The destruction of Thera

The 10-year rocky road to a planning scheme for the Cyclades, embarked on with funding by the then-EEC under a New Democracy government and later tucked away in a Ministry of Planning (YPEHODE) drawer and forgotten, is all too well known. Only recently, at the insistence of Rodoula Zisi, deputy minister of YPEHODE, and Minister of the Aegean Nikos Sifounakis, were presidential decrees issued that provided for zoning schemes – for some islands. During the 10 years in which the planning scheme was not implemented, the Cyclades underwent huge destruction. People built wherever and however they wanted, opened stores wherever it suited them, built hotels (mostly of poor quality), constructed swimming pools and turned fields, vines, rocks and sand into building plots. Accomplices to this destruction were local administrative bodies, planning departments and so-called local society – groups representing large and small interests – and all this with the acquiescence or open connivance of YPEHODE. Letters have been sent from Santorini, which, along with Myconos, has suffered the worst damage to its natural and historical environment as well as to the local community in these last few years of anarchical and unaccountable tourist development. The letters describe how last week the island’s municipal council, after a stormy discussion and with a majority of just one vote, approved the environmental study for the construction of a large hotel in the area of Akrotiri, near the famous archaeological site. But the validity of these environmental studies cannot be guaranteed. The overall zoning plan, which they must conform to, is not in force to regulate where people can build houses, hotels or shops and where they can cultivate fava beans and the famous Santorini tomatoes. Usually environmental studies are carried out by the interested parties, and thus serve their aims. What is certain is that the specific environmental study will be seething with inaccuracies and be in flagrant contravention of the planning scheme not yet in force. Obviously, the interested parties are trying to present a fait accompli since the planning scheme has not been implemented, as has happened on other Cycladic islands. The planning scheme for Akrotiri forbids construction within 500 meters of the shore – most of the hotel lies within this 500-meter limit. Notwithstanding, the municipal council approved the study. Besides all this skullduggery, and quite apart from what is in force and what is not, the site chosen for the new hotel starkly depicts all of Santorini’s geological upheaval, an authentic sculpted landscape carved into Theran soil. Akrotiri lies some way away from the noisy, bustling town of Fira and until today, the landscape has remained virtually untouched. In the last few years, efforts have been made to extend «development» there, so that nothing of what we once knew will be left. Finally, the chosen site lies near a unique archaeological site, both in size and importance, where archaeological research is still in its first stages and will take many more years to complete. Nor can it be predicted with any accuracy how extensive it may be. For all these reasons, one would have thought that Akrotiri would have been the starting point of quite a different kind of development.

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