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THE BUILDINGS OF SOTIRIOS ANARGYROS
To the rear of the Dapia, a small attractively cobbled square opens behind, with the church of St Anthony on the right-hand side. At the far left corner is a bronze statue to one of the island’s most important benefactors, Sotirios Anargyros (1849–1918), who returned to his native Spetses after accumulating a fortune in the United States from tobacco production. His signature-brand,‘Turkish Trophies’, was bought by James Duke. The business, at the time of its sale in 1897, was worth the (then) immense sum of $650,000. (Ironically, the name ‘Anargyros’ means ‘money-less’.) Before the outbreak of the First World War, Anargyros began a number of projects for the benefit of the island: he bought tracts of land in order to re-forest them with pines after decades of depletion from fires and timber collection for boat-building; he constructed the first fresh-water aqueduct, as well as the road which circles the island; and, with the building of the Poseidonion Hotel, he brought employment to the island and put Spetses firmly on the tourist map. His house, the *Anargyros Mansion directly across the street, is perhaps the island’s most memorable building, completed in 1904 in high Neoclassical style, with ‘Egyptianising’ details such as sphinxes and palm trees. Beneath its elegant façade with fine classical door-frames, friezes and columns, its alternating pediments and segments over the windows, and its cadenced colour scheme, is a structure in concrete and iron—the first of its kind on an island whose tradition of building was with pure stone walls. The design is a curious hybrid: the central, cubic block of the house, typical of a neoclassical villa, is surrounded by a wide portico on all four sides at the lower level—an unusual feature that Anargyros had picked up from his visits to the ‘ante-bellum’ estates of the American South where his tobacco was grown. After Anargyros’s death, the building served as a town hall, then as an interrogation centre during German occupation: today it mould ers, awaiting a new project for its use.
The second of the great projects which Anargyros undertook was the Poseidonion Hotel, on the waterfront just to the northwest of the Dapia. The era when its faded elegance could still be enjoyed ended in 2003, when the hotel closed for lengthy renovation works. It was a curious idea—but once again of American inspiration—to build a luxury hotel of monumental proportions and of an alien kind of architecture, on a small island of the Saronic Gulf: but it enjoyed huge success and was patronised by princes and potentates from all over Europe and by the beau monde of Athens. In its heyday, after 1928 when the British Fleet used Spetses as an anchorage and its clientele was a mixture of Athenian society and British naval officers, it was the most important seasonal hotel in the Balkans. Its architectural design, which is to be preserved in the refurbishment, was modelled on the marine ‘Hydros’ of northern Europe, in which wrought-iron balconies, steep-pitched roofs, and pyramidal copper canopies to the towers, brought a kind of Parisian metropolitan architecture to the sea-side. It was a piece of the water-front of Le Touquet, in the Aegean. A date has not yet been set for its reopening.
To the west of the Poseidonion is another large build of 1920, now converted into a luxury hotel (‘Nissia’) out of what was originally the Daskalakis Textile Factory, which operated for nearly 40 years until it closed in 1959. The shore beyond it is fronted by simple dignified houses, interspersed with archontika: the building of the current Demarcheion; the Economou Mansion (1851); and, in a walled enclosure further to the west, the Altamura Mansion. At this point the area has ceased to be the municipality of Spetses and has become Kounoupitsa. Behind the high wall to the left of the road as it continues west is the last of the great philanthropic projects of SotiriosAnargyros—the Anargireios and Koryialeneios School of Spetses, which was completed in 1927 in a ‘Rationalist’ architectural style, typical of the epoch.
This was not intended as a school for Spetsiots, but for the wider Greek world. Its creation responded to a movement in the politics of the period, in which the ‘Megali Idea’—the ‘great vision’ of a resurgent and re-unified Hellenic world— had been resuscitated by Eleftherios Venizelos, this time as a kind of ‘bourgeois revolution’ of somewhat reduced dimensions after the Greek loss of Asia Minor. This ‘revolution’ was to be led by an educated, mercantile and professional class of Greek, and required great centres of appropriate education. Anargyros’s school, based on the model of the British-style ‘Public School’, was to supply that need. The school was consciously to copy ‘the model of Eton and Harrow’. The buildings, designed by George Diamantopoulos, were financed by legacies from both Anargyros and Marinos Koryialenios (d. 1910), a Greek merchant and banker based in London. The school was grandly conceived, with every facility including an observatory and an open-air theatre. When it opened in 1927, it had four students. In 1952/53 the novelist, John Fowles, taught at the school: his experiences were to under pin his novel The Magus eventually published in 1966. The ‘Lord Byron School’ on the ‘Island of Phraxos’, where the principal character, Nicholas Urfe, teaches, is based on the Anargyreios and Koryialeneios on Spetses. The school operated until its closure in 1983. The buildings are now used for international congresses and residential courses.
Spetses Island is part of the Argosaronic Island Group, Greece.