Tatoi Palace: an abandoned piece of greek history.4 min read
Epidaurus, 1822. In contrast to the Ottoman forces still dominant in the Greece, the Constituent Assembly of the First Hellenic Republic is born. It will take another 7/8 years to be able to free most of Greece from the Turkish invader, but in 1830, thanks to the London Protocol, the Greek state will be officially recognized by the world powers and, after thousands of years, the Republic and Democracy will return to wave their flags from the Parthenon hill.
It seems a story with happy ending…true?
Absolutely not. In fact, in the nineteenth century, the independence of small European countries was very unusual and especially very little appreciated by the great monarchies. The conflict between Greeks and Ottomans lasted until 1832, but already in 1831 Giovanni Capodistria, president of the Greek Assembly, was assassinated, and in his place was elected the seventeen year old Otto of Wittelsbach, later Ottone of the Hellenes, accompanied by 3,500 Bavarian soldiers in the then capital, Nafplio. Ottone was a ill-advised ruler (remained a Catholic heretic not converting to Orthodox Christianity), and in 1863 was dethroned and replaced with Prince William of Denmark, later George I of the Hellenes, founder of the dynasty that lasted until the last King of Greece, Constantine II, deposed in 1973.
Closed this historical parentheses, the theater of these dynastic succession, of many births and almost all the burials of the monarchs imposed on the Greek people was Palazzo Tatoi, a private summer residence located about 15 kilometers from Athens. Its history dates back to the second King of Greece, George I, who in 1870 bought a land north of Athens, on the southeastern side of Mount Parnitha. On that land he personally planned the future appearance of the building. This pastoral oasis erected to honor his wife, Queen Olga, was placed at the bottom of a wooded area populated by thick cypresses and pines, a small replica of the imperial villas used by sovereigns of the North.
During the following decades it became the place not only for the royals’ holidays, but it turned into a political office far from the sunny capital. Over time, the complex became a small independent community, almost a country, with 40 secondary buildings designed to meet the needs of the sovereigns.
The central building is a large stone villa designed by the architect Savvas Boukis. Its construction began in 1886 and was completed in 1888. The idea for the central house originally came from the Gothic cottage from the Peterhof Palace in St.Petersburg, Russia, where traditionally many generations of the Queen Olga’s family spent their summers. After the 1973 referendum, which led to the fall of the Greek monarchy, the royal family was officially expelled from Greece. Their properties were acquired by force from the Greek state and the Tatoi palace was completely abandoned.
Because of the nation’s disunity during the First World War, much of the complex was deliberately set on fire and destroyed. The reason was to be found in the relations of kinship between Sofia of Prussia, wife of Constantine II and Queen of the Greeks, but also sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II, enemy of Greece during hostilities. At the end of the war, a section of the property became public knowledge, but in 1936 the Tatoi Palace was returned entirely to the restored monarchy. The Palace was inhabited until 1967, when the royal family escaped into exile after the colonels took the power.
When the military regime of the colonels fell, in 1974 the Greek people decided, with a second referendum, that they did not want to restore the monarchy, and the sovereigns were exiled. From that moment began a series of legal disputes between the Greek state and Constantine II of the Hellenes, which claimed the property and turned to the European Court of Human Rights. The representatives of the Greek state claimed that Palazzo Tatoi was Greek because King George I had purchased the lands by virtue of his title, while Constantine II supported the natural hereditary succession of a good purchased regularly by his ancestor.
The court decreed in 2002 an intermediate solution, recognizing Constantine II economic rights on property and forcing the Greek state to pay an indemnity of 12 million euros (much lower than the real economic value of the assets) to the former monarch. Since several decades the building is abandoned, collapsed in many parts but well preserved in the main building. In 2007 there was possibility of a conversion to a museum, but with the Greek crisis was impossible an onerous restructuring, which would involve millionaire expenses. In order to prevent collapse and total destruction of the structure, in 2014 some renovations were made, especially at the gardener’s residence, cemetery and chapel roof. Many of the personal requirements items have been transferred to safe places, while many others, including some vintage cars, are still in Palazzo Tatoi. The fate of the residence is still unknown, and on the government’s programs there is also its sale. But nothing certain.
And now? Now, the gardens are long overgrown, their sculptures slowly succumbing to nature. There’s also a royal cemetery, where you can find the graves of George I of the Hellenes, George II of the Hellenes, and various princesses and duchesses.