The nightlife of Athens at the beginning of the last century


The crowding of the people inside the kolosourtis, as everyone called the famous railway tram, which used to bring asthmatic people down all day to the two Faliras for sea bathing and all night for feasting and spectacles, above all in the new Faliro, was terrible.

The summer theaters, the night life of the city and people of the time were the subject of the discussion of a group of pensioners in the cafe of Dexameni. Not for their own years but even earlier, at the beginning of the last century, as they had heard them from their parents or read them in books of the time.

An Athens where the population barely exceeded 140,000 inhabitants, but its vibrancy and fun has been left in history, through stories from people who lived it.

One of them was Miltos G. Lidorikis, playwright, theater director, journalist and politician of the generation of 1890, whose memories were recorded in the Asyrmatos newspaper and formed the basis for the publication of the book “Miltos Lidorikis – I lived the Athens of Bell Epoch” (Polaris Publications).

Among other things, Miltos G. Lidorikis writes about the summer nights in Athens: “The nocturnal liveliness and activity increased in the summer in Athens. To this was added the Faliron neon, Kolokynthou, Patisia and, above all, the theaters and centers of Parilis, as and the various squares, some of whose coffeehouses had excellent bands, others, rough stages with “European and Oriental” song numbers. As soon as night fell, Athens turned into a kind of festival place. The liveliness was great, and drag it and come A lot of people were literally hanging on the carriages of the horse railway, which served the transport from Omonia to Syntagma and from there out to “Ilysia”, to the bridge of the Stadium.

The crowding of the people inside the kolosourtis, as everyone called the famous railway tram, which used to bring asthmatic people down all day to the two Faliras for sea bathing and all night for feasting and spectacles, above all in the new Faliro, was terrible.

The summer theaters

Miltos Lidorikis, who served the National Theater for more than 20 years, from its first day of operation in 1932 as head of staff, also recorded moments of the city’s theatrical life at the beginning of the last century:

“In the area around today’s Zappeion area, there were theaters, gardens, restaurants, cafes, all open every night. Theatres: the “Apollo” on the road side by side with the then Catholic cemetery, which today does not exist, and where the Zappeio Grove now spreads after the “Oasis” and where the Public Gymnasium begins. Opposite, beyond Ilisos, the “Antron of the Nymphs”, and in front of it “Paradise”.

Wooden bridges were used for the spectators to pass over the dry river and reach the pine-planted squares around the theaters. Where today the statue of Byron is erected on a rocky hill, the famous “Olympia” of the late Anastasios Tsochas, head of the old Athenian family.

The “Antron of the Nymphs”, which for years was the most frequented and beloved theater of Athenian society, was not a dramatic or lyrical stage, but a kind of strange and varied variety show, a real center of entertainment and revelry. So I include it in the entertainment centers, because in them, apart from the immortal Kostakis Kalitsis, the idiosyncratic comedian, French, Italian, Russian and artists of all other nationalities were presented from time to time, including the immortal Jean Daras, who set people on fire.

Kostakis Kalitsis was an entire era for Athens. This stage manager, this director, actor, comedy writer. His theater was the center of the “train”, as they said and wrote in the past years. In front of his cashier, the queue of people is endless. Since there were then certain guys who went first to get tickets, to resell them at a higher price to the select few who arrived late at night at “‘Andron”. that is, what has been happening in the capital for the last few years when foreign troupes come, was also happening more than fifty years ago.

Kostakis Kalitsis was very popular in all walks of life. well-known, sought-after, beloved. The various phrases he used in his improvised comedies were circulated everywhere and we all used them, even imitating his style, accent, mime and movements.”

The shows and artists of the time

“The performances – says Miltos Lidorikis who wrote and directed dozens of plays in his 40-year career at the Theater – started at nine o’clock. When did they finish? This was indefinitely. The end time was determined by Kostakis coming out at the end of the show to play his comedy, which he adjusted the duration according to his own mood and the audience’s applause. once he even asked: “What do you say, isn’t it time to finish and go to sleep?”.

Needless to say, the audience always exclaimed: “No!”. Thus, many times the spectacle of Kostakis ended in the morning hours, and a line of beautiful cars, private and not, went down to the city to dawn, accompanying the artists of “Andros” to some overnight center.

In the bustling centers, the movement reached its zenith until morning, because there was also the brewery “Mets”, where, after the end of each performance, almost all the artists of “‘Andros” went up to sup, accompanied by their friends and lover And were they few? Claire, Fortunay, Esterina, Emilia, Julia, Carmencita, Jean Daras.”

“Snapshots” of the era

“A rich livestock dealer and his company had reserved six, sometimes more, front row seats every night. In his youth, the son of wealthy parents, he had his cars and everything else she wanted at Jean Daras’ disposal.

The well-known old men of Athens constituted her court, and all the youth the party of her klaka. Every night fairs, bouquets and doves filled the stage. All the acquaintances of Athens and of all positions made an appointment every night at the “Antron of the Nymphs”. Rich and delicious soup served in her honor after the performance. In one of them, a young and wealthy admirer filled Jean Daras’s gob and drank it to her health.

The life of this French artist and her songs, which had become very popular, include pages that not only characterize her but also the era, the many years she lived and worked in Greece. Her name was well known everywhere. Jean Daras worked many summers together with Kostakis Kalitsis. When he left “‘Antro” and traveled to Europe, mourning and gloom everywhere. Everyone was inconsolable. But they were quickly comforted, because the nymph of the paralissias returned to Athens again, and this time for happy birthday. Worked in other centers. He excelled at the “Orphanidis” theater, which was located in the wonderful garden of the poet and botanist Th. Orphanidis.

The night owls of Syntagma and Omonia – Their various

In his memoirs, Miltos Lidorikis refers separately and by name to many Athenians of the time who were prominent in the night life of Athens. He had met many of them personally. In his introductory note before referring to each of them separately he states: “True nocturnals lived two lives: the life of the day and the life of the night. I confess that I torture my old mind not to forget anyone. I want to mention them all, to show that it was not the idlers who stayed up all night, but the workers.

Licensed innkeepers, regular, as it were professionals, they were not those who greeted the dawn reveling, but those who stayed outside their homes every night, all nights of the year. It was impossible for these people to sleep if they did not open their front door in the morning hours. They had neither reason nor business to stay overnight. Habit of the fine life they led. They would be missing something if they failed to meet, after midnight, in the center of their company’s night club.

Syntagma, and especially the “Yiannopoulou-Zacharatou” cafe, was their nest. Those staying the night there had their tables away from the row of others. The night guards of the Syntagma did not look like the night guards of Omonia.

The former spent the hours of the night away from the rest of the world who happened to stay late in the cafe. That is why one could see, late at night, the square deserted of people and tables, while on the side there were two or three small tables with five or ten people, drinking coffee, smoking hookahs, talking and laughing.

The latter spent the night in the noisy shops of Omonia with all the moving population of Athens. They were partying.”


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