The Academy of Athens was established in 1926 as an Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Fine Arts. With the establishment of the modern Greek State came the demand for an academy of arts and sciences. In 1856 Simon Sinas, a rich merchant and banker based in Austria and Ambassador of Greece in Vienna, offered considerable funds for the construction of the academy. Construction began in 1859, under the Danish architect Theophilus Hansen, and from 1861 under the young German architect Ernst Ziller.

The Athens Academy is an imposing building at the junction of Eleftheriou Venizelou (Panepistimiou) and Sina Street, typical of 19th-century neoclassical architecture. The ground plan is symmetrical and consists of three wings, connected by two shorter transverse wings. The central building, which houses the Academy’s conference hall, is an amphiprostyle Ionic temple with elements from the eastern part of the Erechtheion of the Acropolis. The right-hand side of the building houses the library and the left side the administrative offices. Built almost exclusively in Pentelic marble, the mansion is lit by six marble lamp-posts. The main conference hall is adorned with wall-paintings by Christian Griepenkerl, depicting the legend of Prometheus.

There are many sculptures in the Athens Academy. The seated statues of Socrates and Plato in front of the building, the central pediment depicting the birth of Athena and the building’s emblem, the statues of Athena and Apollo on two high Ionic columns, are works of the sculptor Leonidas Drossis. The eight small pediments on the sides of the building, by Franz Melnitzki, depict Athena offering art and science to the Athenians. The bust of donor Simon Sinas stands in front of the building.

The building was completed in 1885, almost thirty years after it was founded. Between 1890 and 1940 the building accommodated objects and services more or less relevant to its mission, including the Numismatic Museum, the General State Archives and the collections of the Byzantine Museum. It became the seat of the Athens Academy in 1926, when that institution was established. The academy, as most homonymous institutions in other countries, comprises the most important members of the communities of science and art in Greece. Its most significant events include the awarding of prizes to notable scientists and artists.

Author: VASSILIS PAPADOPOULOS
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