THE CYCLADIET LANDSCAPE IS AT RISK OF CHANGING
Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros on the “threshold” of the list of threatened European cultural heritage sites
The alarming course of destruction of the unique landscape and the natural and residential environment of the Cyclades is highlighted by the proposal of the Hellenic Society for Environment and Culture (ELLET) for the institution of threatened monuments and places of cultural heritage of the Europa Nostra organization. The candidacy of Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, as cases representative of the dramatic change that has taken place in the Cyclades in recent years, qualified for the institution’s short list, with the final results to be announced in April.
The proposal submitted by ELLET for Europa Nostra’s “7 Most Endangered 2024” refers to the entire Cyclades. “The Cyclades, famous for their unique charm and rich culture, are faced with a multitude of challenges posed by the surge in tourist development and uncontrolled construction. Despite the economic development that is achieved, a number of environmental, cultural and social issues are also created at the same time, such as the degradation of natural resources, the destruction of cultural heritage, water scarcity, waste management problems and socio-economic inequalities. The islands are at risk of losing their authentic character, as rapid tourist development threatens to overshadow their inherent beauty,” the nomination text states.
“Especially the small island destinations of the Cyclades are under significant pressure from over-tourism, in terms of infrastructure burden and increasing demand for hospitality. Demand for buildings outside settlement boundaries is very high and construction unprecedented. The figures of the Hellenic Statistical Authority reveal a steady increase in new building permits, from 916 in 2018 to 1,280 in 2022. The built-up square meters, increasing from 291,722 sq.m. in 2018 in 419,232 sq.m. in 2022, underline the intensification of construction activity. In just four years, the new square meters built on the Cyclades islands have doubled, even tripled”, estimates ELLET. As an example of the uncontrolled construction and touristization of the islands, ELLET mentions the construction in areas outside the plan, which destroys the agricultural land and its trace in the Cycladic landscape (terraces, agricultural infrastructure, paths). ELLET chose three islands as characteristics of the ongoing change, Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros.
“They are changing fast”
“Obviously the choice is subjective,” says Stathis Potamitis, new president of ELLET. “The three islands were chosen because of their particularity: they were not very touristic islands, but in recent years they have been changing rapidly. Therefore, we must highlight the problem in an effort to preserve them.” Through the nomination, ELLET wishes to provoke a wider reflection on the issues of hypertourism. “ELLET tries to approach the issues in a balanced way. That is why he does not condemn the development, but talks about a tourism development in the Cyclades in terms of sustainability, which will not destroy what one visits them for. We must not be carried away by the explosion of their popularity, which will disappear after a few years, since it will have caused irreversible damage.
In the context of the candidacy, ELLET also submitted its proposals for dealing with the reckless development of the Cyclades. First of all, he points out the need to complete the special spatial planning framework for tourism and of course the regional spatial planning framework for the South Aegean (the only one that has not been ratified to date, remaining more than two years in the drawers of the Ministry of Environment), as well as the special environmental studies for Natura 2000 areas (also ignored for two years). He also believes that the urban plans being developed on the islands must define landscape protection zones, limit interventions and construction, in order to preserve the unity of the landscape.
“Most of the Cyclades are looking for solutions to the problems of traffic congestion, noise pollution, managing huge volumes of waste and the growing need for water and energy. Efforts are being made to address some of these through regulations, sustainable practices and local community involvement. The local authorities and environmental organizations work with the aim of achieving the balance between economic development and the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the islands”, states the ELLET nomination text. It should be noted that the supporters of the candidacy include all three mayors of the islands.
The selection of the 11 nominations, including the Greek one, was made by an international advisory committee, which consists of experts in history, archaeology, architecture, conservation, project analysis and finance. Nominations for the 7 Most Endangered 2024 program were submitted by member organisations, partner organizations or individual members of Europa Nostra, as well as members of the European Heritage Alliance. According to an announcement by ELLET, the choice was made based on the high cultural importance of each of the monuments, as well as the serious danger they face today. The degree of involvement of local communities and the commitment of public and private agencies to save these sites were considered critical factors in their evaluation.
The monuments in Europe that complete the eleven
“Selected cultural heritage sites are threatened by demolition, deviant development, the devastating effects of natural disasters, neglect or lack of funding,” says Europa Nostra’s executive president, Professor Dr. Hermann Parzinger, of the 11 most threatened sites and monuments. in Europe that make up the list for 2024. Apart from the Cyclades, most of the entries concern monuments. In Belgium, the historic building of the Palais de Midi is under threat. It was designed in 1875. Today it houses a school, public services, shops and gymnasiums, but due to the expected construction of a subway line, part of it will have to be demolished, which, with its inclusion in the list, it tries to avoid.
In Italy, the church of Saint Peter in Milan, which was built in the 13th century, is under threat. Europa Nostra emphasizes the need for preservation and protection of the temple and its works of art. At the same time, in Siena there is one of the few European examples of synagogues that were created before the 19th century – in 1786 – that have not been destroyed and are still used by the local community. The earthquake last February caused significant damage to the synagogue, which is in immediate need of maintenance.
The Greek Orthodox church of Agios Georgios in the town of Altinozos, which is believed to have been built in 1364, also needs maintenance after last February’s earthquake. Europa Nostra calls it a “treasure for the local community” and included it on the list, not only thanks to need to protect the church, but also the rich cultural diversity and heritage of Europe. Elsewhere in Turkey, Europa Nostra is drawing attention to the Iron Gate of Antioch, not only for preservation reasons, but also to generate greater interest in the monument in the community itself.
Two more buildings are included in the list. Sztynort Palace, built in the 17th century in Poland and of historical importance, not only for the country itself but also for the rest of the continent, and in urgent need of preservation, and the home of the Yugoslav People’s Army in Serbia. This particular building, of historical and architectural importance, is a cultural meeting point in the city of Sabate and is threatened by its possible sale to a private individual and possible demolition. In France, according to Europa Nostra, the remaining workers’ housing in the cities of Roubaix and Tourquan, in the north of the country, buildings that are part of the history of the region’s textile workers and their living conditions, are threatened with demolition. The ancient walls at Porto Romano in Durrës, Albania are on the list because of their location near cranes where loading and unloading of the port takes place, due to which a part of them has already been destroyed. The list is completed with the Aberd fortress in Armenia, which began to be built in the 7th century, and today is a tourist destination, with the aim of communicating its importance to the wider European community.
“Europe’s heritage must be preserved,” emphasizes Dr. Parzinger, “not only as a testimony to our shared past, but also as a catalyst for a sustainable, cohesive and peaceful future.”
Source: “THE DAILY”