The discreet charm
of the old aristocracy
Text: Avgi Kalogianni | Photos: Dimitris Vranas (A.I.F)
The Crispi Mansion, a building emblematic of Parikia’s history and cultural identity is located at Lt Gravaris Street and is easy to recognize from its characteristic arch with a gutter in the shape of a lion head. This year the mansion opens its doors to the public, within the context of the First Festival of Paros due to take place at Parikia on the 13th, the 14th and 15th of July and welcomes its visitors by offering them the opportunity to see behind the walls of this historic house and feel for a while as part of the local history and identity of Parikia.
If one of the goals of the Festival is to bring out the unseen aspects of the place, then surely the interior of a house, especially of a house with such a history, is one of the liveliest topics it can offer us.
“It’s because the house lived”, I was told by Apostolos Maretis, a member of the family -who had lived in the house for some time before its final closure around 2007- and had studied its libraries. “A characteristic figure was Grandmother Mary” Michalis Krispis, present owner of the mansion tells me: ”She sat at the window by the arch drinking her coffee while reading or knitting. It was her favourite window, because it was always cool even on the hottest days. In the recent years, the grandmother lived here with my aunt only in the summers, till she died in 1984. The whole neighbourhood passed from the house, with the boys and the men jumping from the windows which were low and huge while the tourists went in to admire it because it was like a museum”.
Mary Crispi, born Olimpiou, was born in Bombay, she graduated from the Arsakeion School in Athens and in 1929, after a brief return to India, she finally settled at Paros -place of her descent- and married Michail Crispi, grandfather of the present owner of the house.
Michail (Michalakis) Crispis (1896-1981) was an electrical engineer. He had been President of the Parikia community. He had a significant contribution to the region’s development, at first with the draining of the swampy land NE of the city and the elimination of malaria and then with the construction of the city’s coastal road in front of St Constantinos at the Castle. His work in agriculture, his exemplary farming methods and his participation in the Union of Paros Agrarian Cooperatives won him an award by the Athens Academy recognizing him as the best farmer of Paros and acknowledging his contribution to the island’s prosperity. For his participation in the resistance during the Occupation, he was sentenced to death by the Italians but the sentence was revoked with the fall of Mussolini.
If we go back to the family pedigree we’ll see that several Crispis were landowners and farmers -one of them Nikolaos Crispis (1850-1926) had won two prizes for his wheat in Fairs in Athens and Paris. Not a few of the Crispi family had a flair for science with some of them holding an electrical engineering degree while others got involved in politics like the great-grandfathers of the present owner, Nicolaos and Constantinos who served as Members of Parliament.
As the family needed a shelter from the continuous and frequently heated political arguments and the cigarette smoke, they set up a sitting room and a kitchen on the ground floor, thus converting it into the family’s political lounge. Anyway, political passions had left a mark on the family when a distant ancestor, also a Michail, was assassinated by his political opponents in 1832 in front of the three Holy Hierarchs Church, next to the family house at Parikia. Head of the family Paros branch is considered the father of the assassinated Michail, Ioannis Crispis (1750? -1835?) who has been buried with his son Michail and his grandson Constantinos at the courtyard of the Ekatontapiliani Church.
The house was built in 1885 by Nicolaos C. Crispis as testified by an inscription on the balcony “NCC 1885” and is one of the 12 neoclassical houses on the Lt Gravaris str., most of them built in the last two decades of the 19th century. It is a big two storey building with a tile roof and a characteristic arch on the ground floor. “The interesting feature of the Crispi mansion is its adaptation to the neighborhood’s micro urban environment. This was accomplished mainly with the passageway on the ground floor in the form of an arch or arcade which not only restores the function of the preexisting space but, on top of it, it uses an element, the arch or volto in the local vernacular, which from an aesthetic and traditional point of view is familiar to the passerby. The result is that the neoclassical external form of the building reflects the original architectural concept and at the same time the building is discreetly integrated in the environment while considerably lightened by the ground floor arcade”, we read in a relevant study on the neoclassical buildings in the Cyclades.
The interior of the house emanates a frugal luxury, the charm and beauty one can only meet in a genuinely aristocratic environment. These days the Crispi mansion will live again. Tidy and clean with its eclectic style furniture-the Thonet chairs among other things- the exquisite lace curtains, washed and starched, the ancestors’ paintings on the walls and the valuable bibelots and souvenirs, the mansion is getting ready, with an apparent insouciance, to welcome its guests in July, sending out a statement of pride for its past, but also, in a discreet way, agonizing, perhaps, about its future.