«GRANDE BRETAGNE» hotel advert, November – December 1934


Hotel Sector: “The Art of providing a good meal, proper residence, good food and clean bed linen for money in return” by Nikolaos Lekkas

According to the Homeric epic poems, offering hospitality to foreign visitors – xenos in greek- in one’s residence was considered as the greatest honor of all, in Ancient Greece.

Every foreigner (xenos) visiting Greece at those times, was believed to be sacred for, each and every one of them, was believed to be granted protection by two powerful gods, Xenios Zeus and Athina of Xenia.

Ancient Greeks had arranged in their homes, a suitable and cozy space for foreigners to stay over. Thus, the landlord was called “hotelier” (in Greece we use the same word for hoteliers until today – xenodohos) or “steganomos” or “estiopammon” or “nafkliros”, titles that stated a citizen’s responsibility to offer his hospitality to a foreigner.

According to the ethic set of rules in Ancient Greece, the owner of the house had the sacred duty to offer the “Xeniia” to the visiting foreigner, that is, the best possible hospitality.

An exception to this etiquette was Ancient Sparta by developing a different mentality on the matter. The so called “Xenilasia” that is, the intention to refuse hospitality to “xenos”. Spartans only offered hospitality to famous and honorable foreigners in their state. They were against offering hospitality because they did not wish to be influenced by other cultures.  They were very keen on preserving their austere way of living. Despite their introvert behavior, Ancient Spartans worshiped Xenios Zeus, the God of Hospitality.

These “Xenian Principals” that is, the etiquette of hospitality during the Homeric Era, have been channeled through times until the present day. As a result, they have been incorporated in the context of the warm and traditional hospitality of modern Greece.

Through time and due to the increasing number  of people on the move, as stated by Herodotus and many other Greek Classics, many inns, or motels, or as we call them today “Joints” had appeared. Some of them had a good reputation due to their high quality services. A fine example of premium quality accommodation in Ancient Greece is the dormitory in the sacred premises of Askelpeion in Ancient Epidaurus, right next to the famous Epidaurus Theatre.

There are a lot of excavation findings and fragments from ancient amphorae providing sufficient and trustworthy information regarding the art of hospitality in Ancient Greece.

During the Byzantine Era, the terms “Hotel” and “Guest Room” are recorded as a statement of the public perception partially in terms for hosting foreigners but mainly, referring to the provision of food and shelter for the poor and the pilgrims.

When Greece was under Turkish occupation, the accommodation installations were humble without many facilities. It is widely accepted though, that those inns were situated in prominent locations next to fresh water sources. They were created mainly, in order to offer shelter to travelers and military officers. Due to a religious perception, these hospitality centers were constructed by Holly Mosques, as a sort of Caravan Seraglios, or Inns or Motels, next to Temples or other places of worship, in order to offer accommodation services to pilgrims.

The same accommodation spaces were serving the first travelers. Usually they were only in ground floors with lofts and stables for the horses.

After a disastrous liberation struggle, the First Greek Independent State was formed amongst ruin. As a result, the whole situation was not in favor of hotel accommodation and relevant installations.

In 1830, the first organized inn was constructed next to the Corinth Canal in order to accommodate travelers from abroad. In 1834, the first hotel, the “LONDON Hotel” opened in Nafplion, the first capital of the Greek State. According to a reference on those times, in 1840, a second one, the “AFHTONIA HOTEL” is created in Nafplion too. In 1878 the “GRAND BRETAGNE HOTEL” opens its doors in Athens center under the administration of Kentros and Lampsas. From 1878 and then, gradually, the Greek hospitality sector grows.

According to testimonies, during the Athens Olympic Games in 1896, visitors from abroad were accommodated in the so called Cook Houses. Those were rooms in houses allotted by Cook, the official travel organizer of the Games.

By the end of the 19th century, there were no hotels in Greece but within the next century that is from 1923 to 2004 Greece raised awareness as a premium tourist destination, listed among the most popular ones, internationally. Moreover, by 2004, Greece granted the world by offering the outstanding 2004 Olympic Games edition.

Today, Greece hotel sector counts 9,554 hotels of a total capacity rising up to 726.546 hotel beds (November 2009 metrics) able to accommodate 182 million overnights. These metrics refer only to hotel accommodation excluding other sorts of installations (camping sites, rooms to let, villas etc)

The first hotels in Greece

The impressive developing course of the hotel sector in Greece lasted almost a century. As stated by the great thinker Mr. Nik. Lekkas, Greek Tourism was emerged out of “smoking ruins and absolute disaster”.

The first hotels of Greece were of small capacity, counting aprox. 30 to 50 rooms per average.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the first renowned luxury hotels appeared in the center and the round area of Athens. To name the most distinguished ones: the “GRAND BRETAGNE” at Syntagma Square, still remains the landmark of the capital, the posh “AKTAION” at Faliron of 80 stylish rooms; the “GRAND HOTEL” of 40 rooms situated by the corner Kar. Servias and Stadiou str.; the “MINERVA” of 43 rooms at the beginning of Stadiou str. presenting the first ever 24/7 hotel dining room in Athens; the famous “AGGLIA” Hotel at Syntagma Sq. and Ermou str. of 70 rooms mentioned by the Greek satirical  poet Souris. The “ILION PALACE” Hotel, at Kolokotroni Sq. of 40 rooms; the ATHINON Hotel of 47 rooms at Korai str which eventually was the first building in Athens constructed by concrete.

Strolling towards Omonia Sq., there was the noteworthy “BAGGEION” Hotel as well as the “MEGAS ALEXANDROS” Hotel. In the suburbs nearby Athens, there was the APERGIS Hotel at Kifisia as well as the MEGA at Neo Faliro.

Apart from Athens, luxurious hotels were gradually established all over Greece. Some of the most characteristic in terms of quality and style, were the following: The “MEDITERRANNE” in Thessaloniki, the “THERMAI SYLLA” in Edipsos, the “PALACE” and the “HERAKLEION” in Loutraki, the POSEIDONION IN Spetsai, the “GALLIA” in Portaria at Mount Pelion, the “GRAND BRETAGNE” in Mytilene, the “AGGLIA” Hotel  and the “BELLA VENEZIA” in Corfu, the “SPAP” in Ancient Olympia, the “PALIRROIA” in Chalkis, the “ARNI” Hotel in Karditsa which was  the first building to be made by iron and concrete in Greece, the “ORTHYS” in Nafplion, the “ANGLETAIRE” in Patras, the “GALLIA” in Chania Crete, the “PYTHIOS APOLLONAS” in Delphi….

Angela Varela, Member of Greek Women in Tourism