8 Great Philanthropists Who Shaped Modern-Day Greece

Gennadius Library
Gennadius Library | © Neosmyrnian/WikiCommons
While many know ancient Greek history, few know what it took for Greece to become what it is today. Here we dive into the stories of a few of the great philanthropists and benefactors who helped make Greece as we know it.

Emmanouil Benakis (1843–1929)

Considered a national benefactor of Greece, Emmanouil Benakis studied in England before moving to Alexandria, in Egypt where he worked for a compatriot, Horemi, a cotton industrialist. A major businessman, he quickly became wealthy and fathered six children, among whom is Antonis Benakis, an art collector who established the Benaki museum. A close friend of Eleftherios Venizelos, he was elected to the Hellenic Parliament as Minister of Agriculture and Industry, and later as mayor of the Greek capital in 1914. His major contributions include the settlement of refugees after the population exchange with Turkey, the foundation of the Phytopathological Institute, a research institution focused on plant health and protection. He also largely donated to the establishment of educational institutions, hospitals and a library.

The Benaki Museum, established by Anthonis Benakis, son of Emmanouil Benakis © Dimboukas/WikiCommons

Niki Goulandris (born 1925)

An accomplished botanical painter, Niki Goulandris studied Political Science and Economics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens and pursued post-graduate studies in Political Science and Philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, Germany. Fluent in French, German, English and of course Greek, she co-founded the Goulandris Natural History Museum with her husband Angelos. Travelling around the world visiting natural reserves and threatened ecosystems, she advocates cultural values connecting nature, man and society. She has been awarded a series of recognition for her efforts and achievements.

George Averoff (1815-1899)

A business man born in Metsovo, Epirus in 1815, George Averoff is considered to be one of the great benefactors of the Greek nation. Moving to Egypt in 1837, he became an eminent businessman and took the habit of donating part of his wealth to charities and contributed to the construction of schools and educational institutions in Egypt and in Greece, such as the Evelpidon Military Academy. He also regularly donated to the Athens Conservatory and contributed to the renovation of the Panathenaic Stadium, where the first modern Olympic Games were held in 1896.

Statue of Georgios M. Averoff at the Panathinaiko Stadium © GreyElfGT/WikiCommons

Joannes Gennadius (1814-1932)

Born in 1844 in Athens, Joannes Gennadius was a Greek diplomat and a notorious benefactor. The son of George Gennadius, he spent a great part of his life in England and fervently defended the interests of his homeland while serving in London and in Turkey. A fervent writer and bibliophile, he went on to collect books and was the proud owner of a 2,6000-strong private library, which he later donated to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 1922. He died in London in 1932.

Eugenios Eugenidis (1882-1954)

As a prominent ship magnate, Eugenios Eugenidis, born in 1882 in Dimetoka, in Thrace, was an ambitious young man who had set his heart on building shipyards. After he graduated from an eminent private school in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), he became an important figure in the shipping industry, in Greece and abroad and was even appointed consul-general of Finland in Greece, thanks to his ties with the Scandinavian shipping industry. Forced to move to Egypt after World War II, he established a steamship line connecting North Africa and South America, before relocating to Argentina. When the war ended, he settled in Switzerland. After the devastating earthquake of 1953 which strongly affected the Ionian islands, he contributed large amounts of his personal wealth to the reconstruction of the islands. He died one year later, leaving instruction for the establishment of a foundation that would support technological and scientific education in Greece. The Eugenides Foundation was established two years later. It is home to a world-class planetarium, an extensive library and a technology laboratory. He was awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Phoenix by Greece.

The Evgenides Foundation, located in Faliro, Athens © Badseed/WikiCommons

Marianna Vardinogiannis (born 1937)

Born in 1937 in Ermioni, Marianna Vardinogiannis, wife of shipping magnate Vardis Vardinogiannis, is a UNESCO Goodwill ambassador and the founder of the Foundation for the Child and the Family, set up to fight against child abuse and exploitation. As the president of the Elpida Association of friends of children with cancer, she is also involved in many associations and philanthropic organizations focusing on international peace and global solidarity. She is also responsible for the establishment of the Elpida (Hope) Children’s Oncology Hospital, located in Athens. The Vardinogiannis Foundation, founded by the Vardinogiannis family, supports many philanthropic endeavors in Greece, include the voluntary, non-profit organization The Smile of the Child (To Hamogelo Tou Paidiou), which focuses on child welfare in Greece.

Michael Tositsas (1787-1856)

Another greek benefactor Greece, Michael Tositsas was born in the picturesque village of Metsovo in 1787. He moved to Thessaloniki at the age of 19 to take over his father’s fur store and later went on to open branches in Livorno, Italy and Malta, where he became acquainted with Prince Regent of Egypt, Mohammed Ali. He was then appointed as General consul in Alexandria where he established the Greek Community and contributed to develop religious and education infrastructures on Egyptian soil. In the meantime, he considerably supported his homeland through donating large sums of money to the poor and the funding of the churches, hospitals and schools in Greece, including the University of Athens, the National Technical University of Athens and the Arsakio School. Upon his death in 1856, his wife continued to donate money to academic institutions and charity organizations in Greece.

Statue of Michael Tositsa, in Metsovo © Jean Housen/WikiCommons

Prodromos Bodossakis-Athanasiadis (1891-1979)

Credited to be the father of Greek industry, Prodromos Bodossakis-Athanasiadis was born in 1891 in Poro, a small village in the province of Nigdi in Asia Minor. From a young age he showed strong entrepreneurial skills and quickly became a business man at the age of 17. He later moved to Greece following the Greco-Turkish war and already started donating part of his wealth to the building of a school in Herakleio, Crete. But despite losing part of his fortune due to the unstable situation in the country, his efforts to continue to open new businesses paid off. In the 1930s, he got control over one of the oldest defense industries in Greece, Pyrkal and built his industrial empire which included mining companies, glass and textile manufacturing, beverages, engineering & constructions, etc. After World War II, he contributed to rebuilding the Greek economy, thanks to the creation of over 15,000 jobs. At the same time, he was involved in several philanthropic activities, including the construction erection of the Bodossaki Elementary School at Athens College, in 1977, and the establishment of the geriatric clinic in the Athens Mental Health Care Hospital. Awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Phoenix, Bodossaki died in 1979, donating the entirety of his wealth to promote healthcare, education equality of opportunity, scientific progress and environmental protection through the Bodossakis Foundation.