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Pretty buildings,

pretty ruins

The history of the Xenia resorts is more or less well-known:
It began in 1953 as an ambitious project by the
Hellenic Tourism Organisation, financed by the Marshall Plan, with the aim of establishing Greece as an international tourist destination. A large number of engineers worked on the project, under the direction of architects Charalambos Sfaellos and Aris Konstantinidis, both leading exponents of the modernist movement in Greece and associates of the great Le Corbusier.
The hotel units, with their pioneering design and novel operating philosophy, flourished in the ’60s and ’70s, only to fall into decline during the ’80s and the ’90s. Eventually, after much shilly–shallying, mismanagement and several fruitless revitalization efforts, (most of them) shut up shop.

Designed by Ch. Sfaellos and built in 1956, the Xenia Hotel at Loutra Ipatis was for decades the jewel of the local area.
These days it is merely a ghost of its former glory, an abandoned shell left to the ravages of time and at the mercy of looters and vandals, stoically surrendered to its fate, waiting for some “investor”, who might be interested in acquiring a prime piece of land of incalculable economic, historical and architectural value.

Nearby there are two earlier buildings (probably from the beginning of the twentieth century), both in much worse shape than the Xenia: The hotels “Othrys” and “Pigai”. Of these, the latter, despite being savagely mutilated by structural modifications to accommodate changes in use in the not so distant past, and having suffered vandalism and a fire that destroyed its tiled roof and parts of the first floor, still manages to retain a sense of its elegance and old-time charm.

Even today the aesthetic and constructional aspects of the Xenia complex continue to impress:
Simple, clear-cut volumes; a harmonious marriage of traditional materials (like stone and wood) with contemporary ones, like concrete and glass; beautifully balanced proportions and design that make the interior of the hotel seem like a continuation of the outdoor space, giving visitors a sense of closeness to the surrounding nature and endowing the large building with an unparalleled lightness.

The building’s structural solutions aim to improve the comfort of guests and the energy efficiency of the hotel, thereby minimizing operating cost.

A few examples of innovative design that have become standard for modern construction projects over the course of decades include: The use of glass blocks in stair shafts, with openings for natural light and ventilation; public areas with wide openings that allow the eye to wander freely over the green park of Ipati thermal spring, with double frame windows in the northern side for additional protection from the winter cold; wooden shutters with grilles in the western windows and balcony doors, offering protection from unwanted exposure to the summer sun and privacy from prying eyes, without blocking sunlight and air; a spiral staircase built around a central support pole, making the large, concrete steps appear light and floating.

Unfortunately, today all of the above features are at a tragic state. The building interior has been completely gutted. Metal, tools, accessories and machinery, light fixtures, furniture, sheets and bedding, basically anything useful or saleable that could be easily removed has been pillaged.

Even more extensive damage has been done by vandals, who have caused repeated and senseless destruction to the building and its facilities, for no other apparent reason than letting off steam.  Smashed furniture, wrecked windows and doors, hundreds of shattered window panes that leave the interior exposed to the elements, torn curtains, broken porcelain, glass and plumbing strewn everywhere; all these create a bizarre and chaotic picture of hatred towards an actual local architectural treasure.

Although not up to the innovative standards of the Xenia, hotels Othrys and Pigai, both half a century older, or more, remain two beautiful buildings that share the same bleak fate as their modern neighbor.

A combination of neglect, thievery and vandalism has left behind naked walls, piles of rubble and a lingering “why?” hovering above the ruins.

Name: V… Surname: D… Parents: Demetrios and Arete; born in 1938, housewife, of Greek nationality. Place of birth: Larissa. Home address: 12, O… st. Check in on: 31-5-1963. Check out on: 20-6-1963.

This is the first entry in the guestbook for the year 1963, which today lies among a pile of rubbish and rubble at the reception area of the Xenia.Dozens of books, thousands of entries of former guests.

Thousands of souls have passed from these buildings, some to recuperate, others to rest, some in transit, others for work.Pain, joy, tears, laughter, the endless cycle of life. And it seems like every single one of them has left behind a piece of themselves among the dilapidated walls: A photograph pinned on the telephone switchboard; a set table; a medical release form and a couple of x-rays left on an unmade bed; a chambermaid’s uniform; framed photographs; ashtrays full of cigarette stubs; glasses with lipstick traces.

What is sadder: presence, or absence? The absence of people and the empty buildings, or the imprints of their lives, their recorded stays and personal items left behind for some reason or other?

English translation by Panos Tomaras

For a full-sized slide show click here .
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