Sunday, June 19, 2011

Decaying hotel, Nerantza, Greece

Greece has attracted tourists for centuries. In the 1800s, well-to-do young Brits visited Greece as part of their almost-obligatory continental tour. Some Philhellenes, like Lord Byron, lost their lives in the revolution when Greece freed itself from Ottoman domination. (From Wikipedia: Philhellenism ("the love of Greek culture") was an intellectual fashion prominent at the turn of the 19th century, that led Europeans like Lord Byron or Charles Nicolas Fabvier to advocate for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire.) By the late 1800s, foreign archaeologists were combing the countryside, excavating ancient sites.

The early 20th century was rough on tourism. Greece suffered dictatorship, the Balkan Wars, World War I, World War II, and the brutal civil war, during which almost 20 percent of the population perished. Finally, with the advent of the Truman Doctrine and the defeat of the communist forces, Greece slowly pulled itself out of poverty and began to rebuild. Adventurous tourists came in the 1950s, and Greek builders began to erect big box hotels to attract the mass-market crowd in the 1960s.

This example is a hotel in the town of Nerantza (Νεράντζα), a farming and vacation village about 15 km west of Corinth on the south shore of the Gulf of Corinth.

I suppose it was a necessary economic step, but the 1960s and 1970s were a rough phase in Greece's architectural and cultural history. Mass market tourists cared little for archaeology and culture, but were drawn by cheap lodgings, sun, beer, wine, and sex.

The hotel has been deserted since well before 1992, when I first visited Nerantza. A relative remembers when he taught water-skiing to tourists here in the 1960s.

I remember these hotels: drafty, echoey, and charmless. As late as the 1970s, you had to find out when the hot water would be on, but you could always have a cold shower. The bathrooms were a wet mess after a shower. They were damaging to the environment because often they overwhelmed the local sewage treatment systems, and excess runoff ran into the sea. Tourists used far more water than local inhabitants.

This was the kitchen. Breakfast was a boring affair with a mandatory two pieces of bread (yesterday's leftovers?), a piece of pound cake, Nescafe, orange drink, and a certain number of grams of butter. The government must have established this as a minimum standard for all hotels. No delicious, crusty peasant bread at these establishments.

Here was a pool, even though the sea was across the street.

The problem with this hulk is no developer wants to pay for demolition, and the architecture is unsuited for contemporary hotel use. The United States is not the only country where commercial structures are abandoned, leaving the municipality (and taxpayers) to deal with demolition and environmental issues.

Nerantza must have experienced a building boom in the 1960s because there are a number of unfinished concrete frames along the main road. Did tourists lose interest? Was the setting not glamorous enough for a resort? With the completion of the high-speed rail link to Athens, the town is becoming a popular place for vacation and year-round homes. Farm fields are disappearing, to be replaced by concrete.

All photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera and Olympus 14-54 mm f/2.8 lens.

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