The founding stone of the University’s central building, designed by Christian Hansen, was laid on 2 July 1839. The main wing of the building –known as Propylaea– was completed in 1841 and lectures were transferred there. The project was financed through public fund-raising.
Construction works continued in the next decades, including the painting of murals on the walls of the building, which is now considered to be part of the famous “Athenian trilogy”, along with the National Library and the Academy of Athens, forming an exceptional nucleus of imposing neoclassical architecture at the heart of Athens.
Apart from the University’s administrative services and lecture halls, the Propylaea hosted various institutions connected to the University: the Numismatic Museum, laboratories and evening classes or the Anatomy Laboratory. At the same time, the precincts of the building were –and still are– among the most well-known spots of Athens: a place for meeting and protesting. This is where student demonstrations depart from, both in easy and difficult times, such as the period of the Triple Occupation (1941-1944) or the demonstrations for the Cyprus dispute in the 1950s.
The Propylaea building and its precincts were not only a place of memory but also a place of art. Apart from its architecture, the murals of the building are of particular interest, especially the one located at the internal façade of the Propylaea —depicting Otto sitting on a throne surrounded by the sciences reborn in the newly-founded Greek State— as well as the murals of the event hall, depicting famous men and the Greek scholars who spread their work.
In 1869, on the occasion of celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the 1821 Greek Revolution, the University’s Rectorate commissioned the statues of Rigas Velestinlis and Patriarch Gregory V of Constantinople, which were installed at the Propylaea and inaugurated with public ceremonies.
In the years that followed, the installation of the statues of humanist Ad. Korais, the British politician William Ewart Gladstone, the first governor of Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias, as well as of memorial columns for the students killed during the 1897 war and the First World Warwars, converted the Propylaea precincts into a memorial, a symbolic location of Greece’s modern history, which also maintained links to the Antiquity.
From early on, the Propylaea building was not enough to cover the University’s teaching and administrative needs. The University gradually spread in the city of Athens, through various institutions (museums, laboratories, hospitals, the University Club etc.), which functioned mainly as spaces of research and exercise, but also of entertainment, studying and meeting.
At the same time, new neighbourhoods such as Exarchia and Neapoli, started receiving numerous students from rural areas who were looking for a place to stay. Their itineraries created a city within the city, delimiting the University’s territory: from the hospitals to the Students’ Club, from the Chemistry Building to the Sports Hall.
Today, the Propylaea, the Theoretical Sciences Building on Solonos Str., the Medical School at Goudi, the University Campus at Zografou and dozens of other buildings in Athens, host the activities of a vibrant and bustling University.