For the Swedish orientalist and Greek philologist Jakob Jonas Bjornstahl – the first known Scandinavian traveler to visit Greece, in 1779 – Thessaly and the Vale of Tempe in the winter felt just like home. And in 1878, Finnish architect, writer and artist Jac Ahrenberg was surprised to find that Athens reminded him of cities back in his own country in many ways.
In 1841, meanwhile, Danish fairy-tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was impressed by the array of goods and colors in the capital’s shops and bazaars, by the new palace that was being built using slabs of Pentelic marble and by the university being designed by fellow Dane Christian Hansen.
These fascinating and little-known observations by travelers from Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland who explored Greece in the 18th and 19th centuries are the subject of an ongoing exhibition at the Nordic Library in Athens.
The travelers featured in the show documented their impressions of the country and its people, but also of the revolutionaries fighting the 1821 Greek War of Independence. The exhibition also showcases travelers including military officers, writers, such as the Swedish feminist Fredrika Bremer, businessmen and archaeologists.
Peter Oluf Brondsted from Denmark, for example, saw Praxiteles’ Hermes being resurrected from the ground at Ancient Olympia in 1811.
“We also present testimonies from Swedes who saw Morosini blowing up the Acropolis and from Finns who took part in the Greek War of Independence, such as August Maximilian Myhrberg, who also served at Palamidi Castle,” explains Evi Charitoudi, head of the library.
The show, titled “Greece Through the Eyes of the Travelers from the North,” is arranged in sections representing the geographical provenance of the travelers and their occupations.