When I first met Vasilis he was walking down the stairs of the large building he has been living in for the last thirty years in a slow pace. After he narrated how living in this Athenian neighborhood, made his life better, he waved goodbye wishing me “paç fat” which is the Albanian way of saying good luck. Vasilis came from Albania about thirty years ago, around his 40’s. He is one of the many migrants who came to Greece the last thirty years. When he arrived in Athens he found a place in Dourgouti, a neighborhood which even though it is geographically located in central Athens, at the same time it is very far.
Dourgouti was firstly inhabited by Armenian, Greeks and Pontic-Greek refugees who came after the Armenian Genocide, Asia Minor Catastrophe and the Pontic Genocide between 1914 till 1923. Specifically, during the Asia Minor catastrophe nearly one million and two hundred refugees of Greek origin arrive in Greece from Turkey. The rehabilitation of refugees was distinguished into rural and urban. Therefore, around thirty percent of the population moves to Athens. And thus, refugee settlements are beginning to take shape. Today, almost a century later, not many Pontic - Greeks live in the area. In the contrary, they have been replaced by contemporary waves of refugees and migrants, such as Albanians, Romanians, Syrians and Lebanese, among others.
The area’s unique history, reflects on both on its inhabitants but also its architecture. Originally, the area was a field with shanties, which became a refugee slum. Referring to the relationship between the area’s architectural state and its inhabitants, Henry Miller, in his book The Colossus of Maroussi, characteristically states:
"We killed our time wandering around the neighborhood, wondering not so much about the dirt, but about the moving effort of people to decorate their miserable huts. Although they were made of rubbish, you would find more grace and character here than in a new city. It reminded you of books, pictures, dreams, legends, it reminded you of names like Liu Carol, Jerome Boss, Bregel, Max Ernst, Hans Reichel, Salvador Dali, Goya, Giotto, Paulo Crufel. Through the terrible poverty and pain, a flame, that was sacred, came out, and it immediately gave you a sense of respect. It didn't occur to you to laugh at all if you found a half-raised shack to have a roof made of tins."
In 1935, the Ministry of Social Welfare completed the first apartment buildings in the neighborhood, that for the first time had two rooms with electricity and an internal toilet. With their construction, the architects K. Laskaris and D. Kyriakos introduced to Greece the modern and simple line of the Bauhaus movement architecture. Since then, architecturally and urbanely, Dourgouti has evolved into a spacious labyrinth.
A century later since it was first inhabited, Dourgouti has been shaped into a multicultural neighborhood. While the country has been a point of interest for refugees during the last thirty years, a lot of them are inhabiting old refugee settlements, making these neighborhoods relive a story of migration, a story that exists as long as human history does.
“Good luck” is an ongoing project exploring how the urban space coexists with the always moving human factor over the process of time and above all it is a story about a community, the individuals and an area that have always been off the grid.
All images courtesy the artist.
Louiza Vradi is a 29 year old photographer from Athens, Greece. With photography as means for her to experience various aspects of the world. “It’s a way of moving literally and metaphorically." Her work circulates a lot around the ideas of movement and wandering. "Through photography I have the opportunity to witness different ways of life, travel in faraway lands and share all the stories I witness. I am interested in exploring themes such as our relationship with our environment, the desire for freedom, wandering and youth culture.”
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