A Pearl of the Mountains – with restrictions (still)
You have to drive countless serpentines from the Messara plains up the top of the Asterousia mountains to reach at some point a small village that overlooks a beautiful valley. One is in Miamou, a melodious name that immediately imprints itself. To the left and right of the thoroughfare are the typical whitewashed houses. If you continue, you will reach the Libyan Sea and the small coastal village of Lentas after again endless curves.
If one stops, however, for a Greek mocha in the only cafenion, and then rises up the hill, which towers over everything, then one finds oneself fast in a tangle of narrow streets again. These are lined with mostly disintegrated stone houses, mute witnesses of another time, as here partly still more than 300 people lived. Today it’s around the 65.
Amidst this collection of half-ruins, which make up the larger part of the mountain community, you will surprisingly find a not only intact, but also very beautiful building. It is a new community center, built with support for rural development, with a small museum (with everyday items from Cretan farmers), a lounge, kitchen and library. Nearby is the old schoolhouse, which has been renovated and is now used for larger events and celebrations.
A Cretan, a club, a project
Both buildings are representative of a project that was once initiated by Kostas Manidakis. For the geologist, he studied at the University of Genoa, it is both a matter of the heart and a life task to renovate the dilapidated village center and to revive the community as a whole. What about he had from the beginning his very own and sophisticated ideas.
Not less than a new sense of community is to move into the village with the restoration of the dilapidated buildings. This required first of all to counteract the factual obsolescence. Young people should again be offered a perspective here. Three of the dilapidated houses have recently been owned by the association, which Manidakis founded together with like-minded people several years ago (Cultural Association of Miamou-Lentas Asclepius). They are to be renovated next. Two of these are then provided to young couples with children, along with some parcels of land. The third is to host volunteers who are temporarily involved in the project.
External support has not necessarily been lacking in the past. For example, by the Asklepios Society in Heraklion, which includes archaeologists and architects, but also by the former president of Crete, Stavros Kambelis. A Swedish contractor currently wants to provide active as well as material support. In fact, there are always groups of tourists who are meticulously hosted by Manidakis and led around.
Social counter model
But the thoughts of the strong and tall Crete man go further on. Against the background of the Greek crisis, a counter-proposal based on grassroots principles is to be installed here. Self-determination and self-organization as a basis, self-sufficiency, as far as possible (“50 or 60 years ago, the region was still independent from the outside”, so Manidakis in a Youtube clip). And job creation is of course on the agenda. Cooperation and collective structures are announced. In and with these traditional cultivation and processing techniques in agriculture are to be revived, combined with organic farming. The kitchen in the parish hall has often been the altar of traditional cooking and bakery arts. Well-tried crafting techniques should not be forgotten in equal measure. Explicitly for all this networking and international exchange is looked for. With guided tours and cultural festivals one also wants to appeal to the many tourists who lodge on the nearby coast.
A demanding program, the gods of Crete may confirm it. But also one that is appropriate in times when the Greek population is suffering from the effects of the EU austerity policy. However, it requires a departure from a certain ego trip, which is also subjugated by many Cretans. Only together and collectively will you be able to tackle the many problems. The project Miamou is a concrete example of what the Greek sociologist Gorgia Bekridaki describes: “People are trying to face the crisis by creating new structures of solidarity, building new-type relationships, new forms of neighborhood, new public spaces, initial approaches to respond to a general change. ”
And another “construction site”
Not to be forgotten here is a second “pillar” of the association. In nearby Lentas there is the “Asklepios sanctuary”, excavations of an ancient sanatorium, which is named after the ancient doctor Asclepius. In addition to the care of the already exposed treasures, the association is committed to enabling a continuation of the excavations. The area is a treasure trove according to experts and should hold many more surprises ready.
If you visit the sanctuary and drive back through Miamou, you will not necessarily know what can be read in Siegfried Laufer’s standard work “Encyclopedia of the Historic Sites of Greece”: “In Miamou, Italian archaeologists laid a Neolithic residential and burial place free; it shows the sequence of original dwelling and later burial ground typical of the caves of Crete “.
Indeed, the village really has tradition. Back to the Stone Age. One more reason to support the not always easy way to a prosperous future.
All photos exept the first: Arn Strohmeyer