The Mansions of Mytilene


In the 18th and 19th centuries the city of Mytilini experienced a period of unparalleled economic development and prosperity as the island fostered relations with the advanced centers of the Orient such as Constantinople and Smyrna, while contacts with the Occident bore a profound influence on its economy and society by importing new values, mentalities and artistic trends that became manifest in its residents’ lifestyle and thinking, in art and architecture. The rich urban bourgeoisie started building mansions as their residences, especially those who were mainly involved in commercial and maritime business activities. These buildings combine classical styles and European architecture orders (a mix of the baroque and the neo-gothic, along with Renaissance and neoclassical elements). The evolution of the residence models is documented in the three phases: the early stage (1850-1880), the middle (1880-1900) and the late (1900-1930), in which residences consolidated the variety in housing, comfort and household needs in terms of aesthetics and construction methods. Specifically, in the first phase the mansions were influenced by Bavarian Neoclassicism and the baroque or the Second Empire style, as they are characterized by symmetry and severity as a sign of grandeur, earning the name “urban palaces”. This typology is distinguished by its adoption of a symmetry model on an axis of a double-front, grand hallway and two rooms on either of its sides. The top floor is reserved for the formal reception spaces, sometimes augmented by a protruding bay window. In the middle phase, the mansions are more liberal in their shapes, mutual penetration of spaces, a steep roof incline and an asymmetry reflecting the picturesque style. In the end, the late phase mansion becomes a simplified and improved version of the middle-phase “urban palace” accumulating evolved typological characteristics in a more coherent, utilitarian and functional housing standard, exhibiting kinship with the urban residence model prevalent in Smyrna, the second major urban center of the Ottoman Empire.

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