CULTURE

Islands of memory: A ‘tiny homeland’ saved

he complex of eight apartment blocks on Alexandras Avenue that was built to house many of the refugees from Asia Minor after the Greek-Turkish population exchange of 1922 have been saved. They had been the target of developers since 1967 but the past five years had been the most harrowing, as only two had been declared listed monuments and the rest seemed destined for demolition and «development.» On November 27, the Culture Ministry’s Central Council for Contemporary Monuments voted by 14-1 to declare the remaining six monuments. The walls of the Bauhaus-influenced complex bear the marks of World War II, the bullets of the civil war that followed and were witness to liberation in 1944 as well as countless political demonstrations and labor protests, situated as they are on Alexandras, opposite the old Panathinaikos soccer stadium. But in 2003, as Athens was being «beautified» in the runup to the Olympic Games, the buildings seemed to have reached the end of the road, with some residents of the 228 apartments selling out, while 51 owners of 120 apartments stood firm and filed a suit with the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court. There was talk of the buildings being bulldozed to make way for a park, with an underground parking garage. The Council of State blocked any further developments until the Culture Ministry explained why it had not ruled as to whether six of the eight apartment blocks were to be declared as listed as well or not. Now, 86 years after the Asia Minor catastrophe and 72 since the state built the apartments to house refugees who had been living in shacks, the 14,500 square meters covered by the eight buildings will remain landmarks in an Athens that keeps changing its appearance. When the neglected facades are restored, they will highlight the unique architecture of the stone buildings that have withstood the ravages of time and so many earthquakes but trembled before the earthquake of «development.» I dedicate this commentary to the first generation of refugees who set the foundations for what followed.