Thursday, 7 April 2016

In Assos with the tourists and the ghosts

Asos in Cephalonia is a small classic Greek fishing village.

It sits in a secluded cove protected from the open sea with a cluster of bars, restaurants and holiday homes on three sides and a Venetian fort which dominates the fourth side sitting on a tall mountain.

And despite being an hour’s drive north from the airport it is a popular destination.

But it is the adventurous that make the journey along a twisting road which clings to the side of the mountains and affords spectacular views down steep ravines to the sea below.

Along with these who have opted to stay there is a steady stream of visitors who drive in sample the beech and bars and move on.

That said there is now also a brisk trade in the coach tourists who are ferried in air conditioned coaches which park just outside the village.

Every day this week groups of them have passed the house with a tour guide who carries a bat with a painted number and ushers her charges down to the bay spending no more than half an hour in the place.

All of which is in direct contrast to the winter months when there are no more  than a hundred people here making it a very quiet and empty place.

And as if to underline this other side of Asos there are the deserted houses which have long since been abandoned and are slowly falling down.

We are surrounded by them.  A few still have doors and shutters as if someone has a plan to return.

But the glass from the windows has long gone, all are open to the sky and the wooden beams are rotten so that floors sag and in many cases have already collapsed.

And as ever nature has moved in with bushes and even trees growing where once people sat, ate and passed the time of day.

Next door beside the old oven with its bell shaped chimney a huge bush with bright red flowers attracts a daily swarm of bees.

How long these houses have been empty may be determined by the extent of the decay and above all by the size of the trees growing in them.

In some cases these trees are tall with broad trunks and are as much a permanent feature as the crumbling walls.

A few of the houses have the date they were built, the one beside us dates from 1914 and another 1923.

They were tall houses spread out over three floors with a large single room downstairs, three or four rooms on the first story and a large attic space under the rafters.

But there is no clue to who owned them.  I asked the local shopkeeper and she shrugged and so with no firm information I fall back on speculation.

Some might have been the second homes of people from the capital, but that is unlikely.  So I guess they were the homes of locals who just moved away in the years before tourism took over.

This would date their abandonment to the 1970s if not earlier.

None of which explains why they have not been redeveloped.  They are on a prime site just beyond the beech, which must be all the more attractive now that the area around the bay has all been taken up with smart new holiday homes, so surely we must be next.

A few have for sale messages painted on the walls but in the years we have been here none have been sold.

But maybe their time will soon be here, otherwise I fear that a few more wet and windy winters and they will have vanished.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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