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He was born in Syros, the son of Georgios Melas, a member of the Filiki Eteria and the scion of a distinguished Epirote family. He studied law in Paris and became involved with commerce at an early age, importing Russian wheat to London and Marseilles. From these activities he amassed a large fortune.
In 1874, Melas settled permanently in Athens, where he soon achieved a distinguished place among Athenian high society. He played a crucial role in the foundation of the Athens Club in 1875, the Greek capital's oldest and most exclusive gentlemen's club, and served as its president in 1882–1886 and 1888–1897. In 1890, he was elected to the Greek Parliament for Attica. He became mayor of Athens in 1891, holding the office until 1894, after an unsuccessful first attempt in 1883, when he lost to Dimitrios Soutsos. Melas also served in the founding board of the Hellenic Red Cross, and as chairman of the Ethniki Etaireia, a secret nationalist society, which played a major role in the outbreak of the disastrous Greco-Turkish War of 1897. Melas is also notable as one of the first Athenians to build a house in Kifissia, then a suburban summer resort for the capital's wealthy families. He was also an avid art collector, and during his stay in Marseilles, he chaired the local French Cultural Club for several years. In 1886–88 he served as president of the Filekpaideftiki Etaireia ("Learned Society", a charitable educational society founded in 1836).
He was married with Eleni Voutsina and had seven children: Maria, wife of Ektoras Romanos, chamberlain of Prince Nicholas of Greece; Anna, wife of the landowner Apostolos Papadopoulos; Georgios (1866–1931) a judge and private secretary of King Constantine I; Pavlos (1870–1904), an Army officer and hero of the Macedonian Struggle; Leon (1872–1905), a lawyer and politician; Konstantinos Melas (1874–1953), a Navy officer and politician; and Vassilios (1879–1956), a General and also president of the Athens Club.
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