The 1821 Greek War of Independence, which lasted almost eight years, led to the creation of the modern, independent state of Greece. Its Christian-Orthodox inhabitants strove to separate themselves from over 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman Empire and to build on elements of language and history harking back to Ancient Greece. In the 1850’s, when the issue of reviving ancient ceremonies and contests was being discussed in Greece, Evangelis Zappas, a native of the Greek province of Epiros, lived in Romania where he had made his fortune. He began to consider how such institutions could be revived, and even proposed that they be called ‘Olympic’.
It was the poet Panagiotis Soutsos, founder of modern Greek Olympic ideals and the man responsible for inspiring Zappas, who essentially introduced the concept of establishing parallel cultural activities and exhibitions modeled on the first world’s fair in London (1851). Zappas drafted a memorandum proposing that a new institution be established that would help Greece keep pace with the industrial revolution.
Zappas would bear the cost of this event, as well as that of constructing an Olympic building to house an exhibition of samples of Greek art and industry. The building would also function as a museum displaying antiquities . To expedite this plan, he immediately sent 2000 Austrian florins to cover the costs of the First Olympia, which was also called the First Zappeian Olympiad.
The building has had a turbulent history, but no less so than the uses to which it was put. Rarely did it fulfill its initial purpose, and indeed it remained closed and deserted for years. During the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, the fencing events were hosted in its circular atrium; during the second International Olympic Games in 1906, the lack of infrastructure and facilities led to its being used as the “Olympic Village”. In addition, starting in 1936 and for the next 40 years, it hosted the country’s first state radio station. In 1940 it was converted into a hospital; the following year it was commandeered by the German occupation army after which it became a storehouse and later a barracks (1944). It was even bombed during the same year. After the war, the possibility was discussed of demolishing it. Fortunately, in 1960, general repairs were carried out under the supervision of architects A. Ploumistos and F. Panagiotopoulos.
The most recent renovation was carried out in connection with the Olympic Games of 2004 which were held in Athens. The Zappeion Exhibition Hall has witnessed the history of Athens for the past 120 years. It has been a key site for some of the nation’s most significant moments, and has always been integrally linked to the Olympic Movement. Even though its uses were varied, Zappeio Hall has become a landmark in the Greek capital, thus fulfilling the donor’s initial wishes.Olympia, which was also called the First Zappeian Olympiad.