1946 marked the re-opening of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA or School hereafter) in a country that had been devastated by war. In reading the official correspondence between the Greek Ministry of Education and the ASCSA, it becomes obvious that opening museums and the preservation of archaeological sites ranked highly on Greece’s list of priorities. With the launch of the Marshall Plan in 1947, Greece’s chances of success were also tightly connected with the development of tourism, and a large part of U.S. aid was streamlined in this direction.
“It is well known that travelers come to Greece chiefly for the purpose of seeing the ancient sites and visiting the museums of the country. In other words, the antiquities of Greece constitute a productive source of revenue capable of adding to the national treasury some 30 million dollars in the course of three years… No investment in the economy of Greece can match this for returns” wrote Oscar Broneer, Acting Director of the American School, on June 29th of 1948, in a petition of the School to the Industry Division of the Marshall plan for a $1,149,000 grant that would re-establish the Greek Archaeological Service.ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 4
Carl W. Blegen, the excavator of many prehistoric sites in Greece who succeeded Broneer in the Directorship of the American School (1948-1949) and had served as Cultural Relations Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Athens in 1945-1946, also thought along the same lines. In an additional memorandum to the U.S. Ambassador in Athens, in August of 1948, Blegen underlined “the lamentable state of disrepair of the Greek museums,” which looked like empty shells (ASCSA AdmRec 804/6, folder 11). Blegen participated actively in meetings between the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA) representatives and the Archaeological Service and helped with writing proposals. (The ECA was a U.S. government agency set up in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan.) Since the American School could not receive direct funding from the Marshall plan, the only way to benefit from it was through collaboration with the Greek Government. The School hoped in this way to secure about $100,000 from the ECA through the Greek Government to supplement the cost of the construction of a museum that would store and display the growing number of finds from the Athenian Agora Excavations that had been accumulated since 1931. Before WW II, the School already had secured a grant of $150,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation to build a museum on the west side of the Agora.
Forced by the War to abandon their plans for an Agora Museum, the Americans resumed work at the Athenian Agora in 1947, conducting excavations at the proposed site, in order to begin construction. The 5th and 4th century B.C. houses and industrial workshops that they found were considered too important to be covered up, and a new site for the museum had to be found. After considering every possible location in the Athenian Agora for the museum, the Americans, following Homer Thompson’s suggestion, came to the conclusion that “another and in many ways preferable alternative would be to restore the Stoa of Attalos and install in it the museum, workrooms, and offices…” (ASCSA Annual Report 1947-1948, p. 29).
The draft of a program agreement between the ECA and the Greek Ministries of Coordination and Education included figures for the preservation of 34 monuments, and the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos was first on the list.Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou
Lizabeth Ward Papageorgiou here contributes to the Archivist’s Notebook an essay about Nancy Mitford’s visit to the Athenian Agora during the re-construction of the Stoa of Attalos in 1955. Unhappy with the building, Mitford, one of the famous Mitford sisters, wrote acidic comments about it in the press as well as to the Director of the Agora Excavations, Homer A. Thompson. Lizabeth (Liz), who studied Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts in New York University, found Mitford’s letters when she catalogued Thompson’s vast correspondence for the Archives of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens a few years ago. Her extensive catalogue of Homer Thompson’s papers is available at: http://www.ascsa.edu.gr/index.php/archives/thompson-finding-aid/
Over a decade ago, I archived the papers of Homer A. Thompson. Two of his letters are the subject of this article.
It [Athens] is probably the ugliest capital in Europe . . . [with] formless conglomerations of modern buildings overlooked by an immortal monument . . . . The traffic is noisier, wilder, and more evidently intent on homicide than that of Paris, and consists entirely of enormous pastel-colored American motor-cars.
Nancy Mitford, “Wicked Thoughts in Greece”, The Sunday Times, 24 July 1955.
Nancy Mitford (1904–1973), acclaimed author of comedies of English upper class manners (The Pursuit of Love), biographies (Madame de Pompadour), essays and reviews, was the eldest of six intelligent, beautiful and sometimes scandalous daughters of Lord and Lady Redesdale (Ben Macintyre described the sisters as Diana the Fascist, Jessica the Communist, Unity the Hitler-lover; Nancy the Novelist; Deborah the Duchess and Pamela the unobtrusive poultry connoisseur).1 In the summer of 1955, she traveled in Greece. She spent time with Patrick Leigh Fermor, who was living in Nikos Ghikas’s house on Hydra; went to Tatoi, the summer residence of King Paul; and visited friends in Spetses, Crete and the Peloponnese.2
When she was in Athens, she stayed at the Grand Bretagne and visited the ancient sites. One day she went to the Ancient Agora, but since the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos was not finished—it was covered with scaffolding and only the lower storey and colonnades had been reconstructed—Mitford must have needed permission to visit the site and one of the Agora staff to guide her. Homer A. Thompson, director of the Agora excavations from 1945 to 1967 and deeply involved with all aspects of the reconstruction of the Stoa, often mentioned visitors to the Agora in his letters to his wife, Dorothy Burr Thompson; but he made no mention of a visit by Nancy Mitford. Possibly Judith Perlzweig or C. W. J. Eliot, who bore the brunt of conducting visitors through the excavations and museum, served as her guide.3
Shortly after Mitford returned to her home in Paris, she wrote an article about her trip to Greece for The Sunday Times. Published on 24 July 1955, the title, “Wicked Thoughts in Greece”, gave readers a heads up that this was going to be another of her scathing attacks. Opening with the declaration that Athens is probably the ugliest capital in Europe, full of homicidal drivers and enormous pastel-colored American motor-cars, she continued to deplore the hideous newness of Athens, which from the air is a desert of khaki-coloured cement. But she did find an oasis in Plaka, where she delighted in the classical monuments, churches and old houses, until . . .
Alas! After ten minutes of happy wandering the dream is shattered and the dreadful wasteland of the Agora appears. Here the American School of Classical Studies seems to have torn down whole streets in order to search for a few pots. Here the Americans are building, in a ghastly graveyard marble, the Stoa, said to be ‘of Attalos’, but really of Mr. Homer A. Thompson. And here a gracious garden will be planted, complete, no doubt, with floral clock.
A few pages later, describing her visit to Knossos, she again attacked the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attalos:
. . . Knossos, a fraudulent reconstruction like the Stoa, English this time, alas, and built in an art nouveau style reminiscent of Paris metro stations. It is evident that Anglo-Saxons should be kept away from Mediterranean sites . . . . Knossos, however, matters less than the Stoa, because it is out in the country and does not spoil anything else. The Stoa in all its vileness hits the eye from the Acropolis and the Temple of Hephaestus. It is as though the French had allowed Frank Lloyd Wright to build his idea of a Petit Trianon at the bottom of the tapis vert at Versailles. Read the rest of this entry »
“Often one senses the feeling – and I have occasionally heard it put into words- that since Greece has culture and America money, each should contribute its own commodity to the collaborative enterprise. It is a European outlook, of course; not limited to Greece.”
The excerpt above was written in 1958 from the pen of John (Jack) Caskey, Director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (1949-1959). It epitomizes the perception that most Europeans had of America even after European culture had entered into its American phase. It is also a passage quoted in a brilliant review of the development of the Greek-American relationships from 1947 to 1961, published with the title “Shallow Waves and Deeper Currents: The U.S. Experience of Greece, 1947-1961. Policies, Historicity, and the Cultural Dimension,” by Evanthis Hatzivassiliou in Diplomatic History, vol. 37 (2013), pp. 1-28. Read the rest of this entry »