Saturday, December 31, 2011

Film Archaeology: 1939 Athens

Thanks to Facebook (Jan Sanders via Stavros Oikonomidis), I stumbled on an intoxicating film of Athens. It was shot by Arthur and Kate Tode (Kahop) on April 25, 1939 during their Mediterranean honeymoon. The original reel resides at the Archives of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (see here). The Tode film is the earliest color panorama of modern Athens that I have seen. It has an uncanny quality with Athenian residents visible in the streets of Plaka. Athens was one of the most beautiful cities of Europe in the 30s and this film can help us reconstruct its historical character. I am envisioning a collective project of film archaeology, where a group of people use online resources and deconstruct each frame. With a combination of freeze-frame sketches and maps, we could produce a powerful visual inventory of Athenian vernacular.

I spent a good hour playing the first 17 secs, over and over again, trying to pick up topographical clues that would reveal the real locations. This is what I have come up with. The camera is set on the northeast corner of the Acropolis next to the flag (lat/long 37°58'18.65"N, 23°43'41.19"W). The axis of the camera is aligned with Epiharmou Street in Plaka and pans over Anaphiotika and Plaka. I reconstruct the vantage with the aid of Google Earth (below). The dome and bell tower visible on the foreground belongs to Agios Nikolaos Rangavas. The line of sight down Epiharmou Street is terminated by an Ottoman period house owned by George Finlay. The street turns West as Scholiou Street. The next parallel street line is Adrianou. As the camera pans out, we see grand buildings along Vasilisis Sofias and Lykavitos rising in the distance. The video represents a 20 degree angle from the Acropolis to Lykaviots and covers the NW sliver of the city. The camera also makes a slight norther turn towards Tourkovounia. Using contemporary plans of Athens, it should be possible to create a database of every building represented. Archaeologists of early modernity could go out into the streets and spot-check the urban fabric. I suspect that the majority of the vernacular architecture seen in the video exist no more. Anyone want to join me in an experiment of video archaeology? If you enjoyed this filmic inquiry, make sure to visit earlier postings on the archaeology of Athenian modernity here, here and here.


Nauplion said...

How clean it looks, with so many of those buildings comparatively new, and minus 70 years of cumulative air pollution! A lovely film. Thank you.

Maria Xanthopoulou said...

I will gladly join you in your experiment!
I'm a Byzantine Archaeologist with a keen interest in modern architecture living in the outskirts of Athens.


Maria. Thanks for posting on my blog. Very exciting that you're interested in this digital experiment. Send me an email at Kostis

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States