Grave problems afflict Athens

Athenians used to queuing for hours before state bureaucrats, being stuck in traffic jams or waiting for that trolley bus that never comes, now face a more embarrassing inconvenience, albeit one they will never experience in person. Municipal officials warn that the city’s growing population, combined with a dearth of open spaces and other problems less mentionable in polite society, have led to long waiting lists for burial in the capital’s crowded, increasingly pricey cemeteries. The other option, cremation, is illegal in Greece. Athens Deputy Mayor Katerina Katrivanou told Kathimerini that bereaved families are forced to delay funerals for up to two weeks in the more popular cemeteries as there are just not enough graves to go around. «All three of the Athens Municipality’s cemeteries, which were created in the 19th and early 20th centuries, are now in built-up areas,» Katrivanou said. «The problem is worst in the Second Cemetery. If a deceased person’s relatives insist on the funeral taking place there, the body is kept for 10-15 days in the cemetery fridges until there is an opening.» To add to that problem, the practice of exhuming bodies three years after burial, and placing their bones in a separate part of the cemetery, is under threat from corpses that just will not decompose. «This is now a daily occurrence,» Katrivanou said. «It is due not only to the food and medicine the average person now consumes during their life, but also to the dampness in certain cemeteries and the poor quality of the soil, which is not renewed.» «I think it is necessary for cremation to be allowed as an option,» she added. According to funeral parlor owners, the only Athens cemetery without crowding problems is the one in Zografou.