Made with love and money, the buildings of elegance still stand

Traveling through Greece, one finds that the beauty of the landscape surpasses that of the man-made environment. With the exception of a few traditional settlements that, happily, have been preserved, or the occasional tasteful building in the midst of an otherwise unattractive urban environment, nature is generally more beautiful than the architecture that people have built in it. The buildings that housed community schools are usually among those that pleasantly stand out. Because they were public buildings, both care and money – occasionally coming from benefactors or public fund-raising – were put into erecting them, thus ensuring the optimum monumentality and elegance. As they were public buildings, schools were fortunately not pulled down during the passage of time, and although most of them nowadays are in a state of neglect, they have luckily been listed as monuments for preservation by the Greek Culture Ministry’s Directorate of Folk Culture. Four hundred schools were listed from 1950 to the present (most of them in the 1980s after the establishment of the Directorate of Folk Culture which fostered an awareness of modern Greek monuments). Classified in the archives of the Ministry of Culture, they are now the subject of «Modern Greek Schools, 1830-1940,» a fully illustrated book issued by the Directorate of Folk Culture itself, in an attempt to make public an important part of modern Greek culture. Although the book is not for sale (the only books issued by the ministry that are sold are channeled through Archaeological Receipts Fund), the ministry has sent it to the various municipalities across the country and to a select number of specialists on Greek modern architecture. The book, which follows a publication on Greece’s industrial, architectural monuments, also by the Ministry of Culture, classifies the schools geographically, across the country’s prefectures, thus enabling the reader to trace the regional development of architectural styles. But other than its abundant collection of images, the book does not probe architectural styles and historical background. This is, of course, too ambitious a project to be carried out in a single book but with the help of the visual material made available though the current book, it could hopefully spark the interest of a private publishing company. Another interesting aspect of the book is that it helps raise the issue of listed buildings and their management by the state. Declaring buildings as listed deters their immediate demolition but does not ensure their restoration. Some of them (including recently the school of the Tenea municipality) have been renovated and put to use by the municipality of each region to which they are property. But others, especially those in areas that are no longer inhabited, are in a gradual dilapidation. In both cases, «Modern Greek Schools, 1830-1940» has already guaranteed their documentation.

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