The Swedish house in Kavalla

The Institute guesthouse in Kavalla is a donation from the Swedish Tobacco Monopoly in 1976. The house is typically Bauhaus and together with its garden it was made a protected building in 1983. The history of the house is intimately connected with the tobacco industry, which previously dominated the town.

The drawing room. Photo: Ulf Lundström 2007.

From the end of the 19th century until the outbreak of the First World War Kavalla was one the most important centres in the eastern Mediterranean for the trade of Oriental tobacco. In the 1930’s about 15 000 people every year worked with the tobacco during the high season. Approximately 60 tobacco houses were established in Kavalla, many of them foreign. The town flourished and a whole new district grew up east of the town around the church of Agios Ioannis. The houses were typical two-storey buildings in the prevailing neo-classical style. The representatives of the foreign tobacco houses often built their residences in styles reminiscent of their home countries. To give but one example: the City Hall of Kavalla. It was built at the end of the 1890’s by the Hungarian tobacco baron Pierre Herzog, who was inspired by Austrian palace architecture.

The terrace. Photo: Ulf Lundström 2007.

The last foreign residence to be built was the Swedish House, which was inaugurated on 15 May 1936. On this occasion a chess-set was presented to the company as a gift. The box for it carries the inscription: For the Viking Palace. The architect P. Manoulidis drew the plans for the house. He is said to have co-operated with a Swedish building engineer and also to have sent for pictures of prototypes of Swedish buildings in order to adapt his plans to the people who were going to live in the house. In an article in the periodical of the Society of the Friends of the Institute, Hellenika, 38, 1986, the architect Hans Broberg points out that the Kavalla house is a citation of contemporary Swedish private villas, which open up towards the sea and a garden at the back. The asymmetrical plan is in the same tradition.

The house is very well built. The outer walls are c. 70 cm thick and made of well cut granite blocks. Some of the stonemasons are said to have come from Athens. The upper floor was intended for the representative of the company and his family, who was stationed at Kavalla more permanently; on the ground floor guest rooms were intended for the company employees, who came to Greece for the tobacco season. Also on the ground floor was the dining room furnished with a magnificent set of furniture designed by Axel Einar Hjorth. Together with the rest of the furniture in the house it was imported from the Nordiska Kompaniet in Stockholm. As all the pieces have brass plates with identification numbers, some of the drawings for them could be identified in the archives of the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, where the NK archives are kept today.

After the war the import to Sweden of Greek tobacco almost ceased. Previously, Oriental cigarettes hade dominated the market but now Virginia tobacco became more in fashion and the Swedish Tobacco Monopoly had less use of its house than before. In 1964 it was redefined as a guesthouse for artists and scholars and as a vacation house for the employees of the company. However, it was not very frequently used and in 1973 the company decided to close it down. The same year it was offered as a donation to the institute but the legalities took three years to sort out.

 From the garden. Photo: Ulf Lundström 2007.

The house still functions as a working place for artists of all kinds. In 1983 many of these formed a society of friends to save the house, as its existence was threatened due to financial problems. However, he same year it was declared a protected building and in the mid-80’s the Swedish government gave funding towards a partial renovation of the house. In the winter of 1998–1999 the house was totally renovated. In keeping with the uniqueness of the house no interference, neither with the interior nor with the exterior, was allowed (only a small ventilation window was permitted in the basement). The furniture is still undergoing conservation. Private persons in Sweden, Swedish Private foundations and the Swedish government have provided the necessary funding.

(The text is based on an article by Thomas Thomell in the periodical of the Society of the Friends of the Kavalla House: Hellenika 88, 1999.)

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