just a few meters away.
Zappas was a wealthy Greek who participated in the country’s War of Independence (1821–1832) but lived in Romania. His motive revolved around reviving the Olympic Games through his own resources; so he finally managed to convince King Otto and provided the Greek government with the needed funds to create an Olympic Trust Fund. His death in 1865 meant he wouldn’t get the chance to see the Panatheanic Stadium, which was finally constructed 5 years later. His instructions for the development of a building that would further spur the Olympic spirit within the city of Athens, paid off after the Greek parliament’s donation of more than 80,000 square meters of public land as required by his wish.
The establishment was constructed by Theophil von Hansen, a Danish architect. But it wasn’t until 1888 that it was inaugurated after being delayed and having come to a halt twice. It has a circular atrium inside with multiple Ionic columns, a Corinthian portico and two side wings.
In 1940, under the German occupation, it was converted into a hospital and also served as a storehouse; and then as barracks and it was even bombed in 1944. Plans for its destruction in the 60’s didn’t flourish and it was in its very premises that Greece was formally accepted as a full member of the European Community in 1979. During the Athens 2004 Olympics it was used as a press center but today it is considered one of the most acclaimed Conference and Exhibition Centers for public and private functions.
From a visitor’s point of view, it’d be great if you tried to catch a movie at its historical outdoor cinema or have a drink at the next-door bar of Aigli. Its gardens surrounding the building include lawns, flower beds and rows of orange trees that are also worth a look. Parking is also free and available right outside the main entrance and it’s especially recommended for a nice Sunday walk to be combined with a more detailed sightseeing of Athens.
Cover Image Credit: Tilemahos Efthimiadis