HISTORICAL REFERENCE – BYZANTINE MANSION

 

Introductory note by the owners of Hatzi Mansion. “A history of dreams and creations.  The Hatzi Mansion”.

By the poet and writer Sir Terence Cowell.

A number of circumstances which were far from coincidental led the Hatzi Family, a historic family originating from Smyrna to acquire this property; an excellently situated hill atop which lies a plateau with astonishing views to all sides and especially to the west towards the Saronic Gulf and the valleys of Anavyssos.

The atmosphere up there has a special clarity, a very attractive “aura” and intense energy, to use terms which are au courant. As those in charge of the family were sensitive to such vibrations, as well as being art lovers and fans of the Byzantine tradition, they were immediately convinced that this place was the ideal spot to build their life’s dream; that is to say, to construct a cultural centre whose very shape would remind one of everything Greek – probably a Byzantine castle or a post-Byzantine mansion to host art lovers and in general people engaged in intellectual and spiritual quests expressed through the fine arts.

They therefore turned to G.M., professor at the National Technical University of Athens and one of Greece’s most famous modern architects.

This wise and inspired academic said: “This place is charged with transcendental energies. You should build here; it’s your destiny”.

The design was drafted by the architect, historian and professor of Rhythmology at the N.T.U.A. Dr. G. A. Prokopiou, widely known for his books and articles on Byzantine symbolic architecture and traditional morphology.

They cooperated for many years on the designs and the details of every single door and window frame and piece of furniture and until the end he supervised the construction of the building. In the end, he was a “teacher” for all of us.

The Hatzi Family’s basic idea was to create a neo-Byzantine mansion on the top of the hill modelled on the large villas of Tuscany, which brought ideas from Constantinople to Italy and which were redeveloped and assimilated by the great Palladio and his School in an extremely effective manner. A similar achievement had previously been reached by the architect Kleanthis who built the palaces of Duchess of Plaisance.

 

The owners believed that this new and unique Cultural Centre [which was probably the only one of its kind] should – through a process of reserved eclecticism- integrate elements that referenced ancient, Byzantine and post-Byzantine Greece, without the building becoming a mis-mash of different architectural morphologies. Of course, this was actually extremely difficult to achieve in practice. The “teacher” blended numerous elements while obeying one unifying idea. He broke up the large surface area of the facades into smaller sections, tiled roofs with small volumes with different heights, alternating filled areas with gaps, and used changes in the style and colours of the materials, thus creating a fairy-tale image one could say that looks like it comes straight from a work by De Chirico.

The traditional and rare materials, the symbolic and bewitching reliefs and murals, the walls made of warm wood-stone and the floors made of marble from ancient quarries, lit by large windows with a unique view, the open layout and the proportion of outdoor and indoor spaces render the Cultural Centre at Hatzi Estate an exceptional aesthetic experience and the perfect ‘backdrop’ for events well worth seeing and experiencing.

Such a large technical project could not have been carried out without the involvement of one of Greece’s largest construction firms, the “CMS Group” which belongs to the Hatzi Family and a dynamic team of experts, engineers and artists from every field, under the strict supervision of Professor G. Prokopiou.

The construction of this ambitious project took many years since the technologies and equipment selected as well as the new construction methods and decorative details employed were researched in detail and constantly updated. However, the result is worth all the effort: it is a structure stamped by Greek energy and Byzantine grandeur, along with an aura of beauty as well as a high aesthetic vibration.

Hatzi Mansion, surrounded by cobbled paths and an olive grove featuring 250 year-old sculpture-like trees, with flower beds and antiquated fountains, takes the visitor on a journey back in time, while teaching the young the values of what it means to be Greek that often get lost in the maelstrom of the modern materialistic world.

As a foreign visitor I confess that in no other modern space have I experienced the emotions of what the Greek soul represents through a project inspired by traditional architecture.

 

A NEO-BYZANTINE CASTLE IN SYNTERINA, ANAVYSSOS.

By the architect, historian and professor of Rhythmology at the N.T.U.A. Dr. G. A. Prokopiou.

I was asked to build a special structure from a morphological and symbolic point of view, an “historic” mansion in the Byzantine style on a special, particularly well-located property of 7,000 m2, to dominate the top of Synterina Hill which gazes out across the Attica Riviera.

The structure had to combine the compositive principles of a modern, functional cultural centre with traditional mentality and aesthetics regarding the use of forms and materials. The property’s owners sought to make a romantic dream come true – where natural local materials and special architectural and historic features of Greek territories from antiquity to modern times would be restructured and “semantically” blended; a task that rendered the architect’s work much harder, as it is extremely easy for any endeavour like this to slip into some inartistic or exaggerated collage of incompatible and clumsy elements.

I tried to combine the lessons I had taken from the great master D. Pikionis, that always touched me for their spirituality, with the principles of modern architecture that push for clear, functional and consolidated layouts, while also capitalising on the amazing view.

I ended up with a very long floor plan with shallow spaces so that most of them “open” out onto the two main facades, that is to say the one facing onto the garden – from where there is access to the mansion – and the one facing onto the plateau, giving on to the Saronic Gulf, where the swimming pool with pergolas and its kiosk would be constructed.

I tried to “break up” the large mass of the building into smaller sections, volumes of various heights and shaded niches, roofs of different form presenting a diverse variety of heights, sizes, types and significance.

Thus the romantic spirit that pervades the structure overall gives the impression of a complex of buildings or rather a neighbourhood and not of one large building.

Then I had to face an “ideological” issue, that is to say the construction of a “monument”. By that I mean I had to combine elements reminding one of all periods of Greece’s centuries-long architectural tradition.

Natural materials would add the appropriate colour and texture, local asymmetrical stones for the garden walls and the lower ground levels, wood-stone from Thymiana for the arches and the walls of the ground floor, old bricks for the arches and the pillars in the pergolas in general, red tiles on the roofs, wood for the “hayati” (covered balconies with glass walls) and the attics – made from chestnut wood from Mount Athos, murals in the niches depicting traditional symbolic motifs, ceramic built-in reliefs like dedicatory inscriptions at critical points, references emphasising the relationships between these choices and the architecture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Even balustrades on the balcony above the entrance loggia remind one of the relevant features invented by Michelangelo for the Palazzo Pandolfini in Florence.

Highly skilled marble workers from Skyros and Chios and stone masons from Epirus, roofers from Mt. Pelion, ceramists from Sifnos, traditional carpenters, masons, fireplace fitters and numerous other very carefully selected craftsmen worked with pleasure, love and patience to achieve an authentic, remarkable result.

From a morphological point of view, our building was based around one central motif, an arched portico like a tribelon, with strong pillars supporting three identical semicircular arches, all made of stone from Chios with complementary ceramic adornments adding small touches of colour. This motif is repeated as a trademark in the lobby of the mansion and in the centre of the swimming pool pavilion. It is taken from the symbolic architecture of Byzantine churches designed to remind pilgrims of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the sacred meaning of the number 3, which is a common concept in numerous Eastern traditions.

This loggia is sheltered with a wooden ceiling resting on beams made of dark-coloured chestnut wood. The balcony that is thus created on the first floor helps ensure that the facade significantly recedes on that level. This composition reminds one of palaces and country villas of Tuscany, such as Villa Trissino in Vicenza, Villa Pisani or Villa Godi built by Palladio, Villa Cetinale in Siena or even Palazzo Farnese, but I prefer to believe that the true source of inspiration is the gallery of the Virgin Mary at the Church of Hosios Loukas or the Monastery built around the Cathedral Church of Mystras.

 

This main motif is surrounded by two “towers” giving the impression of an uncertain symmetry, while the wings recede and differentiate, like secondary additions from another era. In that way, the whole building acquires a high degree of diversity in terms of its volume and a picturesque character that breaks up the order of the final design of the main building and makes the classical symmetry and romantic irregularity coexist creatively sit side by side.

This choice was necessitated by an artistic historicism. Thus all sections of the building give the impression that wings- housing various diverse uses- were added at different points in time to the main body of the building– which is both central and symmetrical – so one may get the distinct impression of an ongoing history and a still incomplete structure.

The visitor finds the main entrance in the portico – the loggia described above. It is an elaborate oak front-door along with fine-crafted marble borders and an arched skylight, while on the right and left sides there are two windows with traditional window frames made of stone from Thymiana. This classical “trinity” of openings leads into the lobby of the complex where three more windows draw your gaze out of the interior space towards the open courtyards, the pergolas and the swimming-pool and even further on to the breathtaking view of the Saronic Gulf and the valleys of Anavyssos; landscapes perfectly bathed in Attica’s light.

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In this lobby there is the staircase to the first floor and the lower level where there are the spaces dedicated to intellectual and cultural activities [cinemas, gyms and yoga halls] as well as apartments to accommodate visitors. There, the visitor has the impression of a lane full of visual surprises thanks to the skilful use of materials and elements.

On the left of the lobby there are the main reception and exhibition halls, as well as the office with large windows with a view. Their floors and walls are covered in marble from Skyros, Epidaurus and Mt. Penteli, from the same quarries that provided rare pieces of this precious stone to the ancient world – Greece, Rome and Byzantium.

 

The designs follow circumcentral layouts around the symbolic omphalia that mark the centres of the spaces, which is a deliberate reference to the marble inlays on the floor of medieval monasteries.

In the first reception room, one section becomes two-storey and in its square pyramid-shaped tower a wooden balcony “daringly” hangs on iron brackets with handmade corbels and brass carved decorations, beautiful examples of modern Greek metalworking. There is also an impressive chandelier positioned just above the central omphalion, the geometric shapes of which imply a double-headed eagle with its wings outstretched to the East and the West.

The small “private” hall on the ground floor is lit by large windows similar to those of the “hayati” features one finds on houses in Northern Greece, protruding like a traditional “sachnisi” (bay window) out of the building and providing an unobstructed view of the garden where very old olive trees and productive vineyards have been planted, and of the range of hills in the background. In Persian “sachnisi” means “Shah’s seat” and “hayat” means “living space”.

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The floor plan of the garden has been designed to be symmetrical and the main motif is a symbolic chalice for the wine produced from the property’s grapes.

The wooden balconies (like “hayats”) open up the reception rooms of this floor to the countryside and an irregular variety of 4-pitched and 2-pitched tile roofs crown the complex creating elements of visual interest and warm colour.

Special attention was paid to the texture of the interior walls that were made of stone with chestnut beams and to the finishes of old bricks in order to make them relief artistic compositions, thus adding a strong character with references to tradition in every space.

We should pay special attention to the murals in the loggia that were created by the painter and conservator of art works Mr. Athanasios Mariolopoulos on old Rosicrucian models featuring a double-headed eagle on the left and an amphora with lilies on the right. They are symbols of historical continuity designed to ward off the evil eye that were incorporated many centuries ago into the religious and decorative tradition of the Greeks. The eagle, emblem of the Eastern empire, remains forever a symbol of power and protection, the male guard and wisdom, while the lilies are female nature representing purity, love, fruition and life and, as all symbols, discreetly express a metaphor for the values of life and morality. The same subjects are also found in the stained glass windows, the staircase’s coloured glass featuring designs prepared by the architect.

In the Mansion’s courtyard with an unobstructed view to the infinite blue of the sea the visitor can stop off to admire a mosaic decoration with 2 peacocks symbolising the couple. The peacock is an ancient symbol of Christianity and the Byzantine era which has numerous metaphysical connotations.

CONCLUSION

Was the vision of the Hatzi Family for a fairytale castle realised? As the years roll by, the Cultural Centre is becoming increasingly magical, as it fills with new life and activities.

Its talented managers share it not only with art lovers and artists but also with those who surrender themselves to the charm of this place and the special glow it emits, and choose it to celebrate the most significant moments of their life there.