1. Ottoman Period
Thessaloniki has always been inseparable from military history. The city’s name actually owes its meaning to a victorious battle of Philip II of Macedon on the plains of Thessaly. Moreover, Thessaloniki’s most characteristic monuments confirm the timelessness of this connection: the so-called Kamara or Arch of Galerius, which chronicles the Roman emperor’s military campaign against the Persians, or the church of the city’s patron Saint Demetrios, who is believed to have been a soldier, the battered Byzantine walls and the Ottoman White Tower which is topped by a war-trophy, the mast from the Ottoman ironclad, “Feth-i Bülend”, which was sunk in the gulf of Thermaikos in 1912 by the T-11 torpedo-boat of Nikolaos Votsis.
A part of this history is also the area in which we currently are. Before the construction of the present building, an Ottoman infantry camp used to exist in the area, which was built in 1830. The dimensions of the camp were unprecedented. It consisted of three two-storey wings 110-180m in length, which formed a “Π” with three-storey pavilions at each end. The building was demolished in 1903 and was replaced by the current facilities. The first buildings were inaugurated on 19th August 1903, on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of Abdul Hamid II’s reign, while two more buildings were opened in October of that year on the Sultan's birthday. The initiative for the construction of the new barracks was led by the Marshal of the Imperial army, Hajji Chairi Pasha and was based on designs made by the Italian architect, Vitaliano Pozelli.
Pozelli is a significant representative of the Eclecticism movement, which was mainly characterized by the combination of different styles into a single aesthetic result. This tendency is realized in the elongated front of the building, where Neoclassical elements, such as the pediments topping the side apartments, or the main entrance columns, coexist with an Italian Baroque style, as reflected in the crowning of the central portion. The same architect has designed other well-known buildings in the city, such as the old building of the Philosophical Faculty of the Aristotle University, the so-called Dioikitirion (currently the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace), the Catholic and Armenian churches, the mills and mansion of the Allatini family (presently housing the Prefecture of Thessaloniki). The latter even housed Abdul Hamid II after his dethronement by the Young Turk movement. The choice of a European architect was not accidental, as the organization of the Ottoman army under British, French and German instructors was not accidental either. Already in the 19th century, the "Sick Man of Europe" as the declining Ottoman Empire was called, was attempting to modernize and westernize itself on every level. Before we move on, it is worth noting that right where we are now standing, Kemal Ataturk once stood.
2. Commanding Officers of the C' Army Corps
In 1912, amidst the First Balkan War, the Greek army entered triumphantly in Thessaloniki and with the end of the war, the city was annexed to the Greek state. The building immediately passed into the jurisdiction of the Greek Army. Some of the Commanding Officers have been closely linked with critical moments in Modern Greek history:
Epaminondas Zymbrakakis (1863-1922) was one of the main inspirers and instigators of the Goudi Coup (1909). He also actively participated alongside Eleftherios Venizelos, in the National Defence Movement during the period known as the National Schism (1916). It is during this period that Venizelos’ Provisional Government of National Defence used this building as its headquarters.
Alexandros Othonaios (1879-1970), participated in the Goudi Coup and in major combat operations of the Greek Army in the early decades of the 20th century. He was a staunch Venizelist and was removed from the army after the defeat of Venizelos in the elections of 1920. He was recalled after the destruction in Asia Minor and actively participated in the Military Coup led by Plastiras and Gonatas (September 1922). He presided over the court martial known as the “Trial of the Six” which sentenced prime-minister Demetrios Gounaris and five more members of his government to death on the grounds of high-treason, as they were held responsible for the defeat. In 1923 he was Commanding Officer of the B' and C' Army Corps. He was also Prime Minister of Greece for four days following the Coup led by Plastiras (6th March 1933).
Alexandros Papagos (1883-1955) was a highly influential figure in modern Greek history. He was appointed Commanding Officer of the C' Army Corps in 1935. His active participation in the Balkan Wars, particularly during the battle of Bizani and his resistance during the German Occupation, which resulted in his arrest and placement in a concentration camp, are indicative of his unabated action in favour of his country. He was the Commander during the Greek-Italian war (1940-1941) and between 1949 and 1951, after which he became Prime Minister of Greece (1952-1955).
Phaedon Gizikis (1917-1999) played an important role in establishing the Papadopoulos dictatorship in Greece (21st April 1967) and after the imposition of the Junta he received a number of senior military posts. During the Athens Polytechnic Uprising he was the Military Governor of Athens and Attica. He received the title of the President of the Republic on 25 November 1973, after Papadopoulos was ousted by Demetrios Ioannides as head of the regime in an internal power struggle. Despite the fall of the Junta, Gizikis continued to hold the Presidential title up until the Referendum which took place in December 1974.