Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Splantzia (Σπλάντζια)

Our old town is very old, sometimes too old for us to comprehend. Here's how I saw a recent walk through it which we took as a family during Christmas.

At the children's insistence, we visited Hania's Christmas funfair, staged by the municipal authorities next to the Agora, as it is every year during the Christmas period. After buying some olives and mizithra in the market, we took a walk starting from Tsouderon Street which has now been completely pedestrianised (it was once a very narrow one-way road, with just enough space for pedestrians). The fresh air was very invigorating after the gaudy lights of the funfair and the fish and meat smells of the market stalls.

Although it had been raining during the day, the evening was warm enough for a stroll in the back streets of the old town, which are hidden from view, being bordered by the main streets that provide vehicular access. One of the two minarets still standing in the town, from former Ottoman times, is found on a parallel road behind Tsouderon St, where we thought it would be a good place to start our little walk in the very historical Splantzia district. Walking around Splantzia feels a little like walking in the Anafiotika area under the Acropolis. You only see houses with closed doors; the people seem to have vanished. The only sign of life is maybe a room with the light on. Despite this, some parts of the neighbourhood have taken on a more social identity, with food and drinks businesses emerging as the biggest winners.

Chatzimichali Ntaliani St now houses one of the more vibrant parts of the town, filled with cozy cafes, fine dining experiences, modern bars, retro patisseries, wine bars and other modern and slightly alternative businesses in the food industry. The area attracts young people and those seeking to get away from the standard traditional staple offerings Hania is well known for among its tourist areas. These new places are becoming regular haunts of the local population of all age groups. They are often combined with artistic displays of jewelry, crafts, old books and other arty designs, a sign of Greeks' change in perspective during the economic crisis, as they seek to make a new identity out of their past.

There were few people walking around at this moment  I was surprised how alone I felt walking down this very dark street, save the lights that originated from the empty shops. It was that time of evening when it would be too early for dinner, to late for coffee and not quite appropriate for drinks. The roads were wet, possibly putting people off from coming out. But it was in between Christmas and the New Year - the time and weather have probably not played as much of a role as the economic crisis in keeping people away from these upbeat κουτούκια.

Passing the minaret, we thought about getting a bite to eat at the nearby Kouzina EPE on Daskalogianni St, which turned out to be just about to close down trading for the day. The plan changed: we would get a souvlaki instead. The architecture of the area, despite it being late and dark, was very endearing, so we decided to continue our walk before returning home. Sarpaki St turned out to be a more residential part of the area. It was somewhere here that we came across the 'soupa party'.  

Splantzia has not been given so much attention by tourist developers. It is very hard to do this anyway, as most of the buildings are protected, due to their historical significance. Few of our tourists would venture through these dark streets, since they cannot guess the treasures they possess, helping this maintain the area is a mainly local's resort, with its well-concealed layout. We always want to keep some part of the town to ourselves, as we are inundated by passing strangers for half the year, making the town fell leased out to them for their own pleasure.

The eastern part of the old town hides many narrow roads that all lead off one another like a rabbit warren. The only signs of life in these streets are the washing hanging outside the houses and some healthy looking potted plants, maybe a motorbike parked in front of a house, or a tied-up plastic bag housing unknown contents, lying on a chair. The streets are paved and virtually no cars can be seen here. The houses seem to lean precariously on each side, almost touching each other. Some of these houses are poor people's quarters, others have been done up as luxury inner-city studios, and some others are also used as hotels, apart from the business-oriented ones, as described above. Quite a few are dilapidated  with no renovation possibilities. But they will continue to stand as a testament of time, until perhaps an earthquake strong enough to bring them down (and it has to be very strong, because they are still standing) tears down their walls from their already missing heart. They each have an individual charm, the one being quite unlike the other, and they all remind us of the multicultural history of our town, when Greeks, Jews and Muslims all lived in different areas, retaining their own customs and traditions. As more houses are renovated, ancient ruins are constantly being uncovered.

Eventually we got lost as the narrow streets ran into one another, with some turning into dead ends, while others led us into grand courtyards, none of which are visible before stumbling onto them quite by accident. All the streets had names, judging by the signs stuck ont he houses, but they didn't mean anything to us. So we just took any road we found that led somewhere, eventually turning up at Melchisedek St where we saw the bright lights of Daskalogianni St, which signalled our return back to the real world.

The lights spurred a wake-up call that got us out of our trance. To Pazari was just across the road, where we nipped in for a look over their DVD collection (Little Britain! better late than never!), and then walked briskly to the car. By that time, the idea of a souvlaki sounded quite enticing. But my mind was still on the magic of the evening which took us back in time; I'm looking forward to walking there again soon.

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