KESSARIANI (Suburb of Athens) ATTIKI
Kessariani, before the settling of the refugees
The sight of the area, where the Municipality of Kessariani was later founded, at the foot of Hymettus a few years before the settlement of the refugees, was not particularly attractive to live in and to found a colony at. The site was rocky, busky and deserted and was crossed by Hiridanos that disembogued at Ilissos, which resulted in lush plantation and rich fauna. A short story, "The miracle of Kessariani", by Alexandros Papadiamandis, issued in 1901, is particularly illuminating. In this short story, Papadiamandis, referring to the folk belief about the miraculous water of the Hymettus' springs, said:
"There was a cave, beautiful on the huge rock, in an ash-greyish colour that dripped dew all over. The land smelled full of thyme, gorse and wild mint. A crowd of people, a bunch of women, many men and a swarm of children, some standing, others seated, some ill of different sicknesses, misshapen and crippled, were there, praying. The water was cool, sweet water, holy water. It had a musk smell, that was never again...".
This image of this area, naturally, accompanied its few inhabitants. In the 1920's census, when Kessariani was acknowledged as Athens' colony, its population, according to the data of the Statistics Service, only reached at 11 people! The main activity of the habitants was stock raising. It seems that these people were no permanent residents, but had temporary shacks, to which they took, according to their work. The only permanent resident of the area, reported, was the Macedonian warlord, Exarchos, who lived close to where Hotel "Caravel" is situated today.
There was a decision for the reforestation of the area of Kessariani since 1917. But this decision was never to be carried out, since the Minor Asian tragedy in 1922 caused a huge burst of refugees, part of which created the colonies in these reforesting grounds. The area of Kessariani - which was not a pastoral land - was used, mainly, by the army, but attended to the needs of the state as well. In particular, in the area of Ayios Nikolaos there were arsenals and three state medicine storehouses. In the same area there were also the stables for the guardsmen. The "Sigrou" hospital, donated by Andreas Sigros, completed the area's full picture. This hospital was completed in 1909 and was used for the treatment of the indigent who suffered from venereal disease. On the upper side of Kessariani, towards the monastery, the military unit of chemical war was situated, while in the area of the projectile station (near the cemetery today) there were barracks.
The settlement of the refugees in Kessariani
Among the areas of Attica where the Minor Asian refugees settled, was the colony of Kessariani. In late 1922, (according to some unconfirmed records) very few Minor Asian families settled, under extremely difficult conditions, in this area and set their tents near the Venereal Diseases' "Sigrou" Hospital (across the point where Hotel "Caravel" is situated today), in order to be close to their relatives - mostly women - victims of the Turkish's brutality, who had been, after their rape, afflicted with venereal diseases. Due to that, this area was originally named "Sigrou's Colony". In a few months - in the early 1923 - the state gradually settled about 8000 refugees, mostly from the coast of Minor Asia. (Further information on this matter can be provided on the webpage concerning the Centre of Minor Asian Culture).
The permanent settlement of the refuges in Kessariani
Several months after the first settlement of the refugees, a more organized effort from the state commenced. The choice of the area of Kessariani started the city's first definite phase that continues till 1935. Particularly, in May 1923, works began in Kessariani, that included the construction of 500 wooden hutments and 1000 adobe rooms built. This construction was adapted to that of the blocks. Particularly, every 10 or 12 houses made up a block. At the centre of every block, there was a kind of a court-like space, the communal lavatory. Two important women of Kessariani, the "priestess" of Greek traditional music, Domna Samiou and the writer Despina Fotinou, describe the squalid conditions, as each experienced it, at a different time and from a different point of view. The brickworks, as mentioned above, was the basic constructing method of houses for the refugees. These small structures, made of adobe, were deficient, allowing their users a small flexibility for personal initiative. In parallel to this constructive method, refugee apartment blocks are being built, in the late 1920s, two-storey in a similar formation within the block. Each household was granted acreage of approximately 36sq. These tenement houses lay along the old military street, around which Kessariani will spread, and reached the square to the elementary school built by Venizelos. Later on, some three-storey apartment blocks were also built.
An illustrative example of the conditions in the colony is an article, published in the "Acropolis" paper in September 14th 1929. The newspaper, on the occasion of the visit of the Mayor of Athens Sp. Merkouris at the colony, noted: "The Mayor confirmed himself that the standard of living of this colony's dwellers is altogether tragic. The water, which is being handed out, barely came up to 10 cubic meters until not long ago, though lately is being consumed by the constructors, who are building new structures. But the most tragic matter is of the colony's toilets, wooden shanties with wooden floors, beneath which there are open cesspits. These focuses of infection not only defile the whole colony with their fumes, but they're also a trap for incoming people due to the insubstantiality of the floors. Moreover the left-over of the cesspits, having no other outlet, disgorge to the streets".
The colony's water-supply
During the first years of their settlement, the people of Kessariani would take water from the so-called "Vrissaki". It was a tap, where Formionos street stands today, in the region of Hotel "Caravel", whence they carried water in containers. The area was named after "Vrissaki". Furthermore, at the area behind the "Hilton", a "pump" had been placed, which sent water to a tank situated at the "Two brothers" street of the colony (M. Karaoli street today). At the end of the 1920s, in 1929-1930, there were some taps installed in public places and in very few houses.
Streets - Transportation
The dirt roads remained for several years, as well as the deficient transportation. The avenue, the central road of the colony was originally tarmacced as far as the square, in the middle of the 1930s. It took a very long time though, for the rest of the colony to be paved with asphalt. The main roads were not until after 1950. One more illustrative remark on the conditions, is an article of the "Refugee's World" published on the 30th of October, 1927: "With the slightest rain Hymettus Av., from the end of the 12th tramway, to the colony of Kessariani, becomes totally impassable". At the 4th of December, 1927, the same newspaper noted: "the streets Eftichidou, Chremonidou and the so-called Hymettus Av., are impassable once it rains, full of mud and chuck-holes. All the interested parties, especially the people of Kessariani admittedly rejoiced at the news that the tramline of Pagrati will extend up to the colonies of Vironas and Kessariani". At last, another article of the same newspaper, in October 26th, in 1930, informs us that the dwellers of Kessariani - Hymettus protested to the Ministry of Transport against the lousy transportation in their areas and asked for cars from "Power" company to accommodate the needs of a total of 40.000 people.
The first school known as the "old schools" opened in 1924-1925 after intense efforts, near the Stream of Hiridanos. A school - the solution to a compelling need - which was rather some brickwork that looked more like a shanty. In 1929, Eleftherios Venizelos decided to construct a school in Kessariani, donated by his wife Elena Venizelou. The new school had a capacity of 400 students and borne the name of the donator, "Venizelos' School". There should be a special reference to the school founded in Kessariani, which facilitated handicapped children (today's Special Experimental School), since it is the first of its kind to function in Greece. Even now this school provides education to the handicapped people, thus considered to be one of the most important works of the interwar period.
Sports - Sports facilities
The Minor Asian refugees that settled in Kessariani were, as mentioned above, lively people thus couldn't be overwhelmed by the huge problems they were facing... The official football court was on the lower side of the Shooting Gallery and it was called "Korivo", while they usually used stones for goal-posts. Since 1924, while all the refugees fought for survival, the first independent athletic clubs appear with names, such as: "Tiger", "Invincible", "Armenian Union", "Hercules" et al. The first athletic club officially to be founded in Kessariani, in 1927, by the American Philanthropic Organization, "The Near-East Relief", was the club in the same name, "Near-East". The remarkable athletic activity of Kessariani was significantly boosted with the creation of the "Public Experimental Gym for Children", known as "Near East".
This text is cited December 2004 from the Municipality of Kessariani URL below, which contains images
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