Government House, Aegina

Government House, Aegina

Aegina: the First Capital of Modern Greece, 1828-1829

The arrival of Ioannis Capodistrias in Aegina as newly elected Governor of independent Greece marked the beginning of the country’s function as an official state along European standards. It was the first such state in what had until then been the Ottoman-ruled Balkans. As a shelter for refugees from many of the rebelling Aegean islands, the port of Aegina was briefly, for only 22 months, the setting for the Governor’s flurry of activities.

While the fighting had just ceased in mainland Greece, Ibrahim’s armies were still wreaking havoc in the Peloponnese, so Capodistrias came to the island for safety reasons. According to local history, allied ships brought him to Aegina, where he landed in the Agios Vasillis area and spent the first few days in a nearby manor belonging to Bey Voulgaris. Capodistrias himself described his arrival with intense emotion. A few days later, the Governor settled in Moiras’ house, which was renovated and became known as the Kyverneio or Government House – the first such public building in modern Greece.

Nearby Metropoli Church, which also functioned as council chamber, is where Capodistrias was sworn in, ready to assume his duties. He was introduced by Theophilos Kairis, a leading educator and politician. The church pew he used has remained closed off since.

A well-rounded politician with astute geopolitcal insight, the Governor had also served as an administrator – including the post of foreign minister – of the highest caliber in Russia. He faced the major diplomatic issues of the new state, trying to find a balance between the politics of local leaders and the central state. He immediately began to promote political and constitutional initiatives and to forge economic and military policy; in particular he placed great emphasis on educational policy, which was to be an essential element of his vision for the nation. Thus, within a short time, Aegina acquired a model orphanage with vocational schools for 500 children orphaned by the War of Independence, a school funded by his close friend and colleague, Swiss banker Jean-Gabriel Eynard, and the Central School, where about 700 teachers were trained.

Reprinted with minor editing, courtesy of the Municipality of Aegina