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Unthinkable Histories:
The Nation’s Vow and the Making of the Past in Greece

On July 31, 1829, the participants of the Fourth National Assembly voted to construct the Church of the Savior to express gratitude for Greek liberation from the Ottoman Empire. Research to date suggests that this initiative was revisited in the 1960s by church officials who engaged in an imaginative reading of the historical record to present this phantasmatic edifice as an unfulfilled national vow. Despite the project’s long and complicated history, the endeavor is largely remembered as a kitsch project of the military regime of 21 April 1967. Why is this the case? How are the stories of our past produced, and what kinds of analytics are utilized to create public narratives? Taking a story of spatial absence as a point of departure, I combine archival material and ethnographic research to consider how silence and the encounter with the unthinkable have shaped public history in Greece.


In a way, my research on the Church of the Savior (eventually known as the Nation’s Vow, το Τάμα του Έθνους, or simply το Τάμα, the Vow), which left an uneasy mark on the Greek popular imagination, commenced years before I realized it.1 It was in early January 2007 during a discussion with Kostis2 over the possible construction of a mosque in Athens that this unbuilt edifice suddenly emerged from the past as an unsettling site of fantasy on which I soon became transfixed (Antoniou 2010). Kostis was a medical doctor, an old-calendarist,3 and a man of rare determination, who had built at his own expense a small chapel dedicated to the Savior, on the top of a hill where the government was planning to construct an Islamic Cultural Center. “An only temporary fulfillment of the Vow,” as he would say time and again. It was then that I first heard of the Nation’s Vow, supposedly mentioned in the memoirs of the nineteenth-century revolutionary heroes Ioannis Makriyiannis and Theodoros Kolokotronis, the nation’s pledge to construct a cathedral, and the [End Page 131] daunting possibility that the country would suffer grave consequences for being disrespectful to the past by failing to honor the promises of its forefathers.

Figure 1. “The promise of Kolokotronis wasn’t forgotten,” invitation to a day conference on The Nation’s Vow organized by the Association of Friends of the Nation’s Vow in Athens in March 2013.<br/><br/>Source: Author’s personal collection.
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Figure 1.

“The promise of Kolokotronis wasn’t forgotten,” invitation to a day conference on The Nation’s Vow organized by the Association of Friends of the Nation’s Vow in Athens in March 2013.

Source: Author’s personal collection.

According to Kostis, delaying the fulfillment of the Vow could only herald national disasters not only because God takes human promises seriously but also because the lack of a prominent Orthodox edifice marking urban space and national time makes Greeks succumb to multiculturalism, Islamism, Free Masonry (Masonia), and international capitalism. Even though he was well aware, he claimed, that the state finds his Christian devotion disturbing “to say the least” and that the enemies of Hellenism would always attempt to block his initiatives, he repeatedly reminded fellow Christians of the Nation’s Vow in magazines and newspapers like Άγιος Αγαθάγγελος ο Εσφιγμενίτης (Saint Agathangelos of Esfigmenou), Ελληνορθόδοξο Κίνημα Σωτηρίας (Helleno-Orthodox Salvation Movement), and Ελεύθερος Κόσμος (Free World). And he really did not seem to mind that people like me might consider these publications marginal, for, he reminded me, his star already shone in religious circles, important people were following his struggles, and after all, truth, as history has proven, takes a long time to be revealed. It was most probably because of him, I was told, his active opposition to the mosque, and the popularity of his campaign on the internet that the Σωματείο «Φίλοι του Τάματος του Έθνους» (the Association of Friends of the Nation’s Vow) was formed that very year, [End Page 132] with the exclusive goal of finally constructing the Church of the Savior and thus fulfilling (in Kostis’ words) “Kolokotronis’s forgotten promise”4 (Figure 1).

Figure 2. Map of central Athens, indicating the proposed new avenues and tunnels around the area for the construction of the Nation’s Vow in Tourkovounia. It was prepared in 1969 by the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works as an annex to the first “Call for the Architectural Contest of Draft Sketches for the Building of the Church of Christ the Savior.”<br/><br/>Reproduced with permission from the Pavlos Mylonas Archive, Archives of Neohellenic Architecture, Benaki Museum.
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Figure 2.

Map of central Athens, indicating the proposed new avenues and tunnels around the area for the construction of the Nation’s Vow in Tourkovounia. It was prepared in 1969 by the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works as an annex to the first “Call for the Architectural Contest of Draft Sketches for the Building of the Church of Christ the Savior.”

Reproduced with permission from the Pavlos Mylonas Archive, Archives of Neohellenic Architecture, Benaki Museum.

The following day I discussed the issue with my father, who informed me over lunch of “[Colonel Georgios] Papadopoulos’s intention to construct a church on Tourkovounia Hill in Athens (Figure 2). He was metonymically referring to the seven-year military regime that resulted from the coup d’état of April 21, 1967, engineered by the army officers Georgios Papadopoulos, Stylianos Pattakos, and Nikolaos Makarezos. My father then went on to refer me to my uncle Mimis, a retired telecommunications employee, who was «της Εκκλησίας», a devout Christian, that is, and therefore more likely to be knowledgeable of endeavors of this kind. This, as I discovered years later, was a sound piece of advice, which at the time I decided not to follow in an attempt to forget the imaginary church altogether and focus on my doctoral research instead. Yet the Nation’s Vow turned out to be persistent and kept returning on the most unexpected of occasions: in random discussions that I would have with friends over the late Archbishop Christodoulos’s intentions to construct a new cathedral in Athens, over the activities of the capital’s organization of regulatory [End Page 133] planning, and over the appropriation of public property by monasteries, real estate agents, and «οικοδομικοί συνεταιρισμοί» (building cooperatives).

As I soon realized, the story of this phantasmatic church cannot be studied solely in the context of ultra-Orthodox activism. In fact, by following its threads one inevitably finds oneself examining the military regime of 1967, a period which to this day remains largely unexplored. While scholars have studied the regime from various angles (for example, already from the 1970s: Clogg and Yannopoulos 1972; Poulantzas 1976; Mouzelis 1978; and more recently: Meletopoulos 1996; Van Dyck 1998; Regos, Athanasatou, and Seferiadis 1999; Papa-nikolaou 2007; Karamanolakis 2010; Van Steen 2010) and more recent archival research has shed light on the colonels’ foreign policy and mnemonic politics (for example, Rizas 2002; Walden 2009; Nafpliotis 2013; Kouki 2015), there remains ample space for new research. From an anthropological perspective in particular the junta is almost totally unexplored. It was only in 1997 that Michael Herzfeld touched on the issue of torture under the colonels in his biography of Andreas Nenedakis, in 2009 that Neni Panourgiá presented ethnographic accounts of the junta in the context of her genealogical examination of state persecution of the left, and even more recently that a younger generation of scholars has published research drawing upon oral histories of the era (Stefatos 2012; Kornetis 2013; Papaeti 2013; Samarinis 2014). This particular absence becomes all the more important if we take into account the fact that a number of the junta’s leaders, highest ranking officials, and ideologues themselves have lived for years with little attempt to hide and that important questions concerning the regime still remain unanswered. What, for instance, was the role of the Church? Was the junta experienced similarly in urban centers and the periphery? How do terms such as “resistance” and “complicity” help us understand what was happening?

Yet these issues are very much discussed and debated at the level of public history, where gossip, strong opinions, family stories, and individual memories depict the period either as a time of backwardness and brutal suppression of democratic values or as an εθνοσωτήριος επάνασταση, a nation-saving revolution. Unlike most scholars of the period, it is the latter discourse on the junta that I have most frequently encountered since childhood. In the small town where I grew up, accounts placing emphasis on the heroic resistance of the Greek people at the time of the colonels are considered to reflect the dominance of official narratives over local memories. Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, it is still widely believed that there were no fatalities in the regime’s response to the Polytechnic student uprising in 1973, that peaceful and law-abiding citizens never had anything to fear from the regime, and that the systematic terrorization and torture of anyone considered a dissident at the time is largely a leftist exaggeration. In this town with a distinct rightwing tradition, the dictatorship is mostly remembered as a time when people made money and felt safe and important infrastructure was finally instituted [End Page 134] (cf. Hirschon 1998, 77–85). During its first years, local support to the regime was overwhelming: for example, when Pattakos visited the town to attend a festival, the then mayor (my grandfather) and hundreds of locals were there to welcome him (Figure 3). When democracy was restored in 1974, however, and the Panhellenic Socialistic movement (PASOK) came to power in 1981, all those locals who had applauded Pattakos as he had walked down one of their streets named after an earlier dictator (Ioannis Metaxas) realized that, as far as the state was concerned, they had had a shameful past.5

Figure 3. Local festival in 1973. Dimitris Antoniou (the author’s grandfather) is in the back row, second from the right and Stylianos Pattakos is on the far right.<br/><br/>Source: Author’s personal collection.
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Figure 3.

Local festival in 1973. Dimitris Antoniou (the author’s grandfather) is in the back row, second from the right and Stylianos Pattakos is on the far right.

Source: Author’s personal collection.

What research and narrative strategies can help us account for the tensions between private memories and dominant discourses? This article draws on popular conceptions, considers discursive voids, and builds on the conflict of personal narratives in order to interrogate the conditions of possibility in the production of public history in postdictatorial Greece. The secrecy, awkwardness, and uncomfortable ambivalence over an uneasy past that I present here are consciously reflected in the usage of unstable language that shifts from the conventions of archival research and academic expression to the vernacular, the everyday, and the anecdotal. By examining how certain positions are formed, articulated, and reproduced in documentaries, the press, and in [End Page 135] the context of ethnographic research, I challenge three interrelated popular assumptions concerning the junta in general and the story of the Nation’s Vow in particular: first, that the history of the project in the twentieth century commences with the coup d’état; second, that the colonel’s regime produced kitsch (a rather problematic concept in its own right) by default; and third, that the Nation’s Vow originates in the personal desires and tastes of the dictators and their family members.

My main aim is certainly not to engage in a revisionist polemic against established periodizations and oversimplifications of the junta’s complex character. Rather, I want to show how both ultra-Orthodox organizations and critics of the military regime produced and reproduced discourses on the Nation’s Vow at the expense of systematic research, while suggesting profound certainties regarding the appropriate content of history. It is by tracing the telling absences in their accounts and the fallacies of their sources and analytics, I contend, that we can most productively consider how silence and the encounter with the unthinkable shape the ways in which people make history.

The architect publisher

In the early summer of 2007, I visited Christos Papoutsakis, the editor of Αντί (Anti), a magazine popular with the Greek left until it folded in 2008, in an attempt to discover additional information concerning the dictatorship’s handling of the project. Papoutsakis was an architect by training (he had worked for Doxiadis Associates after his graduation), who also possessed detailed knowledge of the colonels’ regime and managed an extensive archive of source materials for Anti’s articles. To my disappointment, our meeting did not last long. My host, even though most polite and welcoming, did not seem particularly interested in open-ended discussions on (what is known as) the “Επταετία” (the seven-year period of military rule), especially with someone of my age, perplexed about the period and ignorant of his past.6 Papoutsakis gave me a photocopy of an article on the Nation’s Vow that Anti had published in October 1974 (Figure 4) and suggested that I purchase Kitsch Made in Greece (Kambouridis, Koutsikou, and Papoutsakis 1989). This was the English translation of one of the most important publications of the 1980s (Koutsikou 1984), which he himself had co-edited and which was responsible for introducing kitsch and establishing it as a popular concept to mainstream Greek vocabulary (Panagiotopoulos 2010; Antoniou 2015; Kourniakti 2015). It was also the printed outcome of an extensive investigation of contemporary Greek aesthetics undertaken by photographers, journalists, architects, and art historians and included a short article with rare photographs of (mostly) modernist architectural models submitted to the second competition that the military regime had launched in 1971 with the aim of building the Vow.7 [End Page 136]

Figure 4. Models submitted to the second architectural competition for the construction of the Church of the Savior..
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Figure 4.

Models submitted to the second architectural competition for the construction of the Church of the Savior.

As I was leafing through the book’s pages, full of photographs of the most extraordinary façades and domestic decorations, I came to realize that leaving aside the emphasis placed on kitsch as an all-embracing category (which was so broadly conceived as to account for anything ranging from military parades to lapses in language), the contributions on the junta exhibited a distinct historical narrative concerning Greece’s recent past. They promoted a particular periodization over any other possible attempt to trace continuities and discontinuities with the years preceding and following the coup d’état—and thereby also promoted the idea that dates could mark historical time in the most definite manner. In this particular case, the implicit claim that the junta could have no prior history to its formal declaration has a clear, decontextualizing effect that allows the military regime to be examined in and of itself and to be placed outside of history. While the volume includes several photographs from the infamous Εορτές Πολεμικής Αρετής των Ελλήνων (Festivals of the Military Virtue of the Greeks), public spectacles that the regime frequently held to propagate the idea of the historical continuity of the Greek nation, there is no mention that strikingly similar festivals were taking place in the exact same location already from 1961.8 Nevertheless, we read in Kitsch Made in Greece that “vulgarity, pomposity, militarism, and continually atrocious taste marked the events and language of the dictatorship of the 21st of April” (Raftopoulos 1989, 98). Difficult as it is to disagree with these remarks, they raise important questions that need to be posed: did this “atrocious” taste, which, according to the volume’s editors, infiltrated almost every domain of the regime’s activity, appear suddenly in the early morning hours of 21 April 1967? What kind of knowledge do dates produce? Could the dictatorship have a non-dictatorial past? And what can the story of a phantasmatic building tell us about the way in which popular beliefs enter the historical record as certainties? [End Page 137]

The second life of the Church of the Savior

By way of introduction to the Nation’s Vow, let me briefly discuss the documentary Η κωμωδία της χούντας: Η ιλαρή πλευρά μιας σκοτεινής εποχής (The comedy of the junta: The hilarious side of a dark era), which was made by Anastases Agathos and distributed by Τα Νέα (Ta Nea), a center-left daily, in 2010. As the title suggests, the documentary examines the comical aspects of the regime and includes archival footage and an interview with the novelist Apostolos Doxiadis, son of the urban planner Constantinos Doxiadis, on the story of the Nation’s Vow. Doxiadis discusses dictatorial aesthetics, the colonels’ revival of an old vow in 1968, which few people had heard of at that time, the selection of Tourkovounia for the church’s site, and the launch of several fundraising campaigns. He also scoffs at the fact that the project was never realized and suggests that its story speaks to the regime’s inefficiency and corruption.9 Nevertheless, he is not surprised that the junta undertook such an initiative, intimating that he considers the project hideous, one of the many bad jokes comprising the comedy of the junta. As he says:

There was also the story of the Nation’s Vow, which started, if I correctly recall, in ’68, when we found out to our astonishment—I don’t think that any Greek would remember this historical detail—that it had been vowed by Kolokotronis that a big Church of the Savior would be built as the Nation’s Vow. And Papadopoulos, already then, I think, prime minister, dictator, chose the site for this to happen, there on Tourkovounia, above Galatsi. Naturally nothing happened. … Thus the foundation stone was laid with some festivities and there was lots of fuss around it, there were big fundraising campaigns, and I think that this was one of the first cases of raw corruption.

(Agathos 2010; translation mine)

Doxiadis’s brief recounting elides over a much more complex history of the church. In fact, his narrative and Agathos’s incorporation of it is typical of the popular knowledge concerning the project today. The Church of the Savior indeed predates the twentieth century, but in contrast to what Doxiadis and many others have heard, neither Kolokotronis nor Makriyiannis ever made a vow to build it.10 In reality, all participants of the Fourth National Assembly of 1829 (which included both men) voted to construct an Orthodox cathedral to express gratitude for liberation from the Ottomans at the suggestion of one of the most venerated figures in the history of the Greek state, Count Ioannis Kapodistrias. A prominent European diplomat and the country’s first governor, Kapodistrias was the convener of that national assembly and the one influencing its decisions (Markatou 1995, 38; 2008, 309). We may venture that he was the first to conceive of the construction of this church in the newly established state, given his deep devotion to Orthodoxy and his keen interest in the formal expression of national gratitude to God, already manifested in the construction in October 1828 of a small chapel on the island of Aegina dedicated to the Savior (Kardamitsi-Adami 1993, 99). [End Page 138]

Agathos’s documentary combines archival footage from the Nation’s Vow ground-breaking ceremony of 28 October 1972, with a newscaster from the period reproducing verbatim a sentence from the 1829 assembly’s Eighth Resolution of July 31: “When … the state’s financial resources allow it, the government will order the construction of a church honouring the Savior and carrying His name in its capital city” (Sisinis et al. [1829] 1973, 182; translation mine). Such neat presentation, and its correspondence with the popular narratives that I had been hearing about the Vow, initially prevented me from realizing that Η κωμωδία της χούντας reproduces the very discourses that it aims at criticizing and offers a simplistic presentation of a murky history. Had it not been for discussions with historians Nassia Yakovaki and Theodora Markatou, I would not have noticed that the Church of the Savior is never described as “the Nation’s Vow” in the nineteenth-century sources that I examined. Right from the start, the edifice was meant to express gratitude for the limited liberation that had already been achieved by the time of the initiative’s inception and not to reflect a collective wish for even greater independence as the term τάμα signifies in Greek.11 Yet these very subtle semantic differences between an unfulfilled national promise, an assembly’s vote to express gratitude, and a collective vow that predates the desired event brought about a strange consensus over the origins of the endeavor.

Had Agathos known all that, he could have criticized the colonels’ initiative on different grounds, showing how they placed themselves in a narrative framework that created a direct link between their «εθνοσωτήριος επανά-σταση» (nation-saving revolution) and the Eπανάσταση of 1821 (as the uprising against the Ottoman Empire is usually described in Greece).12 By presenting distorted historical evidence to describe an unbuilt token of gratitude as a national, unfulfilled vow, the colonels in reality attempted to ensure their integration into national history. As we will now see, they depicted the military regime as a moment in national time in which old debts would be settled and the nation would meet its destiny, and also as the ending point of an obscure story that in its various versions involved some of Greece’s most prominent statesmen, urban planners, and architects.13

Just as so many other public projects of the nineteenth century, this ambitious enterprise involved Greeks and Bavarians alike and was repeatedly proposed, legislated, and postponed on account of a lack of funds. In 1832, for instance, Antonios Tsounis, a member of the Friendly Society and of the Sacred Battalion, suggested in a memorandum that he submitted to the Fifth National Assembly the construction of the Church of the Savior on the Mycenaean acropolis of Tiryns (Ειδικόν Ταμείον 1969). A year later, the architect Ferdinand von Quast published an article in Museum, Blätter für bildende Kunst (as quoted in Russack 1991, 200), in which he proposed that the new king’s palace be located on the Acropolis (thus echoing the plans of his mentor, Karl Friedrich von Schinkel) and be connected by a bridge to “the Church [End Page 139] of the Savior, the cathedral,” built on the nearby Areopagus Hill. “A majestic dome,” he wrote, “should cover the sacred site, on top of which the cross, a symbol of Christian victory over Islam will shine. And this shining would reach the ships sailing around Sounio” (Russak 1991, 26; translation mine). In 1834, only a few months after the selection of Athens as the capital, the project was endorsed by the viceroy, Count Armansperg, who called for the erection of a spectacular cathedral “worthy of the Greek people” (Government Gazette 1834; translation mine)—a wish that is clearly reflected in Leo von Klenze’s plan of the new city of the same year (Biris 1995, 37; Bastéa 2008, 169). A few years later, on 11 April 1838, King Otto himself issued a decree (Government Gazette 1838) revealing that in accordance with von Klenze’s planning study he had already selected the Church of the Savior’s site in Athens and approved the architectural plans that had been proposed for its construction (Petronotis 1970; Russack 1991, 39) in Othonos Square, the area of present-day Omonoia Square (Biris 1995, 75) (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Leo Von Klenze’s plan of the new city of Athens. The arrow at the lower middle indicates the location of the Church of the Savior.<br/><br/>Reproduced from Biris 1995, 37 with permission from Manos Biris.
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Figure 5.

Leo Von Klenze’s plan of the new city of Athens. The arrow at the lower middle indicates the location of the Church of the Savior.

Reproduced from Biris 1995, 37 with permission from Manos Biris.

Even at that time the Church of the Savior was envisioned as a structure that would surpass the economic capacities of the new state, and therefore its materialization would depend on a fundraising campaign (Government Gazette 1838). This proved to be a rather ambitious plan, however. To the king’s disappointment, the campaign was an immense failure, since capable [End Page 140] citizens preferred to support the establishment of the University of Athens (Markatou 1995, 46). As Nikolaos Krieziotis, colonel and military inspector of Euboia, tellingly reports in a letter to the palace: “No one wanted to become a contributor to the construction of the Church of the Savior” (Papakonstantinou 1974; translation mine). Eventually economic pragmatism prevailed. The project was linked to the construction of a new cathedral designed by Theophil Hansen, and all money raised for the Church of the Savior was used to that end (Biris 1995, 132). Yet the fact that this new cathedral, whose construction was completed in 1862 after extensive simplifications of the original plans, was dedicated to Mary of the Annunciation and not the Savior only complicated matters and created uncertainty concerning the Nation’s Vow’s fulfillment in subsequent years (Petronotis 1970).14 On that note, let me return now to Doxiadis’s claim that the project was rediscovered in the twentieth century by the military regime.

Kitsch and the encounter with the unthinkable

Despite the fact that even a superficial study reveals the enterprise’s long and rather complicated history, the public discussion of the issue since the restoration of democracy in 1974 seems to accept that the junta revived the long-dormant project in the late 1960s (as the colonels themselves might have wanted people to believe) and places particular emphasis on kitsch as an appropriate lens through which to examine this specific project, as well as the military regime more broadly. Many journalists in particular have insisted that it was Stylianos Pattakos and Georgios Papadopoulos, or even the latter’s second wife, Despoina, who suddenly remembered the old promise that the Greeks had made to God. For these critics, the revival of this initiative in the twentieth century could only reflect the architectural aspirations of a tasteless military regime and involve a few marginal architects, whose work would necessarily be hideous. In the words of the Marxist art critic Dimitris Raftopoulos, who, while an émigré in Paris during the dictatorship wrote the article “Kitsch as Fascism-Indicator” in Kitsch Made in Greece: “It could not have been otherwise” (Raftopoulos 1989, 98).

It is this last phrase that I would now like to consider, as it indicates an encounter with an unthinkable history. By this term, I do not mean to suggest, after Trouillot (1995, 70–107), that the junta was unthinkable at the very time it was occuring or that a segment of the Greek population had no adequate instruments to conceptualize its reality. Rather, I want to problematize unquestioned beliefs in ecclesiastical narratives, as well as the axiomatic correlation between aesthetics and dictatorial politics at work in certain narrations, in order to claim that the unthinkable in this case assumes the form of a certainty: while for Kostis (and the Association of Friends of the Nation’s Vow, as well) the [End Page 141] Church of the Savior constituted from its very inception a vow, for the junta’s critics this project cannot possibly have a non-dictatorial history, especially one that involves widely respected figures of Greek public life. In this context, kitsch emerges as a prominent prism for comparative historical investigation, and this is by no means accidental. In “Kitsch as Fascism-Indicator,” Raftopoulos cites the following excerpt from Greenberg’s seminal essay “Avant-garde and Kitsch” in order to establish a connection between totalitarianism and aesthetics:

If kitsch is the official cultural trend in Germany, Italy and Russia, this is not because their governments are in the hands of uncouth ignoramuses but because in these countries, as well as in many others, kitsch represents mass culture. The cultivation of kitsch is simply an inexpensive method devised by totalitarian regimes to curry favour with their subjects.

It is important to keep the concept’s genealogy in mind as we try to understand its popularity in postdictatorial Greece. Why does Raftopoulos speak of kitsch? What kind of work does the concept do for him? What sort of connections does it facilitate? By drawing on Greenberg and his conceptualization of kitch as a totalitarian method of governance, I contend, Raftopoulos constructs a framework of enquiry that allows him to compare Stalinism, Nazism, and Italian Fascism to the Greek junta. In this way he seems to suggest that if the colonels are kitsch, then their regime was as monstrous as Hitler’s.16 Thus, kitsch places an overwhelming burden on postdictatorial accounts of the recent past. It renders unthinkable the possibility that supporters of democracy might be interested in the erection of the Church of the Savior or that junta sympathizers might have non-kitsch taste. For the schema to operate some silencing of the past becomes a necessity, as we will see in the following three statements.

The first is taken from the article that Papoutsakis had given me in our meeting, entitled “Κουτσοί, στραβοί στο ναό του σωτήρος” (Cripples, blind men at the Church of the Savior), published in Anti on 19 October 1974. This article aims to narrate a short history of the endeavor, shame the architects who participated in the architectural competitions, mock the language used by the regime to describe the project, and satirize the colonels’ vision for the capital city by means of a comical drawing by the satirical painter, cartoonist, and playwright Mentis Bostantzoglou (Figure 6).

What I want to focus on, though, is the article’s assertion that the idea of the Nation’s Vow “was born” during the dictatorship and that architects participating in this endeavor must have shared sympathies or even character with Georgios Papadopoulos.

“There was a need [that Greece] be rescued from communism.” So came to power that black-letter day, Papadopouloses, Pattakoses, and Ioannidises. But since all of that happened through “divine will”—and certainly not because the CIA [End Page 142] decided so—the new theocratic Empire, namely, “Greece of Greek Christians” had, and this was “entirely evident,” to acquire a new Haghia Sophia of her own. … Thus the Vow was born. With the well-known Stylianos Pattakos as head builder, who undertook the heavy burden of promoting this great and pious, and for many, immensely profitable enterprise … this competition could not but attract all the little Papadopouloses of architecture.

(Anti 1974; emphasis and translation mine)
Figure 6. “Study of a Devout Architect with a Budget and Exhortations.”<br/><br/>Reproduced from Anti 1974 with permission from Christos Papoutsakis.
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Figure 6.

“Study of a Devout Architect with a Budget and Exhortations.”

Reproduced from Anti 1974 with permission from Christos Papoutsakis.

The second statement comes from the documentary Το κιτς της χούντας (The kitsch of the junta) made in 2004 by Pavlos Nerantzis, former Anti columnist and director of the public radio of Thessaloniki (ERT3). This piece too constitutes a clear exercise in ridicule and irony, which reaches a pinacle, however, when Petros Martinidis, Professor of Architecture, describes the [End Page 143] Nation’s Vow as “the Vow of Mrs. Papadopoulos,” thus suggesting that the military regime would spare no expense to satisfy the eccentric wishes of Colonel Papadopoulos’s wife, Despoina:

the famous, infamous I might say, Vow of Mrs. Papadopoulos, wife of Georgios Papadopoulos, the dictator after all, who had vowed the erection of a magnificent church in Athens, which would probably overshadow the Parthenon.

(Nerantzis 2004; emphasis and translation mine)

In a similar vein and despite the complete lack of any relevant evidence, the journalist Lena Papadimitriou also discusses Mrs. Papadopoulos’s supposedly crucial role in the project, using kitsch as an all-descriptive category. In an article carrying the exact same title as Nerantzis’s documentary and published in the popular Sunday newspaper Το Βήμα (To Vima) on 15 April 2007, the author describes Despoina Papadopoulos as the epitome of “ατυχές” (unfortunate) style. As one black-and-white photograph included in the article seeks to demonstrate beyond any doubt, her clothes and the objects that she seemed to admire were of questionable taste. Thus, the conclusion at which many others have also arrived is that a kitsch architectural initiative such as the Nation’s Vow can reflect only the aesthetics of an undemocratic regime and can be explained by the influence of a dictator’s tasteless wife.

One of the most grandiose visions of the Επταετία (Seven Years), the Vow, [was] a personal longing of Despoina Papadopoulou herself. In charge of the whole effort, which lasted for three particularly costly years, was Pattakos. “The junta wanted to build the largest Orthodox church in the world, a new type of Haghia Sophia that would overshadow everything,” the architect Thanasis Moutsopoulos tells us today. “For this reason it launched perhaps the biggest architectural competition that has ever taken place in Greece.”

(Papadimitriou 2007, 55; emphasis and translation mine)

Yet in contrast to Anti’s claims regarding a few marginal architects—“a few little Papadopouloses”—participating in the architectural competition, Thanasis Moutsopoulos concludes in a rather open-ended and provocative manner: “Many renowned Greek architects,” he says, “also participated in the project.” Who could they be?” (Papadimitriou 2007, 55).

The General

In the years that followed my meeting with Kostis, I became increasingly determined to establish contact with the elderly Stylianos Pattakos and Despoina Papadopoulou out of a distinct fear that time was running against me. After all, they were some of the few key members of the military regime still alive, and if I were to believe postdictatorial accounts of the Nation’s Vow, they were the main initiators of the project. But how does one make contact with those [End Page 144] excommunicated by official history? I guess by asking everyone I know, I thought to myself, and informing family, neighbors, friends, and colleagues of my intentions. Reactions were mixed and in a way, I felt, indicative of the deep divisions characterizing Greek society’s assessment of its recent dictatorial legacy. While my father found the idea brilliant and my mother told me to “be careful,” many friends expressed concerns over the repercussions that such encounters may have on my academic reputation and the possibility that research giving voice to the perpetrators of the coup d’état might be considered revisionist, if not outright χουντική (supportive of the junta regime).

To be quite honest, I had assumed that tracking Pattakos down would be a long shot. It never occured to me that I should simply call directory information and ask for his telephone number and home address and that the former dictator would have no regrets about the so-called revolution of April 21st and therefore no reason to hide. Initially, I contacted Εκδόσεις Λόγχη (Spear Press), the publisher of Pattakos’s memoirs, who interrogated me about my research and political beliefs without giving me any information in the end. It was in a state of frustration, an act of despair, that I called 11888 only to hear that there was indeed a Stylianos Pattakos living in Patisia in Athens. “You sure wanna to talk to him?” asked the operator in a playful manner.

During my first meeting with Pattakos, whom his Russian assistant insisted that I call «Στρατηγός» (General), I enquired into the story of the Nation’s Vow and asked him to elaborate on the regime’s visions for the capital city. It did not take me long to realize that had the Vow been built, Athens would have been radically different, since the junta planned to construct a Λεω-φόρος του Τάματος (Avenue of the Vow) that would start from the monument to the unknown soldier in Syntagma Square, continue through Lycabettus Hill, and terminate on the top of Tourkovounia, in front of the Church of the Savior. Pattakos repeatedly suggested that I visit the site that the regime had designated for the Vow’s construction, so that I could grasp for myself their vision and realize the centrality of the location and the breathtaking, almost 360-degree view that the devout visitors would have had of the capital city. For my interlocutor, the Church of the Savior was part of a spatial imagery strikingly similar to the one laid out by Ferdinand von Quast in the nineteenth century. According to Pattakos’s descriptions, it would have featured a 30-meter dome, crowned with a flashing neon metal cross that would be visible from many Aegean islands, and would have signified the country’s new glories, the state’s capacity to rebrand the capital city, and the successful merger of nationalism, the classical past, and Orthodox religion (see also To Vima 1969a).

While I was looking at the many books that he had authored and was selling for 20 euros each, Pattakos revealed that it was Archbishop Ieronymos Kotsonis, also a professor of theology and former royal chaplain, who initiated the project during the dictatorship. At the time, I did not realize the importance of [End Page 145] this revelation and the specific silence on which Pattakos’s discourse was predicated. It was only some years later, while leafing through Richard Clogg and George Yannopoulos’s edited volume on the junta that I read that, like Kotsonis, my interlocutor had ties to the religious brotherhood Ζωή (Life) (1972, 42). This was a semi-monastic Orthodox organization, founded in 1907, which over the decades “became engaged in an extremely intense network of activities in twentieth-century Greece, including teaching, preaching, publishing, leading school and youth groups, introducing Sunday Schools” (Gazi 2013, 705). It was also a hotbed of state conservatism and a prominent site of anticommunism, and it attracted many civil servants like Pattakos, who by all accounts was the most devout of the dictators.17

Pattakos also responded to the allegations of corruption, insisting that in the trials that followed the restoration of democracy, Aristeidis Skylitsis, Mayor of Piraeus during the junta and president of the fund for the construction of the Vow,18 was declared innocent of all charges. Historical information aside, it was clear to me that Pattakos was taking issue with the shaping of public history since 1974, as well as the way that the military regime came to be viewed by many as a historical parenthesis with no relationship to the periods that preceded and followed it. Not surprisingly, his words revealed limited reflection on the larger processes that may also have led to the prominence of such understandings (for example, the gradual transformation of the Greek right, the decline of Cold War anticommunism, and state discourses on national reconciliation and resistance). His approach to the past was that of a rigid morality that depicted Greek society as a sum of individuals who lack the courage to acknowledge their true past. It was in that context, I now think, that he brought it to my attention that prominent businessmen and shipping magnates had made financial contributions to the Vow’s cause: “Everybody gave money. Everybody. [Prodromos] Bodosakis [Athanasiadis], [Aristotle] Onassis, [Nicholas] Laimos, [Stavros] Niarchos, [Yiannis] Latsis, the Vardinogiannis family.”19

“And what about Despoina Papadopoulou?” I asked. “What about her?” replied Pattakos, who appeared disturbed by my question and told me in no uncertain terms that the dictators’ families had no involvement whatsoever in matters of public administration. As he said: «δεν της έπεφτε λόγος» (she had no say).

Mrs. Papadopoulou (Despoina)

Establishing contact with Despoina Papadopoulou was a whole different story. Her contact details were not publicly available, and Pattakos had not kept in touch with her, or so he claimed. Having lived for so many years in the shadow [End Page 146] of her deceased husband, Despoina had acquired something of his ghostly qualities, I thought. In fact, had it not been for Beba, cousin of my neighbor Anthoula, I would have never located her. Beba had been paying regular visits to the imprisoned dictators for the almost three decades since the regime’s collapse, bringing them food, medicine, books, and newspapers, and maintained contacts with their families, no doubt an excessive display of loyalty, even by local standards.

Even after Beba’s intervention, however, arranging a meeting was by no means easy. I first had to explain my research in great detail over the telephone to the wife of one of the Papadopoulos brothers and convince her that it was not my intention to ridicule an elderly person but rather to seek assistance in a research project of a historical and theological nature. To this day, I remain uncertain whether I was given the desired telephone number because I was able to convince my interlocutor of my academic integrity or because she herself assumed that my origin from a particular suburb of Athens ipso facto proved my respect to the regime’s legacy. And then again, it was only after repeated pestering that Despoina finally admitted who she was, and only after I took an oath over the phone and said «ορκίζομαι» (I swear) that I would never reveal her contact details that both a meeting was finally arranged and it was revealed to me that the bell for her apartment was under a different name.

Our discussion lasted for almost four hours and a great many things were said regarding her controversial relationship to Papadopoulos (with no direct mention made, however, to its initial illicit nature), the elaborate techniques that she had developed to hide the true identity of her child, the time she claimed to have spent in jail after the restoration of democracy, and her complete ignorance of the Nation’s Vow prior to 21 April 1967. She seemed particularly surprised to hear that academics and journalists regard her as having played a central role in the initiative, even though, as I was told, it is indeed true that she is a devout Christian. She was a simple woman of humble origins, she explained, who found herself at the center of history and for seven years had limited control over her life. She had suddenly become a public figure, married to “a man of principles,” who would not discuss any state-related issues with her. Yet she did recall her husband’s intention to commision Constantinos Doxiadis for the construction of the Nation’s Vow. The president had nothing but respect for patriotic Greeks of international standing, Despoina told me. And Doxiadis was exactly that. He had fought in the resistance during the Second World War, he was recognizable across the social spectrum, he enjoyed popular admiration for his visionary approach to the design of human settlements, and as far as large scale planning and architecture was concerned, he was one of the very few to design and build new cities in different parts of the world. [End Page 147]

Constantinos Doxiadis (and the archive)

This was certainly not the first time that I had come across the name of the architect and urban planner in connection with this research. Two years before that meeting with Despoina, I had met with an emeritus professor of design methodology who had remarked that the issue in which I was interested was taboo for architects and went on to advise me, in a rather tactful manner, that I should perhaps consult the Constantinos Doxiadis archive. As he said, there was a side of the urban planner’s character that is seldom acknowledged: Doxiadis was “super modern” and “super traditional” at the same time.

Following this suggestion with a two-year delay, I visited the archive, curious to see for myself how much on the Vow there really was. The archivist with a soft voice and almost threatening politeness enquired in great detail about my research without revealing much information about the availability of materials. After I had mentioned my friendship with a certain professor and my academic credentials and had promised both to write a project description and to send a formal request to the foundation of Emma and Constantinos Doxiadis for permission to use the archive, the archivist finally disappeared behind the bookshelves. Minutes later, she returned with two large boxes full of newspaper clippings, correspondence with journalists, the Church, and the military regime, as well as plans, minimalist drawings on A4 paper, magazines, and photographs of models—all material that the late Doxiadis had archived with utmost care over a period of nine years. “Here is what we have,” said the archivist, and told me that I should make no photocopies of any drawings or plans. “You see,” she continued, “there are people who forget that Doxiadis was one of the great visionaries of the last century and that he truly revolutionized the field of urban planning.”

It did not take long for us to fall into a long discussion concerning the making of history and the place of resistance and complicity in today’s Greece. I told her about an essay I had read according to which the military regime enjoyed the support of large segments of the Greek population during its first years of rule (Liakos 2010)—but that was not a very good idea, after all. Surely I do not want to give the impression, I thought to myself, that I hold the dictatorship in a high esteem and decided to pursue the discussion in a different way. “I guess my research touches on a philosophical issue, if you will,” I said, and went on to pose a series of questions: “How do we consider the activities of professionals in a time of non-democratic rule? Should we expect architects and urban planners to emigrate or to stop working as a gesture of resistance? Why is it still difficult to accept that the junta established important infrastructure and at the same time acknowledge the reality of torture in which the regime engaged?” “That is very interesting,” she said, and went back to her desk, while I started going through the material (Figure 7). [End Page 148 ]

Figure 7. Plans and model of Axum’s Cathedral in Ethiopia by Doxiadis Associates.<br/><br/>Reproduced from Kirtsis 2006, 390 with permission from the Constantinos A. Doxiadis Archive.
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Figure 7.

Plans and model of Axum’s Cathedral in Ethiopia by Doxiadis Associates.

Reproduced from Kirtsis 2006, 390 with permission from the Constantinos A. Doxiadis Archive.

It quickly became apparent that Doxiadis had developed an obsession with the Vow’s fulfilment in the last years of his life. As he himself mentions, “[t]his issue never left my mind. … [It] would keep on coming to my mind and it puzzled me and I puzzled over it” (Doxiadis 1974, 291; translation mine). “This you may want to photocopy,” said the archivist suddenly, showing me a photograph of the church that Doxiadis’s office had built in Axum, Ethiopia. “It is very reminiscent of the Vow,” she continued, “and, as you can see, it is included in the volume we published on the occasion of the big Doxiadis exhibition here at the museum.”20 “So is there a direct reference to the Nation’s Vow in that book?” I asked in the hope that some of Doxiadis’s plans for the Τάμα might have already been published. «Όχι, όχι, δυστυχώς» (“No, no, unfortunately”), she said to me with a smile, and went back to her desk.

On a second visit to the archive, the polite archivist allowed me to make photocopies of all the press clippings and to take notes by hand. Over time and as we forged an acquaintance, I was able to copy most of Doxiadis’s written material, including one of the four monographs that he published in his office’s study series, while already paralyzed from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). This report encapsulates the project’s history from the 1960s up until 1973, the date of publication, summarizes Doxiadis’s thoughts and aspirations for [End Page 149] the building of the Nation’s Vow, and contains topographical maps, diagrams, and architectural plans (Figure 8). The report is entitled “The Vow: Report on the Erection of the Nation’s Vow and the Creation of National Park,” and it is dedicated “to his Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, Ieronymos” (Doxiadis 1973; translation mine).

Figure 8. Plans of the Nation’s Vow. Published in . with permission from the Constantinos A. Doxiadis Archive.
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Figure 8.

Plans of the Nation’s Vow. Published in Doxiadis 1973.

Reproduced from Doxiadis 1973 with permission from the Constantinos A. Doxiadis Archive.

As it became apparent, Doxiadis held Ieronymos Kotsonis in high esteem. Mutual respect and adoration are features of friendship, after all, and the two men had known each other well since the time they had been graduate students in Germany. It was likely this bond that made Kotsonis, royal chaplain at the time, visit Doxiadis’s office on 20 February 1965, two years before the coup d’état, to discuss the Nation’s Vow.21 At the time, Doxiadis knew nothing about the Nation’s Vow and fully accepted his close friend’s narratives on the issue without perhaps realizing that in the nineteenth century the Church of the Savior was never considered a collective national vow.

Doxiadis’s report describes Kotsonis as a man of connections, influential, capable of seeing important initiatives through to completion. As Doxiadis reveals, his interlocutor wanted the church to be built on top of Lycabettus Hill and to be used as the capital’s new cathedral. In this way, the Nation’s Vow would leave a Christian mark on the urban landscape and also challenge the Acropolis’s preeminence, Kotsonis (as did many other priests) thought (Papakonstantinou 1974; To Vima 1974). The urban planner’s interlocutor was not acting on his initiative alone, of course. He had the support of the king (Kouki 2015) and was in contact with Archbishop Chrysostomos, who at that stage might have also been aware of Bishop Meletios of Kithira’s efforts (dating back to 1939) to remind the Greek clergy of the unbuilt Church of the Savior.22

For his part, Doxiadis believed that this was the perfect opportunity to restore Lycabettus’s landscape, which had greatly suffered from mining [End Page 150] activities, and—why not?—make a considerable profit. In preparation for his proposal, we learn from the report, he walked the hill several times and in the company of Kotsonis, as well as studied the map of Kaupert and Curtius depicting nineteenth-century Athens. His firm proposed a remarkably minimalist structure as far as Greek ecclesiastical architecture is concerned: a massive dome made of cement and stone, with no columns and with space for hundreds of believers. The structure’s interior was more reminiscent of a theater than a Greek Orthodox church and in this way was strikingly similar to Alexandros Tombazis’s Church of the Holy Trinity at the Sanctuary of Fatima in Portugal (Figure 9). Could it be that the urban planner entrusted Tombazis, his gifted young assistant at the time (who would go on to have a renowned career in his own right), to design the Church of the Savior and help him restore the wounded hill to its previous shape, as his 1965 study on the capital’s new cathedral suggests?23

Figure 9. Alexandros Tombazis’s drawing of the interior of the Church of the Holy Trinity at the Sanctuary of Fatima in Portugal.<br/><br/>Reproduced with permission from Alexandros N. Tombazis.
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Figure 9.

Alexandros Tombazis’s drawing of the interior of the Church of the Holy Trinity at the Sanctuary of Fatima in Portugal.

Reproduced with permission from Alexandros N. Tombazis.

In any case, what Doxiadis considered landscape restoration some regime officials regarded as an abomination for the environment. Despite Kotsonis’s and Pattakos’s support of the urban planner’s ideas, the junta finally suggested Tourkovounia as an alternative location for the construction of the Church of the Savior, eventually launching three unsuccessful architectural competitions (Papakonstantinou 1974), which involved some of the country’s most [End Page 151] prominent architects and academics—including Spyridon Marinatos, Ioannis Vikelas, Nikos Moutsopoulos, and Kyprianos Biris—as members of the selection committees (To Vima 1969b; Ta Nea, 1975).24 For the urban planner, the launching of these competitions was an unfortunate development that could only delay an important enterprise. Having been commissioned three major projects by the regime—the Spatial Plan and Program for Greece, the Spatial Plan and Program for Athens, and the Plan for the New Airport of Athens οn Makronisos (Samarinis 2014, 255–299)—he wanted the government to hire him without consulting other architects. After all, says Doxiadis, “none of the monuments that humanity nowdays respects was the outcome of a competition. Think for a moment what would have happened had Pericles decided to launch a competition for the Acropolis and the Parthenon” (1973, 12; translation mine).

Despite his initial dissapointment, Doxiadis eventually endorsed the regime’s decision to select a different location for the church’s site, which was now to constitute the most prominent component of a new acropolis and national park. After all, Tourkovounia had also been used as a quarry, and to Doxiadis’s mind, this location too was in urgent need of restoration. Furthermore, the chosen site would ensure that the Church of the Savior would dominate the landscape and had the clear potential to become the modernist symbol that Athens was lacking. This intention becomes clear in a 3 June 1973 article in the newspaper Ηχώ των Ενόπλων Δυνάμεων (Echo of the Armed Forces), in which it is mentioned that “the Church of the Savior on the one hand fulfils the promise that the nation has made to God and on the other it will constitute, after its construction, the third architectural edifice of Athens, after the classical Parthenon and the byzantine Lycabettus” (quoted in Ios 2010; translation mine).

Although Doxiadis decided not to participate in the competitions, he continued to develop his original proposal for Lycabetus Hill. To this end, he studied sections of the Parthenon, the churches of Saint Dimitrios and Saint Georgios in Thessaloniki, and Haghia Sophia, structures that he regarded as emblematic of the architectural achievements of Hellenism; he examined the history of the Nation’s Vow and the War Heroes Memorial of 1821 and used the urban planning study prepared by Professor Aravantinos’s team at the National Technical University, which identified ideal locations for the construction of the Church of the Savior and its spacious courtyard, parking spaces, a small cultural center, playgrounds, and several belvederes (Εθνικόν Μετσόβιον Πολυτεχνείον 1971).

After the failure of the second architectural competition and several exchanges with Kotsonis, who, in the meantime, had become the new Archibishop, Doxiadis decided to contact Papadopoulos himself and bring to his attention the work that he had been preparing since 1965 (Doxiadis 1972). [End Page 152] To his disappointment nothing concrete happened. Weeks before the fall of the dictatorship, the dying urban planner considered publishing a newspaper article to explain his involvement in the project, clearly without realizing that in the minds of many Greeks this initiative was only associated with the military regime. His friend and editor of the liberal daily To Vima, Leon Karapanagiotis, convinced him otherwise: “My opinion, when I had written to you a month ago, was that you had no reason to become involved in a case that first, as you know, is controversial and that in addition is particularly identified—and not only, I would say, for the ‘broad’ public—with a bad period and two particularly invidious men” (Doxiadis 1974a; translation mine).

Unthinkable Histories

In this article, I have combined ethnographic and archival research to demonstrate how the Church of the Savior lived two lives in the history of the Greek state—first as a token of appreciation and then as a national vow—and how its story constitutes an unthinkable history for both ultra-Orthodox organizations currently trying to fulfill the vow and leftist critics of the military regime. For Kostis and the Association of Friends of the Nation’s Vow, this phantasmatic edifice represents the sacrilegious inability of present-day Greeks to honor the promises of their forefathers, whereas for Agathos, Apostolos Doxiadis, Papoutsakis, Papadimitriou, Nerantzis, and Martinidis, the Nation’s Vow stands as a paranoid fantasy of a military regime and of a dictator’s tasteless wife.

In contrast to what is widely believed, however, the construction of the Church of the Savior in the twentieth century was not an initiative of the junta, even though it surely fit its ideological agenda. My research to date suggests that decades before the coup d’état ecclesiastical circles revisited the story of this church and engaged in a rather imaginative reading of the historical record, which eventually gained prominence and acquired its own dynamic. It seems that Bishop Meletios and Archbishop Ieronymos played a very central role in this process. The latter in particular, who knew Pattakos through Ζωή, convinced the colonels of the Vow’s importance and also informed Constantinos Doxiadis of the unfulfilled vow.

While the story of the Nation’s Vow is sufficiently complicated and unexplored to reward scholars approaching it from numerous different angles, in this article I primarily write against established views in Greek public history regarding the junta. In doing so, my aim is not by any means to rehabilitate the junta but rather to reinvigorate possibilities for critical analysis of the regime. As I show, existing approaches promote strict periodizations and employ concepts, such as kitsch, that facilitate comparisons with other authoritarian regimes without explaining or exploring these comparisons in detail. [End Page 153] As the recent work of Neni Panourgiá (2009) has reminded us, the colonels’ regime dealt brutally with its “dangerous citizens” (such as Christos Papapoutsakis). But to equate it with Nazi Germany and leave it at that surely obscures more than it reveals about the period and its ongoing legacy. Consequently, a very narrow narrative framework has been created in which personalities like Constantinos Doxiadis can hardly figure in all their complexity. Though too significant to be relegated to the background of history, only some aspects of Doxiadis’s character and biography fit into popular modes of narrating the dictatorial past. Hence, perhaps, the silence in the recently published edited volumes regarding the period of his life in which he was terminally ill and yet quite productive (Kirtsis 2006; Τεχνικό Επιμελητήριο της Ελλάδος 2009).

The story of the Nation’s Vow in many ways embodies the ambiguities of history. It raises important questions concerning the dynamic interplay between what Trouillot calls “the two sides of historicity” (1995, 4), namely, sociohistorical processes relating to a historical actuality on the one hand and narratives about them on the other. To help us understand how this distinction might operate with regard to the Nation’s Vow, I suggest that we join him in asking: “How much can we reduce what happened to what is said to have happened?” (13). What reconfigurations of power do Anti’s writings on the junta reflect, for example, and what sort of silences do they obscure? The articles and films that I have examined in this article were products of new political realities created by the restoration of democracy, the rise of the center-left party PASOK, and the inclusion of leftist discourse in the media at a time when many in my hometown felt that their stories could no longer be told. These works also demonstrate how histories considered unthinkable are linked to a particular framework that considers certain historical investigations unnecessary, their conclusions foregone. In this respect, I am not claiming that those who produced narratives on the Τάμα after the restoration of democracy in Greece deliberately attempted to distort the historical record. Yet their narrative possibilities are constrained by the unquestioned assumption that things “could not have happened differently” and depend on absences, voids, and omissions that work to various ends. It is these subtleties of the past and its narration that my research on the Nation’s Vow attempts to bring to the fore through a consideration of the productivity of absence at the level of both physical space and discourse. Through this analytic framework, we can take unbuilt edifices as vantage points to consider how silences in historical narratives and encounters with the unthinkable make public history. [End Page 154]

Dimitris Antoniou
Columbia University


I would like to thank the Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University, where as a Hannah Seeger Davis Postdoctoral Research Fellow I started writing this article. I have benefitted from the comments and advice of Aristeides Antonas, Mitsos Bilalis, Elizabeth Davis, Apostolos Doxiadis, Larry Rosen, Vangelis Calotychos, Effi Gazi, Penelope Papailias, Dimitris Raftopoulos, George Syrimis, Eleonora Vratskidou, Karen Van Dyck, Leonidas Kalyvretakis, Dora Markatou, Eleni Kouki, and Neni Panourgiá. I am also particularly grateful to Nassia Yakovaki and Kostas Skordyles, who challenged me to reconsider the premises of this project and also to Elina Stylianidi and Antreas Oikonomopoulos for their technical support. Finally, I want to thank Soo-Young Kim for her careful reading.


1. My decision to translate Τάμα του Έθνους as The Nation’s Vow and not with the equally acceptable The Nation’s Ex-Voto or The Nation’s Votive Offering is informed by my desire to refer to the building itself, as well as to a moment in history and a collective pledge popularly attributed the participants of the Fourth National Assembly. Dubisch’s research on pilgrimage practices in Greece also illustrates the semantic ambiguity of the term τάμα in Greek: “The fact that Tama is used both for vow and the object that represents it further illustrates the close relationship between the material and the spiritual. But Tama as ‘vow’ has an important range of meanings only partly encompassed by tama as physical object” (1995, 89).

2. People referred to by first name only are designated by pseudonyms. Public figures are designated by their full given names and surnames.

3. Old Calendarists are a subset of Orthodox Christians who continue to follow the Julian Calendar despite the official Church’s decision to adopt the New Style Gregorian Calendar in 1924. For more information, see Ware 2002.

4. This association was established by Ίδρυμα για την Προάσπιση Ηθικών και Πνευματικών Αξιών (Foundation for the Defense of Ethical and Spiritual Values), which is led by an elderly couple with a long history of Christian activism in Greece and Serbia and a declared intention to spend their significant financial assets on the construction of the Nation’s Vow. The Association Friends of the Nation’s Vow has published and widely distributed the magazine Φωτεινή Γραμμή (Shining Line) and held many public events, securing the support of many bishops, professors, high-ranking members of the armed forces, and public prosecutors.

5. For an insightful discussion of the politics of street naming and identity politics in the Western Thrace region of Greece, see Demetriou 2006. For a discussion on the ways in which official narratives come to dominate “messy” local memories, see Sutton 1998, Papailias 2005, Danforth and van Boeschoten 2012, and Stewart 2012.

6. As I later discovered, Papoutsakis’s father was killed by paramilitaries in 1947, and he himself was arrested and tortured in 1972 for publishing the first issue of Anti.

7. In this article, I do not discuss the plans submitted by various architects to the three competitions that the junta launched for the construction of the Nation’s Vow. Given the availability of photographic material and archival footage on the issue, such discussion should take place in the context of a different research project. Nonetheless, I would like to clarify that the photographs of the models that I present should by no means give the impression that church architecture was modernist in nature during the dictatorship. Modernist approaches to religious architecture had been proposed years before the military regime and for the most part were unsuccessful with most church officials. For a brief diachronic examination of the issue, see Kardamitsi-Adami 2008; for an interesting discussion of the Nation’s Vow as an opportunity for reconsidering established forms in ecclesiastical architecture, see Karalis 1972.

8. Kourniakti 2015 draws on the archival collection of Leonidas Kalyvretakis to show that the origins of these festivals go back to the late 1950s. As she says: “Yet, the ceremonies of Combative Virtue were in fact the brainchild of the Karamanlis government in the late 1950s. According [End Page 155] to an article published in Eleftheria newspaper on February 1st 1959, the decision to put aside a day for the ‘Day of Combatants and of Combative Virtue of the Greeks’ was one of several measures taken to ‘elevate morale’ in the Greek military, a decision taken by the deputy minister of National Defense, George Themelis, and approved by none other than Konstantinos Karamanlis himself. From their origins, the ceremonies of Combative Virtue were acutely anti-communist and celebrated the Civil War ‘victories’ of the right at the battles of Grammos and Vitsi against the ‘Communist bandits’ (kommounistosymmorites), and it was in 1961 that the festivities were taken to Panathenaic Stadium with the participation of the armed forces, security forces and coast guard, with free entry for all civilians” (7).

9. In the years that followed the restoration of democracy, the junta’s failed attempts to erect the Nation’s Vow were described as one of its biggest economic scandals. More specifically, many (for example, Ios 2010) ask what happened with the millions of drachmas that the colonels claimed to have raised as a result of their fundraising campaigns. Kouki 2015 offers the only balanced and informed analysis of the issue by suggesting that the colonels might have been exaggerating the public’s allegedly voluntary contributions, and she reveals that the regime spent significant funds to appropriate public and church properties in the area.

10. There is no reference to the Church of the Savior in either Makriyiannis’s or Kolokotronis’s memoirs, nor is there any direct attestation of any mention by either man of a vow to build such a church.

11. Also, right from the start the Church was inextricably connected to yet another lieu de fantasme, this one dedicated to the philhellenes who sacrificed their lives for Greek independence and whose names, according to the assembly’s decision, would be inscribed “on a memorial to be erected in the Church of the Savior” (Sisinis et al. [1829] 1973, 182; translation mine). I would here like to venture the idea that every examination of the Church of the Savior might necessitate the parallel study of this memorial, and vice versa. More detailed historical research might reveal how each imagined structure would in turn engulf the other during different periods. Theodora Markatou’s research on the Panhellenic War Heroes Memorial of 1821, for example, brings to our attention the 1929 call for an artistic competition for the construction of the “Memorial,” as it became known, which stated: “This memorial, which will perpetuate the Nation’s gratitude towards the heroic redeemers of the homeland, is established first and foremost for the praise of God with whose contribution the wholly liberating struggle was crowned [victorious]. It will be established in the center of the Areos Field [Πεδίον του Άρεως], amidst plantations [φυτείες] and groves [αλσύλλια], and could be of circular, quadrilateral, or polygonal shape. Inside it will have a type of temple, according to the resolutions of the National Assemblies, with the altar in the eastern side. The other sides will have murals depicting the history of the holy struggle. Outside it will be surrounded and ornamented with statues, busts, sculptural complexes, and symbols” (as quoted in Markatou 1995, 57; emphasis and translation mine).

12. Gonda Van Steen 2010 examines this issue further in her research on sports and spectacles in the Greek dictatorship.

13. For a detailed study of a similar phenomenon, see Effi Gazi’s research (2004), which demonstrates how the celebration of the Feast of the Three Hierarchs has been constructed through a rather creative reading of the historical record.

14. By dedicating the capital’s cathedral to Mary of the Annunciation, state officials also paid tribute to the revolution of 1821. In particular, the careful selection of 25 March for the revolution’s annual commemoration coincides with the Orthodox feast of the annunciation, thus imbuing the national remembrance of these events with religious symbolism.

15. To be precise, this is the English rendition of Raftopoulos’s Greek text published in Koutsikou 1984. Greenberg’s original text reads as follows: “If kitsch is the official tendency of culture in Germany, Italy, and Russia, it is not because their respective governments are controlled by philistines, but because kitsch is the culture of the masses in these countries, as is everywhere [End Page 156] else. The encouragement of kitsch is merely another of the inexpensive ways in which totalitarian regimes seek to ingratiate themselves with their subjects” (1939, 46–47)

16. I should mention here that the description of the colonels’ regime as fascist was a feature of antidictatorial struggle both in Greece and abroad already from the late 1960s. For a critique of such popular classifications, see Poulantzas 1976.

17. For more information on Ζωή and its genealogy, see Makrides 1988, 2004; Gazi 2011.

18. For more information on the fund for the construction of the Nation’s Vow, see Government Gazette 1969.

19. I have not yet been able to determine whether the businessmen mentioned by Pattakos made contributions to the project of the Nation’s Vow.

20. The archivist was referring to the exhibition entitled “Constantinos Doxiadis’s Ekistics and the Architecture of Entopia,” November 30, 2006–February 4, 2007, Athens, Benaki Museum, and Kirtsis’s 2006 edited volume on it. Three years later, the Technical Chamber of Greece also published a two-volume collection on the life and work of Constantinos Doxiadis (Τεχνικό Επιμελητήριο της Ελλάδος 2009).

21. For a thorough analysis of the discussions taking place at the time regarding the construction of a new cathedral in Athens and the role of Ieronymos, see Kouki 2015.

22. Meletios was concerned with the issue already from 1939. As he mentions in his book on the Church of the Savior: “The fulfilment of a debt so sacred and important is overlooked. In my book ‘Εκκλησιαστικαί Σελίδες Λακωνίας’ (Athens 1939) I wrote, on pages 474–478, what was necessary. When the chance was given once again I repeated what was needed. I also wrote to His Majesty King Paul what had to be said. My document was forwarded to the pertinent aythority, i.e. the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs” (1961, 15–16; translation mine).

23. In Doxiadis 1965, Alexandros Tombazis is credited as being responsible for the project along with Doxiadis himself and Andreas Symeon.

24. Kouki 2015 explains this change of location as the outcome of a power struggle between the church and the military regime.


Εθνικόν Μετσόβιον Πολυτεχνείον. Σπουδαστήριον Πολεοδομικών Σπουδών.
1971 Πολεοδομική μελέτη διαμόρφωσεως περιοχής Τουρκοβουνίων. 25188. Athens: Constantinos. A. Doxiadis Archive, Benaki Museum.
Ειδικόν Ταμείον Ανεγέρσεως Ιερού Ναού του Σωτήρος.
1969 Διακήρυξις αρχιτεκτονικού διαγωνισμού προσχεδίων προς ανέγερσιν του ιερού ναού Σωτήρος Χριστού (Τάματος του Ελληνικού Έθνους). Athens: Pavlos Mylonas Archive, Archives of Neohellenic Architecture, Benaki Museum.
Doxiadis, Constantinos A.
1965 Μητροπολιτικός Ναός Αθηνών. 25188/ DOX-GRE-A146/May 25. Athens: Constantinos. A. Doxiadis Archive, Benaki Museum.

1972 “Κ. Δοξιάδης προς Γ. Παπαδόπουλο.” 25188/April 20. Athens: Constantinos. A. Doxiadis Archive, Benaki Museum.

1973 Το Tάμα: έκθεσις δια την ανέγερσιν του τάματος του έθνους και την δημιουργίαν εθνικού δρυμού. 25109/ DOX-GRE-A 412/ March 24. Athens: Constantinos. A. Doxiadis Archive, Benaki Museum. [End Page 157]

1974a Λ. Καραπαναγιώτης προς Κ. Δοξιάδη. 25188/July 10. Athens: Constantinos. A. Doxiadis Archive, Benaki Museum.

[Government Gazette] Εφημερίς της Κυβερνήσεως του Βασιλείου της Ελλάδος, Regierungs-Blatt des Koenigreichs Griechenland.
1834 Nafplio, No. 5 (1834).

1838 Athens, No. 12 (1838).

1969 Decree No. 320, ΦΕΚ Α’ 206/18, ΦΕΚ Α’ 206/18 October 1969.


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