With its vernacular architecture, beautiful courtyard, expansive view and solid, castle-like presence, the Pavlos Kountouriotis Mansion on the island of Hydra is one of those buildings that are hard to forget.
It was built in the early 19th century by Georgios Kountouriotis, an influential businessman whose family owned almost half of the island's fleet, and who was also a popular politician and even served as prime minister under King Otto.
Pavlos Kountouriotis was his grandson, a naval hero, legendary admiral of the Averoff warship during the Balkan Wars and also a politician who rose through the ranks to become president. He was very attached to his family home and tried to keep up with the property's maintenance even though he lived in Athens. He died in the Greek capital in 1935, but was buried near the mansion, according to his wishes – so he could be close to the sea.
In 1991, Kountouriotis's heirs agreed to sell the mansion to the state on the condition that it would be used for the Pavlos Kountouriotis Museum of Post-Byzantine Art and the History of Hydra Island. They also donated all of the contents of the house that were valuable from a historical, archaeological or artistic point of view.
It's been 26 years, however, and their wish has still not been fulfilled, and the mansion has remained closed to the public except on a handful of occasions. In 2007, it hosted an exhibition of work by Hydra-born artist Panayiotis Tetsis, and in 2011 another on Alekos Fassianos.
Why is such a beautiful space, which not only holds the potential to host art shows and concerts but also to operate as a testament to the history of the modern Greek state and the Greek War of Independence, not being exploited? Why does it exude such an air of abandonment, even though the state has carried out preservation work? The admiral's heirs have contacted the Culture Ministry (which is responsible for the site) on several occasions and the answer is always the same.
“There aren't enough funds to hire the required guards,” says Stella Chrysoulaki, director of the Ephorate of Antiquities for Western Attica, Piraeus and the Islands. “It is indeed an amazing space, which is like a museum without the display cases because it has a plethora of objects and therefore must be guarded. Unfortunately, because of the crisis and even though we have taken all the necessary steps, it has not been possible to hire the necessary number of guards.”
To understand just how much of a lost opportunity this is, visitors to Hydra should take the time to visit the mansion of Lazaros Kountouriotis – Georgios's brother – which opens to the public from March to October every year, and the Tetsis's house/studio. Both belong to the National Historical Museum, which maintains them in perfect order.