I came up the stairs and round the corner and there it was in the evening light, out of place on a roof, but completely at home in the surrounding city landscape.

What I first saw at Kassandras in Votanikos was an outline, like a drawing before a painting has been made. A study made in situ to be taken back to a studio some place else and used as an architectural framework to give ‘local colour’. Coming from a background in Ottoman art and architecture I couldn't help but see a kiosk sitting there in front of me, all sides open, ready to be filled in. 

Part of the pleasure of living in Athens are these shared moments of history and design that suggest how close the Greek and Turkish cultures can be, and how distant too. The interchangeability of the terms periptero and kiosk suggest a similar root of this architectural form. They share a striking resemblance that made me (and many others) call the Greek version we see in Athens a kiosk. But it isn’t. 

They are two sides of the same coin however - or perhaps a war medal. Both have strong connections to the military histories of Greece and the Ottoman Empire, but from entirely opposing positions: one is a gesture of pre-war power, and the other of post-war pragmatism. 

The painting I saw in my mind’s eye was Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Harem in the Kiosk of 1870, although of course without all the figures, costumes and props that make this a real high-point of the bewildering fantasies of 19th century Orientalist painting. It was just that structure, floating out on the Bosphorus, a vision out of place, a tent on the water, an unreachable location. 


Just out of view of this painting, perhaps behind the artist, is the Topkapi Palace. Its architectural language has always been an idiosyncratic statement of where the Ottomans came from, and perhaps how they saw themselves advancing. Its vernacular reflected the transmission of the nomadic settlement to the sedentary city, through the form of the Imperial encampment.  This complex of structures with Turco-Mongol roots in the ordug (military encampment) could be erected and taken down at will as the Empire moved and grew. It was vast, hierarchical, and no doubt a vision to behold when raised out of nowhere on the plains of the Steppe. 

Ottoman Military Tents Depicted In Franz Geffels Battle Of Vienna 1683 1200 Ottoman military tents depicted in Franz Geffels, Battle-of-Vienna, 1683


The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul was begun by Sultan Mehmed II in 1459. It is made up of four main courtyards and many individual structures that replicate the model of the ordug, but in a more sumptuous style. These outer buildings are named köşks, from the Middle Persian word kōšk meaning palace or portico, and present a series of pavilions spread through gardens carefully delineating public and private space. We see a formalization of the tent city in the now settled and rooted seat of the Muslim Empire.

Classic Ottoman Army Tents 1200 Drawing about Ottoman Empire's military, such as arms, flags, armory, tactics Luigi Ferdinando Marsigli (1658 – 1730)


The openness of these structures was also noted by Ottaviano Bon in the seventeenth century, who perceived the kiosk as a multipliable element of palatial architecture, making it compatible with nature both by virtue of being potentially open or closed on all sides and by its topographic location on water or on high plains.

But the Topkapi itself was always closed. The palace became a symbol of the Sultan’s power but also his invisibility to the majority of his subjects. 

In the 18th century, this separation was to change as the kiosk began to move out from the the Palace and into the city beyond. The construction of kiosks in public spaces all over the city spread the symbolism of the Palace through its smallest constituent part and acted as a constant reminder of the executive power of the Sultan sustained through this particular city-palace narrative: ‘The kiosk is not only able to synthesize several formal features of Ottoman palatial architecture into an ideal signifier, but also like a decoder, to disseminate it within a constantly evolving fabric of Istanbul.’ ( 1 )

The potency of the Ottoman Empire’s military strength was presented in the Topkapi but also in these individual structures, spreading its political message through the city: the tent in the encampment permanently at war. 


But did the kiosk come to Greece from the Ottoman Empire? If there is any connection at all between the periptero and kiosk it might be through a centuries long round-trip through northern Europe as the ‘Mode Ottomane’ became a craze in fashion as well as architecture. European monarchs adopted the building type from the drawings and sketches made on their Grand Tours, emulating the exotic and alluring forms of the Topkapi to entertain their guests. 

One example is that of Stanisław Leszczyński, the former King of Poland, and father-in-law of Louis XV, who built kiosks at his court in Lunéville, based on his memories of his captivity in Turkey ( 2 ). These were used as garden pavilions serving coffee and beverages to the visiting Polish nobility. In this appropriated form of folly, the military connotations were all but forgotten, in favour of lighter aesthetic themes of Oriental splendor and display.  

Salondukiosqueluneville


These pavilions grew in popularity all over Europe, and were converted into bandstands and tourist information stands as private gardens were transformed into public parks. It is at this moment that we begin to associate the kiosk with cups of tea or ice creams, buying tickets, or other small sales in public space. 

Music Kiosk In Citadel Park Ghent 1885 1200 Music Kiosk in Citadel Park - Ghent - 1885


Peripteros
 is the name given to a type of ancient Greek or Roman temple surrounded by a portico with columns. It refers to the colonnade (pteron) on all four sides of the cella (naos), creating a four-sided arcade (peristasis) ( 3 ). By extension, it also means simply the columned perimeter of a building, typically a classical temple. It crosses over with the kōšk in the allusion to the portico: the open-sided columned shelter.

What makes the periptero at Kassandras so timely is the fact that soon it won’t exist any more in the public spaces of Athens. Today it is still a familiar sight to anyone walking the streets. It is the shack on the corner selling cigarettes, the mini-crossword-puzzle-book-empire, the place to get ice-cream or condoms past midnight. It is a place where people gather to read the headlines, swap stories or grab an essential item in transit. It’s one of the most Athenian sights, and sites, I can think of. 

Periptero Kiosk In Ampelokipoi Athens Greece Periptero_(kiosk) in Ampelokipoi, Athens, Greece


The government, however, is phasing them out. According to a new bill (Law 4046/2012), when a kiosk closes down or the owner dies, the license cannot be renewed, transferred or inherited ( 4 ). It is estimated that there are about 12,000 such kiosks in Greece and of these 3,500 are in Attica. But the economic crisis and new ways of shopping in local supermarkets has hit the business of these tiny emporiums hard, and the model has been deemed no longer sustainable. 

Almost every periptero is different, made singular by additions of fridges, freezers, mirrors to see around corners, portals, and awnings. They spread out to the edges of their footprint, taking up every last inch, with magazines curling in the heat and bloated seven-day croissants in shiny wrappers. Throughout its history, the periptero has also been a reflection of the latest technologies made available on every street corner. It would stock the first independent Greek newspapers covering the country’s progress and development; the first fridges and freezers in Athens; the first public telephones. But who can own these small businesses has always been tied to a very particular societal group.

5E751069D38Ef601F8C6F7F5A187B7A9 Family portrait in a periptero.


The first peripteros began to appear in the late 19th century in Greece as newspaper stands for the newly independent Greek press. The stands proliferated after the defeat of Greece in the 1897 war with Turkey when the licensing became uniquely available to those disabled by war or their families. Suddenly their number grew greatly. In September 1922 the Ministry of Welfare filed a bill relating to the already constructed peripteros, but also to those that would be erected in the future: they would be allocated for the exclusive use of the “Union of Panhellenic War Wounded 1912-1921" ( 5 ).

Omonoia Akadimias street - 50's


This Union was the only official body that could determine the shape and size of the stands to be built and who could run them. In case of death of the holder, the use and operation of the periptero, would be automatically transferred to the wife and children of disabled-injured but only for five years, after which it would return to Union control.

Periptero1


In 2007 permissions were widened to include veterans of the war in Cyprus and people with severe disabilities.

The periptero is a business you can run without much running around. Apart from stocking shelves and fridges, one can carry out the daily exchanges from a seated position, reaching out of the small window to give change, by hand, or it has been known, with a long wooden spatula to reach into the windows of passing cars. It is ideally suited to those without mobility, to sustain a livelihood when many jobs would no longer be possible. Its direct link to the community of those disabled by the many wars and struggles of the Greek people during the 20th century makes is a response to a different kind of crisis, one that birthed a country but maimed several generations. 

The periptero at Kassandras marks a moment of change in the Athenian landscape. It represents the skeleton of this eponymous construction, and lets us re-examine its past and its connections to similar structures, both in name and form. It is the openness of its structure that allows us the space to think and situate it in many different contexts. It is not a monument, but an architectural essay.

Diplomates Kassandras Periptero 4 Kassandras periptero (detail)


As the era of the street merchant draws to a close, we can also identify exactly what makes it so singularly Greek, and what differentiated it from its Ottoman cousin. The periptero was created to provide jobs for those injured by war, whereas the kiosk was created to provide a reminder of the continuing military might of an Empire. 

The periptero will provide for those in need of croissants at midnight for a few years more. We will miss it when it is gone.


Here is Kassandras' periptero.

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