2017 | May
The pattern on which the «shirt» of the modern city is sewn each time is the result of the dialectic between order and disorder, rhythm and arrhythmia, regularity and exception, and most certainly the result of the dialectic between general laws and local protocols of space usage (Stavridis,2006).
In the city of Athens and more specifically in its centre, there are lively streets, bright commercial avenues, noisy and ceremonial public spaces (Pettas,2017), streets suitable for morning and evening strolls. However, the spatiotemporal discontinuity of the modern city means that not every road is taken by every person. There are roads where a special and informal exclusion takes place: «strange» roads, more suspect, neglected and dirty, illuminated at night solely by small lamps above the entrance of some houses. In Athens, these are the roads where brothels cluster.
Space cannot be defined as an urban feature prior to habitation. It is articulated via a system of discriminations and correlations. Roads like these, especially during night-time, offer an alternative meaning and a non-mainstream social experience, which cannot be shared by everyone. Is this perhaps a case of an «informal prohibition» of a gendered -and not only- mediation of this experience, due to the multiple risks of these enclaves? It is certainly the case that in brothels streets, the majority cannot join the shadows that wonder day and night looking for «something of their taste» or for brothel-hopping. Here, local protocols are of limited use.
Although this paper is not focusing on the history of brothels in the Greek capital, it is worth pointing out that prostitution was a well-established social phenomenon in classical Greece, and actually a state-run activity (see for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_ancient_Greece and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostitution_in_ancient_Rome). One of the most decisive factors for the clustering of prostitution in specific urban locations, were public health regulations (Korasidou, 2002). Indeed, the regulatory directive of the Ministry of the Interior of the newly established Greek State in the 19th century as well as police circulars and subsequent laws, evidence the state’s effort to protect public health. It tried to do so by halting the spread of deadly sexually transmitted diseases, that were obviously connected to prostitution. Prostitution was recognised as a profession by the «Directive on public girls and brothels» of the Ministry of Interior in 1834 (Korasidou, 2002: 125). Permission for running brothels was granted by the police.
Since then, all regulatory directives and all relevant laws aimed to achieve control of prostitution not only in order to reduce sexually transmitted diseases, which was the official argument, but to eliminate the «moral offence» caused by the presence of prostitutes in neighbourhoods and streets, and mainly to control abnormality (Korasidou: 2002, Tzanaki: 2016). The most important such legislation was Law 3032 / 1922: Measures to control sexually transmitted diseases and prostitutes, that defined the requirements for running brothels. When it legalised prostitution and restricted prostitutes in specific areas and neighbourhoods in order to effectively control them, the Greek State did nothing more than follow the practices of other European countries, such as France. Prostitution was tolerated so long as it was controlled (Korasidou: 2002).
Map 1: Prostitution in central Athens.
Nowadays in Athens, old, traditional brothels are located south of Omonia Square within two sizeable rectangular areas. More specifically, the first and largest rectangle, is circumscribed by Tritis Septemvriou Str, Agiou Meletiou Str, Liosion Str and Ioulianou Str. Within this area, the density of brothels increases around Fylis Str, in a rectangle circumscribed by Heyden Str, Aristotelous Str, Feron Str and Acharnon Str. Fylis Street, in the center of the rectangle, has more brothels compared to the other adjacent roads. Although the Fylis Str area is gradually losing its prominent position in this business, it still remains the Trouba of Athens (photos: 1-6) . The second rectangle in the Metaxourgio area, is circumscribed by Pireos Str, Plateon Str, Megalou Alexandrou Str and Deligiorgi Str. In this case, Iasonos Str functions in a way that is similar to Fylis Str (photos: 7-12).
Photos 1-6: The Fylis area
Unlike what is going on in Fylis Str., during the last few years, the social composition of the brothel clientele in the Metaxourgio area has substantially changed, towards a more socially and ethnically mixed crowd. The social composition of the residents of the neighbourhood, primarily immigrants (Μπαλαμπανίδης, Πολύζου, 2015) and marginal groups and individuals, has something to do with it. However, approximately the same social change is taking place in the composition of the population in the area around Fylis Str despite its middle class past. The key reason for the change in Metaxourgio is that the vast majority of brothels located there accepts immigrants as clients, unlike brothels in the Filis Str. area. One of the reasons why brothels in the Filis Str. area charge twice the price of brothels in Metaxourgio, apart from the attempt to preserve a sense of prestige, is that in this way they can exclude immigrants not onlydirectly by applying racist discriminatory criteria but via the market mechanism as well. Having said that, immigrants can find an offer of half price only a kilometer away .
Photos 7-12: The Metaxourgio area
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