The Cultural Centre of MIET in Thessaloniki opened in January 1989 under the name of the National Bank Cultural Centre of Northern Greece and operated as such until February 1997. During this period the Centre contributed to the intellectual and artistic life of Thessaloniki, presenting exhibitions on:
In addition, the Centre liaised with other cultural institutions to mount literary, historical and art exhibitions, held lectures and courses on historical topography, and published catalogues accompanying these events. One of the most important and long-standing collaborations was with the Mount Athos Photographic Archive, which led to the organization of four exhibitions with photographs of great historical and artistic value.
In 1997, the National Bank of Greece subsumed its cultural centres in Athens, Thessaloniki and Patras under the Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece (MIET). Since then, the Cultural Centre of Thessaloniki has been expanding its activities mainly through art exhibitions. In 1997, the year it was subsumed under MIET, the Centre collaborated with the organization Thessaloniki Cultural Capital of Europe 1997 in mounting important exhibitions (Francisco Goya, Albin Brunovski).
The Centre's policy from the outset has been to facilitate cultural bodies in Thessaloniki that do not have the space required to develop their activities. In this respect, since 1994 the Centre has co-operated with the major international photographic event "Photosynkyria" and has hosted exhibitions of work by distinguished Greek and foreign photographers.
To date, the Centre has organized exhibitions jointly with the Thessaloniki branches of the French Institute, the Goethe Institute and the British Council, the "Christos Kalemkeris" Photography Museum in Kalamaria, the Thessaloniki Contemporary Art Centre, the Benaki Museum, as well as the Albert-Kahn Museum (Paris).
Apart from its function as an exhibitions venue, the Centre also hosts lectures, in line with either its exhibition activities or the publications of MIET, as well as projections of slides, videos and films. In addition, since February 2000 the Centre runs a bookshop, which stocks all the publications of the Foundation, the National Bank and its Historical Archive.
The Centre uses all available means to promote its activities to a wide section of the public. It places particular emphasis on attracting young people, in collaboration with the Inspectorates of Primary and Secondary Education, as well as the Humanities departments of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and the University of Macedonia.
The Thessaloniki Cultural Centre of MIET is privileged to be housed in a unique early twentieth-century building, one of the few surviving villas of old Thessaloniki, which has been linked over the years with people and events that have left their mark on the city's history. It stands in what was known as the Exochon Quarter, which was formed extra muros of the old city, in the late nineteenth century, following the gradual demolition of the east and sea wall, and especially after the destructive fire of 1890. During the interwar years, the Exochon Quarter ceased to be a holiday resort, and the luxurious villas there served a different purpose. After the end of the Second World War, most of the villas were pulled down and apartment blocks were built in their place.
The building was initially owned by the old-established Kapantzis family, whose presence in the city can be traced back to the late eighteenth century, when they figured prominently in the guild system. The Villa Kapantzis, as it was named, was particularly lavish and the construction costs exceeded 40,000 gold sovereigns, a mythical amount in those days.
In 1912, following the incorporation of Thessaloniki into the Greek state, the villa served as the residence of Prince Nicholas, the first Military Governor of the city. In 1917, the Villa Kapantzis enjoyed its most glorious days as home of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, then head of a Provisional (revolutionary) Government, based in Thessaloniki, during a critical period in the history of Greece.
Between 1918 and 1922 the villa was the residence of the Kapantzis and Cohen families. Following the Greek defeat in Asia Minor (1922) and until 1928, refugee families were accommodated in its rooms.
In 1928 the building was acquired by the National Bank of Greece, as an exchangeable asset, and was used as the headquarters of the American Foundation Company, which carried out major land reclamation works in Central Macedonia.
Between 1938 and 1972, excepting the period of the Second World War, the villa housed the Fifth Boys High School. Thus, thousands of Thessalonikans have lived in the Villa Kapantzis, as pupils of one of the city's most prestigious secondary schools.
In 1940 the building was requisitioned by the Greek Army and was used as a military bakery. During the German Occupation (1941-1944), it was requisitioned by the German authorities. Following the liberation, it served as British Army headquarters until the summer of 1945, when it was returned to the Fifth Boys' High School, which remained there until 1972.
In that year the building was abandoned in dilapidated state and in need of serious repairs, following its long-term usage in different capacities. In response to public demand, the National Bank of Greece decided to restore the building and to use it for cultural purposes. The painstaking restoration process lasted from 1982 to 1988. The relevant study aimed at minimizing interventions that might alter the original character of the villa, whilst at the same time preserving its authentic features.
The building that houses the Cultural Centre of MIET in Thessaloniki is one of the few extant, late nineteenth-century mansions and one of the most important modern monuments in the city. It not only preserves a vivid picture of what was once the Exochon Quarter but is also a vital part of the city's recent history.
The Villa Kapantzis was built on what used to be a seafront plot of 4,000 sq. m. At the time the west side was visible only from the sea. The mansion essentially comprises two buildings, the main residence and the tower, which are linked to each other. The main building (16.50 m. wide, 19.00 m. long and 18.00 m. high) includes three storeys (a semi-basement, an elevated ground floor and a first floor) and an attic. The tower (4.40 m. wide and 6.60 m long) is four-storeyed and the part above the ground floor is open. The main entrance is on the side facing Vasilissis Olgas Street.
The architecture displays overt Central European influences. Essential features include the complex volumes, a multi-level roof with steep slopes and the tall, rectangular tower. The decoration of the building's interior is rich and varied, thus differentiating each room. The floors are of different materials (marble in the entrances, parquet flooring in the reception areas and wooden boards in the remaining areas), as are the doors, windows and storeys. Wood-carved ornaments and wainscot panelling distinguishes the areas and rooms. The double-flight staircase is of monumental character and is decorated with wooden veneer, elaborate balustrade and lighting. The ceilings of the ground and first floor are painted, apart from the central areas. Unfortunately, most of them have been destroyed, except for some samples, on the basis of which an attempt has been made to restore the compositions, wherever the necessary evidence was available.
108 Vasilissis Olgas St.
546 43 Thessaloniki
Tel. 0030 2310 295 170 / 0030 2310 295 171