Syntagma Athens Greece
Syntagma Square is the most famous in Athens if not all of Greece. No matter where you have to go in Athens, if you can find Syntagma Square you can find your way there.
Syntagma Square is back and better then ever. Well maybe not better than ever. It was probably at it's best in the early 1900's when there were not cars and buses whizzing around it and it was shaded by large trees. But with the re-routing of the traffic, the opening of the new metro and the removal of the wooden billboard covered walls that for at least an entire year, hid the construction site that was once Athens most popular platia, Syntagma looks better then it has in many years. Well actually it looks sort of the same as it looked before the renovation. But who cares? We have Syntagma back and hopefully they won't have to redo it again for many more years. Of course there is one small difference in the appearance of the square and the reason for the renovation in the first place. At the top of the square are two stairways and an elevator leading to the Syntagma Metro Station, one of the most beautiful metro stations in the world, with its own museum of artifacts found at the construction site.
The name Syntagma means Constitution. When Greece was liberated from the Turks the great powers decided that they needed a king and chose Otto of Bavaria. Since he was too young to actually rule he came with a military force and three regents who ruled as dictators, imposing heavy taxes, and stealing from the country. When the king finally came of age the Greeks who had fought to free the country from Turkish occupation were now fed up with the tyranny of the Bavarians. With the support of British diplomats, two Greek soldiers, Dimitrios Kallerges and Ioannes Makriyannis led their troops to the palace and demanded the king get rid of the foreigners and within thirty days produce a constitution. This was the end of foreign domination of Greece (supposedly)
The Square has a long history. It seems every major event in Greece has either been mourned or celebrated here. It has held some of the biggest political pep-rallys that have ever been seen on the planet. In the nineteen forties it was the sight of a battle between the communists and the right-wing government. Greece had been occupied by the Nazis and like many countries, the resistance was made up primarily of communists. In December of 1944 British forces arrived to liberate Athens but the Germans had already left. Instead they turned their guns on the Partisans who had fought the Germans and sided with the collaborators to create a Greece that would not be communist. Churchill wanted to restore King George to the throne but the majority of Greeks who had suffered through the Metaxas dictatorship under the King neither wanted his return or the return to power of the right wing royalists who had collaborated with the Nazis. Unfortunately for the people of Greece their fate had been decided by England and Russia at a meeting in Moscow. Greece would fall under the influence of Great Britain in return for Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary coming under the control of the Soviets.
On December 3rd a demonstration in Syntagma turned into a battle when the police fired upon the crowd. After the shooting while the wounded were being attended to more shots were fired. In the end there were 23 demonstrators dead and 140 wounded including many women. The British were ordered by Churchill to treat Athens as a captured city. Athens had survived World War 2 only to be bombed from the air and have its working class neighborhoods attacked by its own allies. The British who had supported the resistance against the Germans now were fighting against them in a class war, defending Syntagma and the wealthy neighborhood of Koloniki against the poor and working class neighborhoods that comprised the rest of Athens. This led to Civil war throughout the whole country, with Britain and later the USA providing guns and money to the establishment to destroy the left. That it was viewed by many as supporting the collaborators against some of the heroes of the resistance did not seem to matter and Greece, after suffering through the occupation, instead of experiencing the joys of liberation was thrust into a war that pitted brother against brother and caused more death and despair than the Nazis had. The resistance and heroism of the Greeks against the Italians and the Germans had been an inspiration to all the subjugated people of Europe. But this did not matter when a new world order was being carved out. You could say that the events on December 3rd in Syntagma were the beginning of the Cold War. Though these events are known to few people outside of Greece, when you consider the effects that the policies of the cold war had on the entire world, it is a wonder that there is not some kind of international recognition of the importance of that day in Syntagma Square in the last half of the twentieth century. It was a defining moment in history. The first shots of the cold war. See also my History of Greece
Syntagma has also seen it's shining moments. When the Military Junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974 fell and Constantine Karamanlis came back from exile in Paris to lead Greece back to democracy, it was in Syntagma that he first spoke to his newly free constituents.