Karl Friedrich Schinkel

Palace on the Acropolis   Athens   1834

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When Schinkel's plans arrived and were placed before the king, Klenze examined and commented upon them at length, if somewhat condescendingly. His remark that Schinkel's project was a charming Midsummer Night's dream of a great architect was damning with faint praise. More specifically he argued that this uncompromisingly classical villa could not provide for the functions of modern court life.26

26. Hederer, Leo von Klenze, 147.

In their scheme for Athens, Schaubert and Kleanthes had planned the residence palace as a pendant to the Acropolis at the northern end of a north-south axis linking the two--the site of the present Omonia Square. Klenze, in reworking that project, considered placing the palace to the west, on the site of the Kerameikos cemetery, a low-lying and fever-ridden neighborhood rejected by the king's physicians. When King Ludwig of Bavaria visited his son in the winter of 1835-1836, he brought with him Klenze's rival Friedrich von Gärtner who proposed yet another site--this time at the foot of Lykabetos. Gärtner's conventional rectangular and axially symmetrical plan of enfilade wings surrounding two inner courtyards was actually built in 1836-1845, its Spartan character the result of stringent economies imposed by Ludwig.27

27. Oswald Hederer, Friedrich von Gärtner, Munich, 1976, 197-203.

Another visitor to Greece in the winter of 1835-1836 was Prince Hermann von Pückler-Muskau. In a letter to Schinkel dated 28 March 1836 describing a spectacular illumination of the Acropolis in honor of distinguished guests, he insisted that the young King Otto had not forgotten Schinkel's project for a royal palace and had referred to it as the ideal solution whereas Gärtner's design was mere prose.28 Pückler-Muskau goes on to mention the unhappy financial situation of the kingdom that had obliged the substitution of brick for Pentelican marble in the portico of the new palace.

28. Rave, "Schinkel's Traum." Hans Hermann Russack, Deutsche Bauen in Athen, Berlin, 1942, 44-46.

It seems clear then that Schinkel's scheme was "unrealistic" only in terms of the severe economic restrictions that obtained in the building of a royal palace in Athens. Citadels, palaces, and even entire cities had been built on "impossible" sites for thousands of years. By the planning standards of the 1830s, Schinkel's scheme for the Acropolis was probably as conveniently arranged as any residence palace in Europe-it was certainly more modest and comfortably scaled than most. His decision to assert the continuing validity of Greek classical ideals by making the most famous monuments of Athens a vital part of the living city can be seen as preferable to keeping them at a distance as relics to be revered from some alien past. Moreover, had Schinkel's splendid scheme been carried out, it would have been far less Romantic than the present bleak aspect of the Acropolis, so well calculated to evoke Byronic experiences on the part of the visiror.29

29. The project for a royal palace on the Acropolis was published (largely posthumously) in Schinkel, Werke der höheren Baukunst, Postdam, 1840-1842 and 1845-1848. The first series that made up volume I was devoted to the Athenian scheme, volume II from the later series was devoted to a project for an imperial palace, Orianda in the Crimea. Schinkel drew the plans for this Russian palace in 1838 at the request of the crown prince of Prussia's sister Charlotte who as wife of Czar Nicholas I had become the Czarina Alexandra.
A third late project of astonishing character is his scheme for an ideal residence city that was to form part of his never completed "Architektonisches Lehrbuch," in which he would provide ideal solutions for every architectural problem. It is easy to dismiss these late projects as architectural phantasies of an unrealistic nature. Yet further reflection leads to the conclusion that in these "visionary" projects Schinkel had genuine vision of an architecture that could resolve all those conflicting and contradictory goals that obsessed architects of the 19th century. I plan to deal with these other late projects at some length in my forthcoming book on Schinkel.




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