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Ioannis Kapodistrias
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First Governor of the Greece

Ioannis Kapodistrias was the first Governor of the new Greek nation from 1828 to the end of 1829. He is a fascinating figure. Previously a brilliant and enlightened ambassador for Russia, he served as a progressive and effective leader of the new country during the four years that he served it, the first two of which he spent in Aegina, where he carried out many more-than-impressive projects. He met an untimely death at the age of 55, stabbed to death by the brothers of a rebel who had played a major role in the Greek revolution.

Aegina served as the capital of Greece from January, 1828 until December, 1829. Many buildings in Aegina town, including the neoclassical buildings along the harbour waterfront, are testaments to this era. Yet it seems that the city of Nafplio (Nauplio) in the Peloponnese claims that honor for itself. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article on Nafplio:

Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, first head of state of newly-liberated Greece, set foot on the Greek mainland for the first time in Nafplio on 7 January 1828 and made it the official capital of Greece in 1829.

Yet another quote from the same article states:

After touring Europe to rally support for the Greek cause, Kapodistrias landed in Nafplion 7 January 1828 and arrived in Aegina on 8 January 1828. It was the first time he had ever set foot on the Greek mainland, and he found a discouraging situation there. Even while fighting against the Ottomans was still going on, factional and dynastic conflicts had led to two civil wars which ravaged the country. Greece was bankrupt and the Greeks were unable to form a united national government.

There is no mention in the article from which this quote was taken (nor in the Wikipedia article about Kapodistrias, from which details for the second part of this article were taken) to the effect that Kapodistrias resided in and governed from the governor's mansion in Aegina for two years (before the government was moved to Nafplio), nor that he carried out all of the outstanding public works in Aegina which are detailed below.

The story of Aegina as first modern Greek capital according to Sofia Sfyroera *

In 1827 the new Greek National Assembly at Trizina (Troezene) in the Peloponnese unanimously elected Ioannis Kapodistrias as Governor of Greece. At that time, Kapodistrias was in London, where he had been working in support of the Greek War of Independence. He arrived in Aegina after a voyage of months on a British frigate, accompanied by French and Russian ships. He was ushered into the Aegina Cathedral (Mitropolis/ Metropolis), which, during the two years that Aegina served as Greek capital, functioned not only as community seat and political center for elections of local elders, but also as a school and as the Parliament building.

In 1827-8 the Third Constitutional Assembly began its work in Aegina, though later transferred to Trizina. Kapodristrias took up residence in the Governmental mansion (Kivernio), where he was faced with organizing the government of a state that did not yet exist. During his first months in office he reorganized local and regional administrations and established a local finance bank and a mint which issued coins with the symbol of the phoenix. Using materials from the ruins of the Temple of Apollo at Kolona, he extended and renovated the old harbour and had the first lighthouse built at its entrance. He organized the army, and successfully suppressed robberies and piracy.

With the financial support of Philhellenes and overseas Greeks, and land granted by the Council of Elders, he founded an orphanage, which was housed in the massive stone building now known as Filakes (Prison) due to its much later use as a political prison. The revolution had left many children orphans, who were then housed and educated in this institution. The schools established in this building are referred to as 'mutual-teaching schools', and handicrafts were also taught there -- vocational programs aimed at providing the children with a livelihood when they reached adulthood. Music and physical education were also taught.

Kapodistrias had a church and public library built on the ground, the latter including mineral and geological collections, and a childrens' choir and orchestra were established. The first National Press Office, lithography and bookbinding workshops were founded - all these in the orphanage courtyard. The children's textbooks were published on this press, and distributed free of charge. The first state newpaper was also printed here, along with two French newspapers and other publications for the public.

A teachers' school (mutual-teaching) was founded here in 1829, with a three-year course, as well as a central school, with a course of the same duration, for those wishing to pursue higher education. The school had so many applicants that Kapodistrias had famous architects draw up plans for a new building, financed by Philhellene banker Eynard. This college functioned until the early 20th century.

The first systematic archaeological museum in Greece was founded and housed in the island's National Museum (now located at Kolona). A girls' school with 30 pupils was founded in 1930 by the Duchesse de Plaisance, with a government-appointed teacher. By April of 1830, 1,082 pupils and students were studying at Aegina schools founded by Kapodistrias and supported entirely by the government. In addition to all this, Kapodistrias labored to insure Greek autonomous foreign policy.

Some background on Kapodistrias **
Ioannis Kapodistrias, (1776-1831) was the first Greek Governor during the early years of the new Greek nation following the Greek War of Independence. During that war, which began in 1821, the Greeks succeeded in freeing themselves from the four-century Ottoman Turkish yoke, though large parts of what now constitutes Greece remained under Ottoman rule until nearly a full century later, with other areas, such as the Dodecanese islands, under Italian rule. Kapodistrias was born in Corfu (Kerkyra in Greek), in the Ionian islands, which were ruled by Venice at the time of his birth. He studied medicine, philosophy and law in Padua, Italy.

His father's ancestors came from a city on the Gulf of Venice, which is now in Slovenia, and had an Italian name. One of those ancestors was a count, given that title by the Duke of Savoy. His mother's family were from Cypriot nobility who migrated first to Crete, then to Ipiros when Crete fell to the Ottomans, and finally to Corfu.

When Ioannis Kapodistrias was only 23 years old, he was appointed chief medical director of a military hospital, and founded an important medical organization in Corfu when he was only 26. A year earlier, after a Russian-Ottoman alliance drove out the French, the Ionian islands became an independent state known as the "Septinsular Republic", which was ruled by its nobles, and Kapodistrias became one of its two ministers, but was soon elected as Chief Minister of State. As such, he was successful in uniting the islanders against foreign powers, instituted democratic changes, and supported education. The French regained power again in 1807 and the island republic was dissolved.

Kapodistrias became an unofficial Russian ambassador under Alexander I in 1809, and, several years later, after helping Switzerland to free itself from French control, create a new constitution , and to acquire independence and neutrality, (along with still other important diplomatic achievements), he was appointed joint Foreign Minister of Russia.

The Ionian islands had meanwhile fallen under British rule, and Kapodistrias strove with the British government in behalf of his fellow islanders, though with little success. He actively supported the Greek War of Independence , but failing to win support for this cause from Alexander, he left his post and moved to Geneva where he devoted himself to the Greek struggle. It was there that he learned, in 1827, that the new Greek National Assembly had elected him as Greece's first governor. (Note: this statement conflicts with Sofia Sfyoera's assertion that Kapodistrias was in London when he learned of his appointment, though this seems of far less importance than the lack of acknowledgement of Aegina as first capital in the Wikipedia article about Nafplio).

As Greek head of state, Kapodistrias modernized the country, inititating reform of many kinds. He brought major diseases under control by introducing the first modern quarantine system in the country, negotiated the borders of the new state with the Ottoman Empire and the Great Powers, re-organized the military, which enabled it to take back territory lost to the Turks during the civil wars, and signed the peace treaty that ended the War of Independence . He was also responsible for minting the first Greek currency in modern times, and strove to raise the general living standard.

Vested Interests, Clans, and Kapodistrias
The subject of Kapodistrias' assassination in 1831, and the political events that preceded it are far beyond the scope of this article (and the knowledge of this writer). Suffice it to say here that the Maniotes (Greeks from the Mani area of the Peloponnese) who had led the struggle against the Turks during the War of Independence did not accept the appointment of the Governor, and that there were also wealthy merchant families on the islands of Hydra, Spetses and Psara which did not accept handing over their traditional customs revenues to him. A major rebellion and naval battle followed, resulting in major damage to the Greek naval fleet and contributing to Kapodistrias' downfall. Readers may learn more from the History of the Greek Revolution by George Finlay (1861). Kapodistrias was assassinated in 1831 by the brothers of Maniote rebel leader Petrobey Mavromihalis, who had played a major role in the War of Independence and whom Kapodistrias had jailed.

A well-known anecdote about Kapodistrias concerns his attempt to introduce the potato to an uninterested Greek public - something he saw as a move towards increased nutrition and improved public health. He ordered a shipment of potatoes and then gave orders that they be offered to anyone who wanted to try them, but met with indifference, so he then tried another tack. He stationed guards around the potatoes as they were being unloaded on the docks, knowing that this would spark the needed curiosity, and told the guards to ignore all acts of thefts. Soon all the potatoes were gone, and the rest is history.

Text by Souzana Raphael

*    Details haven been taken from the 2-part video by Sofia Sfyroera entitled: Aegina First Capital of Greece.
** Most details drawn from Wikipedia article about, which does not mention that he spent his first two years as Governor of Greece in Aegina.
Ioannis Kapodistrias

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