Voulgaris Mansion

The Family

The Voulgaris family occupied the highest rungs of the political ladder on the island and in the nation. George Voulgaris (1767-1812) served as Hydra’s governor from 1802 until his death. He had ranked high in the Ottoman fleet, having commanded a Turkish flag-ship, and was appointed “bey” of the island by the sultan. He was responsible for the high degree of autonomy granted that the Ottoman government granted the island. He organized Hydra’s merchant marine, educational system, administration, and through wise policymaking quelled a period of civil anarchy stemming from the island’s relative autonomy and ensured peace on the island. His son, Dimitrios Voulgaris (1802-1877), served as prime minister of Greece several times and played a prominent role in the nation’s political life between 1855 and 1875. 

Source: Aristodimos N. Sofianos, Hydra (Athens: C. Christou, 1978), 82-83.

The Mansion

Overlooking the western side of Hydra Harbor, this mansion is a prime example of the island’s archontica, or houses of prominent families. These homes had several distinguishing features:

  • They tower over all other structures.
  • The main house is rectangular and approaches a cube in volume.
  • The are constructed of exposed grey stone masonry, with blocks laid in regular coursing.
  • They have unembellished and “unpretentious” facades, thought of as screens separating the interior life from the exterior world of the village. The sole decorative element is the whitewashing of the window outlines and the arches above them.

The Voulgaris mansion was build in 1803 for Frangescos Voulgaris, brother of Governor George Voulgaris. The original portion of the building complex is the elongated northern bit, with the rectangular main house at the southern end being a later addition. The orignial house is more informal in construction, with one room next to each other, whereas the later main house shifts to a more formal “axial” arrangement. This shift reflects changes in the family’s wealth and greater contact with the West. The sophistication and formality of the new house indicated that the builders were likely from northern Italy. The mezzanine balcony suggests that the house was intended to allow for a more complex social life than provided for by the traditional Hydriot house.

The lower level of the property, however, retains original Hydriot characteristics. Entry from the street by a set of stairs leads to a private courtyard. The front openings at street level were likely used as storage and repair shops for small boats.

Today the mansion houses the Hydrea Hotel.

Source: Constantine L. Michaelides, Hydra: A Greek Island Town: Its Growth and Form (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967), 80-85.


An elegant mansion saved from oblivion
By Alexandra Koroxenidis (Kathimerini English Edition, 11.03.2002)

Hydra in the late 18th century was enjoying a sudden prosperity brought about by the development of trade and shipping. Compared with other regions of Greece it was also given the most privileges and greatest independence by the Turkish occupants. This relative autonomy led to a period of civil anarchy, which was promptly quelled, whereupon the requests of the island’s merchant class, and specifically the vizier-admiral Pasha Husein, led to Giorgos Voulgaris, his trusted friend and aide-de-camp, being decreed governor of the island. 

Voulgaris governed for no more than a decade and his rule, although dictatorial, has been associated with social order and economic prosperity. Until the early 20th century, his splendid mansion, which the pasha built especially for him in Constantinople and transported to Hydra, stood as a reminder of Voulgaris’s rule and the island’s prosperity at the time. The mansion was unfortunately pulled down during the Balkan wars and the few foundations that remained are now covered by piles of garbage.

What the mansion looked like originally and the story that surrounds it would probably have been entirely lost as well had it not been for a venture undertaken by architect and professor at the National Technical University of Athens, Giorgos Prokopiou, and the Benaki Museum, at first independently but in due course jointly. Intrigued by the ruins found in an empty terrain off the island’s port, Prokopiou began, 15 years ago, tracing down any clues that would help him reconstitute the original house, and through extensive research finally came up with a comprehensive study.

Through a colleague at the university he then found out that the Benaki Museum was at the time working on the renovation of an ensemble of woodwork decoration, which as he soon discovered originated from the Hydra mansion. Prokopiou contributed his knowledge of the house’s interior architecture and helped the Benaki present the woodwork in a reconstitution of the original setting. The two then compiled the information they had gathered and published «The Mansion of Giorgos Voulgaris in Hydra,» a Benaki Museum publication that charts the history of the mansion, its architecture and interior decoration. Beautifully illustrated to reveal the splendid character of the mansion, the book examines it against the background of its time, thus providing a broader understanding of current architecture and of history.

It actually helps unravel an architectural typology that spread across the Balkans, reaching Asia Minor, and is to be found in many variations across the regions of Greece and other Balkan areas. The so-called konaki, which is the original name of the architectural type, describes a type of building (usually two-storied) whose most typical attributes are the protruding wooden top stories with their series of large windows. The top story of the konaki housed the principal living areas, the bedrooms and sitting areas, which were usually structured symmetrically in the shape of a square. The rooms (ontas) were structured around the center, cyclical space that served as a sitting area (sofas), with the bedrooms usually taking up the four corners of the square. In some cases the sofas extended in a rectilinear area that, in some of the konaki’s variations, gave out to the windows and was known as the hagiati. Unlike the top floor, the konaki’s lower levels did not observe a standard layout, probably because they were the house’s less formal part. This is where the helping areas, such as the cellar, the workshops, rooms for the staff and occasionally the kitchen were housed. This part’s rather plain stone facade, whose small windows allowed little light to come in, echoed the secondary standing of the house’s ground level.

Another constant attribute of the konaki is that it is invariably built amid a courtyard, which usually contains separate structures for the kitchen, bathroom and laundry space. But apart from a more or less uniform architectural structure, what singles out the konaki from other types of buildings is the intricate woodwork, mostly ceilings, and detailed wall paintings of which the Voulgaris mansion provides some of the most outstanding examples. This type of heavy ornamentation became especially prevalent in 18th and 19th century Ottoman architecture, when the taste for the baroque and rococo resulted in a decorative blend of Eastern and Western influences. Exemplary of this type of decoration is the palace of Selim III in Constantinople and the mansions of the Top Kapi area.

The Voulgaris mansion is not as splendid as the mansions of the Top Kapi, but its decoration was heavily influenced by the same blend of Eastern and Western motifs that was popularly used in the Ottoman architecture of the time. That the decoration of the Voulgaris mansion was so close to the imperial taste of Constantinople is of course an indication of the building’s importance. At its time this was indeed Hydra’s most unique and architecturally distinct building, whose memory has fortunately been preserved thanks to the research of Prokopiou and in part, the Benaki Museum.


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