Heritage lost to future generations despite protests by locals

Thera Municipality’s inexcusable – and irreversible – actions began in early December, when a demolition team moved in and began tearing down the uniquely sculptured rock formations along the route between the Karterados coast and the beach at Monolithos, completely spoiling the landscape. According to the experts, it took years for the elements to create these natural sculptures in the volcanic material. The demolition began on December 7. When local residents saw the bulldozers move in to knock down not just dangerous overhanging rock but an entire area of about 500-600 meters, they informed a municipal councillor belonging to the opposition, who got in touch with the municipality and the port authority. As a result, and despite pressure from some locals who want the existing, illegal coastal road widened, as well as from officials in the municipality and port authority, an effort was begun to save these natural monuments by a number of islanders, who on December 8 went to the town hall to find out what was happening. They received the reply that work was in progress to widen the existing road (although the municipality is officially denying this). Asked whether the municipal council had ruled on the decision or whether the necessary permit had been issued, the reply was negative. The same day, Municipal Councillor Nikos Zorzos informed the head of the port authority. On Wednesday, December 10, Chryssoula Sigalou, a lawyer, submitted an official protest to the Thera zoning bureau both on her own behalf and that of the artist Christoforos Asimis. The head of the bureau immediately went to check the site and the same day submitted the protest to the port authority. However, despite protests to the municipal and the port authorities, work continued apace in difficult weather conditions, high winds and light rain, until 11.30 p.m. on Wednesday night. According to Deputy Harbor Master Nikos Matoulas, the port authorities claim that as soon as they were told of the work in progress along the Karterados coastline, on Tuesday, December 9, they briefed the Naxos prosecutor’s office and the property department of the Cyclades Prefecture, and told the municipality to continue the job of removing the rubble so as not to destroy the coast. However, the plaintiffs believe the port authority has been dragging its feet. Mayor’s view Roussos, who denies the work is being done to widen the road, but simply to create a safety zone for passers-by, claims he has done nothing illegal. «Is there any decree protecting this site? They are simply piles of sand that keep breaking off and could kill someone. Some sections fell during the rains and we are simply taking them away, along with others that were ready to fall. In fact, there are still more that need to be removed,» he said, claiming the whole issue depended on one’s point of view. «Some people might look at a glass and think it beautiful, whereas I might think it is ugly and throw it away,» he said. The involvement of the prosecutor’s office and the Cyclades property department has led to a delayed reaction from the municipality’s technical department. Two civil engineers, Costas Siogas and Apostolos Savvopoulos, have examined the site and issued a report that the municipality’s work at the site has not defaced the coastline, that no action has been taken to widen the road and that the vertical rock formations are extremely corroded and need to be removed. Even people who have not seen the recent alterations to these natural monuments (but particularly those who have watched them being demolished in the name of «safety») have raised a number of questions. Firstly, if some sections of rock have actually collapsed, why has the municipality knocked them down instead of proceeding with caution and shoring up what is a natural monument for Santorini given the uniqueness of its volcanic formations? In other words, if a piece falls off a neoclassical building, do we knock the whole thing down? Secondly, shouldn’t the mayor have acted on the basis of a decision by the municipal council and a permit from the relevant services? The formations are everyone’s heritage. Then there is the question of why the municipality’s technical department examined the site after the action was taken and not before. If there were any indications that sections were ready to collapse, shouldn’t the engineers have been called in beforehand to decide where work should be done, instead of carrying out their inspection during the actual demolition? Finally, the authorities reiterate that Santorini’s soil is crumbly and dangerous «Santorini’s soil is soft but compact,» said Zorzos. If it were not, how then have homes been hollowed out of it, and stayed safe habitations for decades? «I believe that there is no respect for the environment,» said Zorzos.«This area, like others on the island, is a natural resource that is being squandered.»