In 1938 my mother used to take a horse carriage from Kolonaki Square down Syngrou Avenue to Phaliron beach for a swim. It was a longish ride, but once past the Fix brewery it was open fields until the sea. In the sixties I used to take a horse and carriage from the Platanos in Kifissia Square to the Pendelikon Hotel in Kefalari, where my uncle lived on the top floor. It was a lush, verdant and cool ride, passing by villas, some built in the rococo style, others in the neo-classical format and some just lovely old mansions: it was a visual treat.
Last week I took a horse carriage from the main port on the island of Spetses to the Anargyrios School, my alma mater and the site of an amphitheatre on the hill behind the school overlooking the Saronic Gulf. We clip-clopped along the sea road past the majestic Poseidonio Hotel, past the old sponge -factory, now restored as ”Ta Nissia” Hotel, and numerous red- tiled houses that lined the seafront.
The school, which was designed by George Diamantopoulos, was founded in the late twenties by a Spetsiot, Sotirios Anargyros, to ”train future Greek leaders”. He had made his fortune in New York as a tobacco merchant. The complex included five main buildings, extensive sports facilities, the theatre, the Poseidonio Hotel (then probably the most elegant in the Balkans) and the Anargyros residence, all fine examples of turn- of -the- century classical architecture. The school opened in 1928 with four students, under the directorship of an Englishman named Eric Sloman.
John Fowles taught here in 1953 and later wrote a best-selling book about his experiences called “The Magus”. He referred to the island as Frixos, from the Greek word fractis, which means barrier. He felt that the school and the island were barriers to the physical and intellectual glory of Greece, which could be found just across the bay in the Peloponnese, the heartland of the Argolid, the centre of Mycenean civilization. However, he did love the smell of the pine forests as he walked over the island on the goat paths. Fowles was also fascinated by his meeting with”Conchis”, a quixotic character depicted in his book and reputed to be the Greek shipowner Stavros Niarchos, the owner of Spetsopoula, a small private island near the Old Harbor.
As a student at the school in the late fifties, I used to take the same horse carriage to the main gates. Physical as well as intellectual development was encouraged at the Anargyrios. To this effect we were obliged to jump into the sea at 6.00am every morning, with the exception of Saturdays when we ran up the mountain to the theatre instead. I remember those clear spring mornings: the aroma from the trees and the orama of the shimmering sea is unchanged today.
The walkways of the school and the streets of the town were constructed out of small black and white pebbles (votsala) depicting Greek designs, dolphins, and exotic birds.
Many courtyards have elaborate displays of this type of work. Some of the finest displays are found in the museum of Laskarina Bouboulina, a Greek sea captain famous for her valor in helping liberate Greece from the Ottomans in 1821, and the Hatziyannis Mexi mansion, now a museum as well; constructed in 1795, it displays paintings and artifacts from the Ottoman period to post – 1821. The Dappia, the seafront of the port, is also paved with votsala and lined with cannons from that period, albeit for decorative purposes.
Spetses is a bit like Kifissia, in that it serves as a summer home for many Athenians, who find its pristine charms as attractive as its clear waters and endless bays. Cars are not permitted, with the exception of two buses, some taxis, and transport vehicles.
I love Spetses because its beauty and charm remain with us today. I wish I could say the same for Kolonaki and Kifissia.
Athens Center Newsletters Autumn 2000 Vol X No. 3