Kalamata, a city revamped and reborn

It was shortly after the catastrophic earthquake of 1986 that the orchestra and choir of Thessaloniki’s Contemporary Music School (in which this writer participated) traveled to Kalamata to present a children’s opera. The title was «We’re Building a City.» More than 20 years later, the semi-ruined city that I vaguely recalled from childhood has been rebuilt. Based on a robust plan and after 10 years of persistent efforts, the historic center has been protected, scores of significant buildings have been listed for preservation, many neoclassical structures have been restored, and Kalamata has made a new start. Following the earthquake, the local administration made the most of state and European Union funding mechanisms in order to reconstruct the residential and social fabric of the city and breathe new life into it. «The appearance of the old city has changed and most houses are built to blend in with their immediate surroundings,» surveyor Panayiota Kourakli told Kathimerini. There are some jarring notes, of course. In Amfeias Square, for example, in the area known as Paplomatadika, with paved sidewalks, a five-story apartment block rears up among traditional low buildings housing ouzeris and cafes. Permanent residents of the Messenian capital have close ties to their city and support it warmly. «Nothing could tempt me to leave Kalamata,» said French teacher Christina Lampou. «I’m in love with my city,» said another Kalamata resident. Among the local authority’s immediate plans is the refurbishment of the main square, which will acquire trees. «At the same time, Aristomenous, the main shopping street, will become a light traffic zone with paving stones, and the sidewalks will be widened,» Kalamata Mayor Panayiotis Nikas told Kathimerini. Work is also beginning on rebuilding the city’s old hospital, which will be home to the new city hall as well as to numerous municipal services presently scattered among various premises. The city’s bicycle path is virtually out of use and considered unsafe. «In the next two years, the city will have a network of safe cycle paths,» said Nikas. A traffic congestion study has been assigned and experts and city officials are discussing controlled parking and connecting Vassileos Georgiou Avenue, now under construction, with the highway that will link the eastern and western parts of Kalamata.