2015 | Dec
The size and population density of the capital
Population density has remained quite low between 1860 and 1940: 172 individuals per hectare in 1879 and only 91 per hectare in 1907. The low density of 1907 is due to the fact that the size of the urban area increased fivefold, as sparsely populated “rural” areas were included in it. Right before the war, population density increased but still remained very low -at 127 individuals per hectare in 1940.
Graph 1: Population growth in Athens, 1834 – 1951
Source: Population censuses in the respective years
Table 1: Social and professional stratification in the capital, 1860-1910 (%)
Source: Municipality of Athens Population Registrar, and N. Igglessis, 1910.
In the second half of the 19th century and in the early 20th century, Athens was a town of craftsmen, craft industries and small-scale trade: this is the clear picture that emerged from analysing death certificates in the Municipality of Athens. In addition, the distribution shown in N. Inglessis’ 1910 commercial Guide  – a door-to-door recording of professionals in Athens – confirms the important role of merchants, artisans and craftsmen, though it excludes a significant part of the working classes, such as unskilled manual workers .
In the following period, up to 1940, approximately 150,000 refugees moved to the municipality, inflating the capital’s working class. However, the social and professional composition of the population on the eve of World War II is not known, since 1928 is the last year for which census data is available. N. Igglessis’ 1930 commercial Guide was limited to professionals who occupied business premises (hence it did not record employees, public and private sector staff and workers). It provides an image of a city with a large middle class, mainly consisting of shop owners, restaurateurs, real estate agents, hoteliers, contractors, insurance agents and craftsmen, with a significant presence of higher-ranking freelance professions.
Table 2: Social-professional classification of professions in Athens, as recorded in N. Igglessis’ 1939 Commercial Guide
Source: N. Igglessis, 1939
Housing choices and the mapping of social groups
Available data for the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, show very limited social segregation. The coexistence of social strata is due to the relatively small area of the capital, whose land uses had not yet been finalised. Thus, the working class was not excluded from the city centre, which gathered most administrative, economic and cultural activities and is where the elite chose to live.
Map 1: Percentage (%) of lower occupational categories in the active population by parish in the Municipality of Athens (1859-1868)
In the 1860s  the working class mainly lived in the outskirts of the new city (Map 1): the settlement of Exarchia (Zoodohos Pigi parish) and a part of the neighbourhood of Psirri, mainly in the parish of Aghios Dimitrios but also in Aghioi Anargyri. Seven other areas , all of which today are part of the capital’s urban core, have significant concentrations of working class residents. Specifically, five of them were city fringe areas at one point, while two are located at the foot of the Acropolis. These are the parishes of Karytsi, Aghios Philippos, Metamorphosi Sotiros, Aghia Aikaterini and Aghioi Apostoloi. Two more parishes are those of the Romvi and Monastiraki areas.
Map 2: Percentage (%) of upper occupational categories in the active population by parish in the Municipality of Athens (1859-1868)
The affluent strata (Map 2) mostly resided in the parishes of Agios Georgios Karytsi and Metamorfosi Sotiros, as well as in Exarchia. The first is close to the University, the Magistrate’s Court, the National Bank and borders with the city’s boulevard, Panepistimiou Street, to the east. The second one is very close to the Palace, the Royal Gardens and Syntagma Square. The elite had a significant presence in other parts of the old city, in the parish of Romvi , next to the Cathedral and in close proximity to three ministries: Ermou Street number 11 was where the Ministry of Justice was located while the Ministry of Religion & Public Education was located in nr 81. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was located at the intersection of Mitropoleos and Nikis streets. In addition, concentrations of upper strata were recorded in the parish of Agioi Theodoroi, the area where the first Palace, the National Bank and other institutions of the time were located. Agioi Theodoroi borders on two major roads, Panepistimiou Avenue and Athinas Street, as well as on Omonia Square and the commercial district of Psirri (Agioi Anargyroi and Agios Dimitrios).
The segregation of social classes was not very sharp and the upper class coexisted with working class. However, the parishes on both sides of the western part of Ermou Street and the ones at the foot of the Acropolis, were exclusively inhabited by poorer strata.
In the beginning of the 20th century, the city area had grown seven-fold, while its population was four times larger than in 1860. According to the death certificates for the years 1899-1902  the working class (Map 3) seemed to gradually abandon the historic city centre and to spread out in all directions, preferring areas outside the old city limits. All areas with the highest rates of working class residents in 1900 did not appear on the map of the previous period. The only parish still largely inhabited by the working class was the parish of Agia Aikaterini, home to many coachmen and tram employees. This makes sense, as the parish bordered Amalias avenue, from where tram lines to Faliron passed, while Zappeion, the terminus for trams from Omonia Square, was situated nearby.
Map 3: Percentage (%) of lower occupational categories in the active population by parish in the Municipality of Athens (1899-1902)
The working class dominated the remote parish of Agios Spyridon, in what today is the neighbourhood of Pangrati, which was annexed to the city plan for the first time in 1886. The area was clearly separated from the rest of the city by the Palace’s gardens and Zappeion, while the Ilissos river marked its natural boundaries. A second area attracting the working class lied in the western part of the city. It was the area of Kerameikos (between the terminus of Thisseion and Pireos street, near the Gas plant) as well as the farming area of Profitis Daniil. The third working class area lied in the northern part of the city, in the areas of Agios Pavlos and Agios Konstantinos -in Vathi-, directly adjacent to Metaxourgeion, the capital’s production zone, which hosted large-scale workshops. Further in the north, the agricultural zone of Patissia attracted a significant number of gardeners and workers.
Finally, it is important to mention the (limited) presence of the working class in the neighbourhood of Neapolis, where, according to an anonymous journalist of the Economic Review, a core of workers’ buildings had already been built in 1873. “Workers have the natural tendency to acquire real estate property. This is a sufficiently developed economic phenomenon in Greece, as arbitrarily proven by buildings that mainly belong to workers, situated next to Ilissos river and between Lycabetus Hill and Pinakotes” .
Although the coexistence of working and upper classes continued, it seems that the elite also distanced itself from the capital’s commercial centre, with a clear tendency to move to north and north-eastern neighbourhoods, while remaining within the city limits (Map 4). The Athenian elite primarily lived in the Agios Konstantinos -Vathi- area, which, as we saw, was popular with the poorer classes. The second option is the neighbouring settlement of Exarcheia. These were two new areas, close to Omonia Square and the Athens Technical University, but also to the capital’s economic and administrative centre. Furthermore, the upper class gathered around Kolonaki -which in the coming decades evolved to become the capital’s beau quartier– as well as in Neapolis.
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- Χατζηιωάννου Μ-Χ και Αγριαντώνη Χ (1995) Το Μεταξουργείο της Αθήνας. Χατζηιωάννου Μ-Χ, Ζιούλας Χ, Παπανικολάου – Κρίστενσεν Α, κ.ά. (επιμ.), Αθήνα: Κέντρο Νεοελληνικών Ερευνών Εθνικό Ίδρυμα Ερευνών (ΚΝΕ – ΕΙΕ). Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/10442/7739.
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