The dilemma of rural architecture – part III (Greece)

Published by: Thomas Schultze-Westrum

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I am adding an open letter to draw some light on the unbearable but common situation on Thasos Island, with respect to village public roads (text partly shortened)…

OPEN LETTER

Addressed to a Greek architect with regional official functions – and a property at Kazaviti

Kazaviti, Thasos 11 October 2002

After Compliments ,

…In Kazaviti village both of us are guests only. The purchase of houses or land does not give us any rights that can be compared with the ancient rights of the local people in this village. Only the native families know and practise land use rights that are nowhere written down but rather forwarded by oral tradition over countless generations.

Clearly, we all have to respect the customary rights that are still in use, and you are no exception! Regardless of your status as an architect, regardless of any other reasons. You are obliged to conform with the rules, both the legal procedures of the Greek government and the customary rights just mentioned.

You should know very well that roads in old villages are not just purpose built utility channels for traffic as they are everywhere in our modern cities. Roads in old villages are living communicative links and heritage of the inhabitants. They retain much of the natural features as well: rocks, trees, a winding course between landmarks. They widen at certain places („village green“ or in German language „Dorfanger“) and then become narrow again in response to the natural conditions. The constant use over centuries by the people and their animals has carved out a central pathway (#1, Skyros). Some steeper parts are reinforced by “kalderimi” patterns of stone pavement. What is so important and characteristic: on both sides of the actual path there is communal space. The walls of adjacent gardens and houses keep a respectful distance. This common land on both sides of the roads is a vital part of any original village road.

In Kazaviti, due to modern changes, much of this ancient road system and the principles behind have been destroyed: greedy egocentric fencing and the fatal use of cement has not left much of the original and very beautiful roads. One of the most original and attractive section is the one adjacent to the property Kelaidi that you acquired recently. It leads from the main road at the water well just below the Rodia Machala to the left. Large boulders of rock frame this path; it still retains all its traditional features. The wall of the old house Kelaidi stands back from the path and allows an open view and free movement. This road and the common land alongside is a Monument of Kazaviti and has to be preserved by all means!

As I have mentioned earlier: you should know all that in your professional capacity. But what is so immensely tragic: not any ignorant house buyer is now destroying this historic landmark of Kazaviti, but rather a well educated and widely travelled architect in a high position. What can you expect of all the others if YOU do not respect the character of this wonderful place!

Your appalling answer yesterday on the phone: …“because it is mine”! And: “I know better, because I am an architect”. Well, your answers hardly could have been worse. They illustrate an egocentric attitude that does not leave much room for a reasonable discussion. May I ask you: What do you gain from extending your fortification wall into the communal space of this ancient road?? In fact it deteriorates your own possession as well.

NEVER EVER any wall was there between the road and the wall of the Kelaidi house! The big boulders of natural rock there are evidence even without the verbal testimony of the inhabitants. No one in the old days would have built such useless and offensive wall. And ALL the house owners further up, ALL the regular users of this road, they ALL confirm with one voice that you extended your wall far into the communal ground on the one side of this road alongside your property. That is not only an offence against the heritage of this village, it is equally an illegal act.

As far as I know you have not obtained any building permission for that wall. Regardless, you have already now completed the lower section of this fortification wall: with a doorway that is monstrous and not at all following any genuine village style. Both the design and the stone material are foreign. Do you really need to import stone from the mainland, in order to “embellish” Kazaviti?? First the village main square was “upgraded” with stone from Elefteroupolis and now comes your castle gate way with stone from Komotini or elsewhere. What a bad taste you have and misguided visions: not the natural and simple beauty of Kazaviti is on your mind, but rather a pseudo-rustic image and the desperate wish to create something better than the existing heritage. Mr. Architect, that never works! And you should know that.

And we, the permanent inhabitants of Kazaviti, WE have to see now every day the kitschy outburst of your dreams, WE have to face every day this ugly and non-traditional construction . Why did you not just build a simple stone wall that matches village tradition? Apparently you do not value the original Macedonian character of Kazaviti, but rather an imitation of something that never existed here. Bad for us in the village! Bad for the whole of Thassos, bad for Macedonia! Very bad news indeed.

Every village in Greece and elsewhere on this globe has ONE traditional image only: its own endemic image and NOT what others wish to create in pseudo-traditional ways. What is right for one place in architectural design is totally wrong at any other place: that is one of the basic characteristics of what we call “tradition”.

One more point: there are some stone steps leading from he path up to the Kelaidi house. They are not on your land, but rather on the common ground! I have to remind you that this kind of stone steps is commonly found here and by no means they are an indication that the boundary of your land does include these steps. Just look at all the unfenced steps in front of the houses along the other roads including the one that leads up to the central square!

Finally I wish to point out that the preservation of this ancient road in its complete entity is a test for how the Greek State respects the cultural village heritage and is instrumental in actually performing her duty to this end. There are clearly defined rights at risk:

  • the right of using this public road without any limitations by your wall building,

  • the right of keeping open all the land that traditionally was part of this public road (kinokristo),

  • the right of further using all the unfenced land that was accessible for more than 30 years ( actually several hundred years), on both sides of this road,

  • the right of enjoying the beauty of this cultural monument and of having it preserved as part of the officially protected heritage in this village (Government Gazette of 1978).

Well, there is much more on stake than just another violation of existing Greek building law, as we witness it again and again. We live and work here in Kazaviti, because it is a unique cultural and natural asset. The old roads are an essential part of it. THAT is our concern- not so much if you stop your “kalimera” from today.

Dr. Thomas Schultze-Westrum

ECOCULTURE

Kazaviti

There was no reply… And in later years the same architect“embellished“ the entire facade of the second-oldest dated building of Kazaviti, wall to wall to his new house referred to in the Open Letter, by the use of cement mixed with beige pigment (#2 – #4). By this cosmetic treatment the original outer appearance vanished forever – so was the fate the original old road…

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This entry was posted on Oktober 5, 2010 at 19:24 and is filed under ECOCULTURE, European Dilemma - Greek Tragedy, Kazavition.

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