The Greek Silent Hill
Full Title: "Haravgi: visiting the Greek Silent Hill!"
What happens when a place is sacrificed for the benefit of a whole country? When some men are forced to leave their homeland for the others to have what they need? In these cases ghost towns are created, men are left without a home in their own country and a tragic story that no one wants to tell appears… a “forbidden” story.
a village is dying
We are referring to the village Haravgi in Ptolemaida, which was once a large village and now is nothing but a dead place surrounded by a poisonous atmosphere. I don’t know if you have watched the movie Silent Hill, but personally I felt as if I were walking into this world the summer of 2008 when we visited the village as part of our long trip in Greece for the Strange Traveller.
We came upon a bombarded place with hasty abandoned houses, heavy and highly cancerous air, stray dogs that have so much been affected by the isolation and the gloomy atmosphere of the place, a continuous humming coming from the machines of the Public Power Corporation (ΔΕΗ) and numerous lorries making circles around the village.
The evacuation started to take place in 1986. Until then, many protests, conflicts with the police forces and various others reactions have preceded. As a result, many villagers were convinced that they would never leave their village. Five years later the evacuation had finally been completed.
The beginning of this misfortune dates back in 1952, when the first production unit of thermoelectrical energy was installed in Ptolemaida being at first warmly welcomed by the local people. The locals had their reasons since they saw in an instant their place to experience a huge industrial development. Nowadays, in the wider area there are five power plants which cover the 70% of the power need of Greece, rendering the area in the largest energy center in Greece making it at the same time as one of the most polluted areas of the country.
“The PPC’s machinery had reached the houses of the village. The situation was unbearable due to the noise, the dirt, and the dust. The last five years we’d been experiencing a nightmare”, says Mr. Konstantinos Koutsardakis, the president of the community council in the new village, Nea Haravgi.
Christos Nathanailidis, a resident of the old village adds: “The pipe that transferred coal passed so close to the village that there was so much dust, dirt, and unhealthy air that it was impossible for anyone to keep living there. The ash that comes from the working place of the PPC is pure poison and has even caused the death of many people. Actually some years before the total evacuation, the atmosphere was horrible and no one could breathe properly.”
The evacuation was not completed smoothly. On the contrary, it started in 1974 under the military Junta and the villagers protested many times. Countless times they ended up to the court in order to define the compensation that they would receive for the houses and the land they were leaving behind. However, the real drama was played not about the money they would get as compensation but it had to do with the elders that had lived their whole life in this place and now they had to abandon it.
“For the elderly who had lived a whole lifetime in the old village, the expropriation of their home and land was a very hard experience. Many of them never managed to feel the new place as a new home. It is very painful to abandon the place where you’ve grown up and where you used to play when you were a kid”, says the president of the community council in Nea Haravgi, whereas Mr. Savvidis, a resident of the old and the new village, explains that “Indeed, it was very difficult for the elderly, as it was for all of us, but we had no other choice. No other solution was to be found. No one supported us and a village on its own couldn’t do anything. They made us do whatever they wanted!”
re-occupation of another polluted place
So, the evacuation was completed in 1990 and the new village was founded 5 km in the east of Kozani and was named Nea Haravgi. However, a few villagers never abandoned the old Haravgi. During our visit to this place with the sickly and cancerous atmosphere, we met at least two families who continue living there – one of them had actually a small girl – whereas later some villagers confirmed it to us.
“There are some families that continue living there. These people are stock farmers and they never abandoned the old village” says Mr. Nathanailidis, whereas Mr. Savvidis adds that “everyone wonders how they keep living there. Especially in the summer, the living conditions are unbearable and everything is covered in dust.”
Despite the hardships that were caused by the evacuation and the abandonment of their native land, we would expect that the conditions in the new village would somehow comfort the villagers. Unfortunately, this is not the case according to Mr. Savvidis: “Today we still face the same problems since the village is surrounded by power plants with tall stacks that belch the ash out in the air.”
According to WWF, the two most polluted areas from power plants in Europe for the year 2006 were in Greece. Only the power plant in Ptolemaida emits so much carbon dioxide as the quantity they emit together 3,000,000 cars! On the other hand, this power plant is the main energy source in Greece. So, does the end justify the means? Or, the forbidden history that is created by such places can really awake us?
Who is Who
Author-Photographer: Nikolaos Koumartzis
Assistant researcher: Nikoleta Kiapidou
Translation: Rania Ioannou
The stacks of the nearby PPC (ΔΕΗ) power plant (Ptolemaida).
From the interior of an abandoned house in the village.
The church of the once large village.
The church clock stopped at 11:37.
The abandonment is obvious in the village square.
Empty buildings in the square. Anything that could be used
again (wires, lamps, glass etc) have been removed.
A few metres from the church and the village the brown coal is moved after its extraction.
Pontokomi, Kleitos… the half-erased signs all over the village which point
to the nearby villages that are about to face abandonment as well.
A sign out of the village shows the way towards Kleitos,
a village in which the evacuation has already started.
The signs since the residents of the place have changed. Nowadays,
the permanent visitors of the village are the workers of the PPC mines.
A view from the exterior of an abandoned house in Haravgi.
The dogs had been left behind to live in a place where the isolation
and the heavily tainted air made them distant towards the few visitors.
Note: This article has initially been published in issue 13 of the historical magazine Forbidden History.
Translated by: ophelia