Saturday, April 28, 2012

Historic Houses, Ano Trikala, Peloponnese, Greece

Drive about three hours west of Athens into the northern mountains of the Peloponnese, and you reach a cluster of historic villages on the north slopes of Kyllini (click for the Google map link). At an altitude of about 1100 m (3600 ft) they are cool even in summer and snowy in winter. The area is famed for cherries and olives. Built on the ruins of the ancient Miseo, the villages consist of Kato (Down), Mesaia (Middle) and Ano (Up) Trikala, but really merge into one community now.

Trikala has been occupied for a long time. You can see semi-ruined stone houses throughout the town, many of which may date from the late-1800s or early 1900s. They typically were built of stone walls and wood roof joists, so even after the roof rots and fails, the walls will remain for decades or centuries.

A few notes on rural depopulation: Until the early 1960s, Greece had a largely agrarian economy. Many villagers lived an almost self-contained existence, growing their own produce, and selling some products, such as olive oil, in coastal cities. Because of bad roads, a trip to the coast from an interior village was a long and tiring effort. Starting in the 1960s, Greece experienced an economic boom, and with it came better roads and education. Children were educated and moved to the city. Urban life was easier, more exciting, and more cosmopolitan. Many only occasionally returned to their original homes to see their parents and grandparents, and slowly, many interior villages depopulated. By now, two generations have lived in the city, and many of these city dwellers have no interest in the backbreaking work and comparative loneliness of a mountain village (Where are the nightclubs, the shops, the music scene?). A moving and personal description of the gulf between urban and rural residents is described in The Olive Grove: Travels in Greece, by Katherine Kizilos, an Australian journalist of Greek descent (Paperback: 260 pages; Publisher: Lonely Planet Publications (September 1997); Language: English; ISBN-10: 0864424590).

Some older houses have been restored and are occupied, such as this handsome house with a carved doorway.

The prosperity of the late-1990s and early 2000s brought tourism to some towns, especially ones like Trikala with spectacular settings and great views. The developers moved in and overbuilt vacation bungalows and apartments. Just as in the USA, many are now bankrupt, and their apartments stand empty. With the ongoing financial crisis, few Greeks are buying property now. The eternal dream is that rich Germans or Americans will come to Greece, buy property, and spend money. Vacation bungalow anyone?

(All photographs taken with a Fuji F31fd digital camera. This time I violated my normal tripod rule on architecture and hand-held the camera.)

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