November 27, 2010


 École Francaise d'Athénes: The Delphi Excavations, 1892-93

Human geography is innately conservative; once a location has been successfully occupied for a significant length of time, it is rarely abandoned, unless conditions change radically. Temples were often founded on the sites of primitive shrines until superseded in turn by Christian churches, while cyclopean walls, byzantine castles and crusader keeps might succeed one another upon the same commanding position. If such a site is eventually abandoned, the consecutive strata offer rich picking to archaeologists; conversely, continued occupation often poses serious practical problems, such as occur almost daily in Athens or Rome.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the site of ancient Delphi was almost entirely covered by the village of Kastri. The new Greek state, however, fully alive to the crucial role to be played in the development of national consciousness by identification with ancient Greece, showed particular interest in this historically and emotionally loaded site; the earliest tentative excavations, by the German architect Edmund Laurent, were carried out at the express order of the first head of state, John Capodistria.

Full-scale excavations were obviously out of the question until the village could be removed elsewhere; it took 68 years to complete the process of removal, beginning with a census in 1838. Among the problems to be dealt with were the excessive claims of the locals, at least according to government functionaries (“They will demand three, perhaps even four times the value of their property”, opined an inspector of finances), the already hydra-headed Greek bureaucracy, the earthquake of 1870 and a persistent plague of bandits. Confirming that nothing ever changes, a report dated 1841 informs us that some considerable time after all new construction had been forbidden, “repeated requests were submitted, demanding either that excavations be put in hand, or that construction permits be issued”.

It appeared for a moment that the earthquake might open the way to a final resolution of the problem. In a letter, the Secretary General of the Archaeological Society claimed that “the majority of inhabitants, consumed by fear of earthquakes and fearing a violent repetition, genuinely desire to remove from Delphi”. There were, of course, a few stubborn holdouts (“some few old men prefer to die in their ancestral huts”), but in general the secretary felt he could conclude “rejoicing that the Delphi earthquakes have been the occasion for this missive”.

Things were not that simple. Before the village could be moved the villagers had to be compensated, but no funds were available for the purpose. In 1879, the French Archaeological School of Athens expressed an interest in undertaking the excavation at French government expense, and a serious attempt at concluding a treaty between the two governments came close to fruition in 1881. There followed interminable negotiations between the French, the Greek government and the Kastriotes, which ended in 1891 when relevant legislation was finally passed.  As usual, however, putting it into practice proved another matter entirely. In September, according to Théophile Homolle, the School’s director, “no sooner had work began, than the whole village gathered round, and the more hot-blooded among the inhabitants attacked the workmen and took the tools from their hands, shouting that because compensation had not been paid, they would prevent work from proceeding…”.

It is to the work of the Ecole Francaise, and particularly Homolle’s interest in photography, that we owe the photographs which commemorate the unusual (and very provisional) co-existence of an extensive archaeological excavation and an occupied settlement. The Kastriotes were eventually removed to a new site, abandoning Delphi to archaeologists – and tourists. I admit to a certain satisfaction upon finding that even forty years later, the descendants of the Kastriotes were making their presence felt: in a document dated 1930, Alexander Kondoleon, Overseer of Antiquities, complains that “the women of Delphi persist in washing their clothes in the Kastalian spring”. Amen.

Adapted from John Stathatos, Archaeologies, Thessaloniki Museum of Photography, 2003. Quotations from Delphoi, Anazitontas to chameno iero [Delphi, Searching for the Lost Sanctuary], École Francaise d’Athènes & Directorate of Delphi Antiquities, Yiannikos-Kalthis, Athens 1992.

November 24, 2010

CHANGE 28.10.10

28 October 2010, 8.25 am

November 21, 2010


From Κώστας Μανωλίδης, "Μορφοποιήσεις του καλλιεργημένου εδάφους" (2010)

In a recent post on his blog, the architect Kostas Manolidis proposes the term “ghost fields” for the increasingly numerous abandoned cultivations of rural Greece. Over time, the distinguishing marks of these fields and paddocks sink back into the landscape, becoming less and less visible to observers at ground level. From the air, however, the traces of what were once sites of intensive agricultural activity at once snap into focus - a technique already used to good effect by classical and medieval archaeologists. Manolidis has posted a set of diagrammatic maps of abandoned field systems from several different regions, together with the aerial photographs the diagrams are based on.

November 18, 2010


“Landscape with Ruins” is a succinct enough description of early Greek landscape photography. The ruins have multiplied a thousand fold since the 1860s, but in their latest guise they rarely attract the attention of seekers after the picturesque. Like ancient shrines and temples, the ferroconcrete skeletons of half-finished and abandoned structures are often to be found in particularly attractive locations (beaches, hilltops and woodland clearings are all favourites); they spread like festering sores, and like pustules, they are symptomatic of a deeper sickness in the body politic.

In the more innocent post-war years, unfinished or half-finished structures were usually encountered in towns and villages. They were indicative of a modest prosperity, sufficient to permit the building of a family home in stages: this year the foundations and load-bearing columns, next year the brickwork, the rendering and window frames whenever there was a good olive harvest. Often, when the ground floor was complete, rebars would be left protruding from the roof slab, witnesses to the ambition to someday add another floor to the structure.

In recent decades, however, the elaborate concrete skeletons in their mostly rural or semi-rural settings are almost always indicative of corruption, greed or hubris. It is these contemporary ruins that Jeff Vanderpool has photographed like so many new temples to Nemesis. The luxurious country villa dropped in the middle of a protected forest, the proposed seaside restaurant an illegal stone’s throw from the beach, the pharaonic development funded through who knows what ‘arrangements’ by EU money: all have been stalled, half-completed, by poor management, financial irresponsibility or – too rarely – court order.

Some will eventually be completed, once more money is raised and the right people have been bribed; others will remain in situ, crumbling far too gradually, a cynical legacy to future generations. For whilst a building may on occasion be legally condemned and a court order issued for its demolition, never in living memory has a single such order actually been carried out. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
Jeff Vanderpool, Dreams: Ruins of a Forgotten Future. Manifactura Gallery, Athens; to 2 December

Οι πρώτες φωτογραφίσεις του Ελληνικού τοπίου θα μπορούσαν σχηματικά να χαρακτηρισθούν “τοπία μετά ερειπίων”. Τα ερείπια έκτοτε έχουν πολλαπλασιασθεί, η τωρινή τους όμως όψη σπανίως πια προσελκύει τους λάτρεις του γραφικού. Όπως άλλοτε οι αρχαίοι ναοί, οι τσιμεντένιοι σκελετοί μισοτελειωμένων και εγκαταλελειμμένων κτισμάτων συναντιόνται κατά προτίμηση σε τοποθεσίες ιδιάζουσας ομορφιάς, όπως παραλίες, κορυφές λόφων ή δάση. Πληθαίνουν και απλώνονται σαν επιδερμικά καρκινώματα, συμπτώματα βαθύτερου νοσήματος στο σώμα της κοινωνίας.

Στα ποιό αθώα μεταπολεμικά χρόνια, τέτοιες κατασκευές συναντούσε κανείς κυρίως σε πόλεις και χωριά. Ήσαν ένδειξη μιας καινούργιας, σχετικής πάντα ευημερίας, αρκετής πάντως για το σταδιακό χτίσιμο της οικογενειακής οικίας: την πρώτη χρονιά θεμέλια και κολόνες, την άλλη τα τούβλα, ενώ ο σοβάς και οι κάσες ίσως περίμεναν την καλή χρονιά στις ελιές. Συχνά άφηναν αναμονές στη στέγη του ισογείου, ένδειξη ότι κάποτε θα έπεφτε και άλλος όροφος.

Τις τελευταίες όμως δεκαετίες, οι τσιμεντένιοι αυτοί σκελετοί, ως επί το πλείστον σε εξοχικές ή περιαστικές τοποθεσίες, είναι σχεδόν πάντα απόρροια διαφθοράς, πλεονεξίας ή ματαιοδοξίας. Τους καινούργιους αυτούς ναούς της Νέμεσης επέλεξε να φωτογραφίσει ο Jeff Vanderpool. Η πολυτελής βίλλα στη μέση του προστατευόμενου δάσους, η παραθαλάσσια ταβέρνα πάνω στον αιγιαλό, το φαραωνικό σύμπλεγμα που χρηματοδοτήθηκε, άγνωστο πως, από Ευρωπαϊκά κονδύλια: όλα έχουν παγώσει από έλλειψη χρημάτων, από κακοδιαχείριση η (πολύ σπανιότερα) ως αποτέλεσμα εισαγγελικής απόφασης.

Κάποια από αυτά τελικά θα αποπερατωθούν, όταν βρεθούν καινούργιοι πόροι και  δωροδοκηθούν τα κατάλληλα άτομα· άλλα πάλι θα παραμείνουν ως έχουν, φθαρμένα (δυστυχώς πολύ σιγά) από τον χρόνο, κυνική κληρονομιά στις ερχόμενες γενεές. Διότι εάν σε αραιά διαστήματα εκδίδεται καμιά διαταγή κατεδάφισης, το απολύτως βέβαιον είναι ότι ουδέποτε θα εκτελεσθεί. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice: Αν αναζητάς μνημείο, κοίταξε γύρω σου!
Jeff Vanderpool, Ερείπια ενός ξεχασμένου μέλλοντος. Γκαλερί Manifactura, Αθήνα, μέχρι 2 Δεκεμβρίου