2018 | Dec
Birth of a Neighbourhood
The Athens gasworks was established in 1857 by royal decree of King Otto, which granted French businessman François Théophile Feraldi the right to establish and operate the gasworks.
It was the first gasworks in the city of Athens and all of Greece and it quickly became an integral part of life in the capital, as it made street illumination possible and transformed everyday life in the city; the new gas streetlights gave those who were out in the city at night an improved sense of security. However, the biggest change anticipated with the coming of gas lighting was European splendour, which appears to have been coveted by part of the population of Athens from the mid-19th century onwards (Newspaper Skrip/ Σκριπ 25 December 1895).
Following the construction of the gasworks, which began in 1857 and continued for almost a century with the gradual addition of various annexes, unlicensed buildings began to spring up around it, forming the neighbourhood of Gazochori (Στογιαννίδης & Χατζηγώγας 2013: 53). As evidenced by its name—from the Greek gazi for gas and chorio for village—the settlement was formed after the gasworks began operations. In 19th and early 20th century sources, the neighbourhood is referred to sometimes as Gazochori and sometimes as the Aeriofotos neighbourhood or simply Fotaerio .
Before the founding of the gasworks, the wider area (Gazochori – Votanikos – Rouf) was out of the city limits and was mostly covered by fields and marshes. Indeed, an 1852 map shows the area west of Omonoia Square and north of Pireos Street to be practically uninhabited and deserted. Almost 20 years later, a 1875 map shows the gasworks and the area’s first buildings
Map 1: Map of Greece: Sheet 10, Athens plan, Division of Greece in Nomoi, Eparchies and Demes, 1852, (ΕΛΙΑ/ΜΙΕΤ)
Map 2: “Athens Town Plan of Athinai (Athens), Geographical Section General Staff No 4457, War Office 1944 (ΕΛΙΑ/ΜΙΕΤ)
Refugee Populations and Communicable Diseases
The name Gazochori was used by the daily press as early as 1885, with the area described as a hotbed of fevers, meningitis and typhus ( Newspaper To Asty/ Το Άστυ 29 December 1885). ). Indeed, at their 1900 conference, the Athens Medical Society referred to the so-called “epidemic of Gazochori” that took place during 1885-1886 and described a “malignant convulsive fever” which struck mostly children in the neighbourhood, which, it is stressed, featured “marshy areas”.
Addressing politicians and military officials, a satirical quatrain from the period says:
Tell them that there’s thousands dying in Gazochori
Tell them that those horrid taxes still remain
Tell them that the day has come, that is the worry,
For Athens too the Spanish cholera to obtain
(Ασμόδαιος 25 December 1885).
In 1906 and 1916, the smallpox epidemics also claimed numerous victims in Gazochori ( Newspaper Empros/ Εμπρός 30 January 1906). The absence of an organised prevention and treatment system and the state’s lack of preparedness against diseases (Bournova, Garden, 2014) led the poor and the working class to seek practical solutions. Following the instructions of the neighbourhood’s midwives, residents would take their children that suffered from respiratory diseases to the base of the gasworks’ chimneys to have them inhale the “therapeutic” properties of the coke fumes (Στογιαννίδης, 2015: 115-116). Those suffering from tuberculosis would spend summers camping at Mount Penteli (Στογιαννίδης, 2016:382-404).
For several decades, the neighbourhood served as a receptor for newly arriving immigrants and refugees. In 1897, refugees from Crete settled in Gazochori ( Newspaper Empros/Εμπρός 28 November 1897). The arrival of refugees from Asia Minor increased the average household size, contributing to further deterioration of public and private hygiene:
|“…in the area of the gasworks, between Pireos Street and the Poulopoulos factory. Behold a new hell, practically within the capital, a horrible hell, which began in 1919 and is not ending. There are 325 families, Greeks from Russia and Pontus, that have settled in a large yard by the gasworks. They have built tiny houses, similar to those in Skopeftirio and in Dourgouti, at their own expense, but they can no longer live and sleep in them. Amid the neighbourhood there are two warehouses, and 35 families are housed—or, rather, are being murdered—there. Here too the few lavatories are insufficient, overflowing, and stench and death come from all sides. The neighbourhood’s residents are in anguish, and those closest have lost their patience and their health. They seem, inside the yard, as convicts and exiles, away from the lives of other people.”
(Ελεύθερον Βήμα, 20 Σεπτεμβρίου 1928).
Increased levels of pollutants emitted by the gasworks added to the wretchedness in which the area’s working class already lived. On 15 June 1931, Stefanos Stefanou, journalist and private secretary of Eleftherios Venizelos, wrote in the Eleftheron Vima newspaper to denounce the fact that there existed no waste collection infrastructure in Athens, describing the city as a “vast rubbish town” and pointing out Gazochori as one of the neighbourhoods where the lack of hygiene goes beyond the limits of what is tolerable:
|“Go to Gazochori to see what is happening. It is the filthiest neighbourhood in this city. The streets are full of rubbish, and inside walled yards are heaps and hills of rubbish. Unbearable stench, flies, gnats, mosquitoes, all the insects in the world… that which puts the health of the residents in true and constant danger is the emptying of sanitationcarts within, or very close to, residential areas, as is the case in Gazohori,…”|
Kostas Biris described the neighbourhood as “…a shambles of huts and woeful shacks … a true Hell of misery and corruption” (Μπίρης 1966: 202).
According to local residents, the influx of internal migrants from Mani, Thessaly, Kefalonia, Kerkyra (Corfu) and the Aegean Islands continued until the mid-20th century, creating a culturally diversified residential area (Ζ.R.’s oral testimony, Industrial Gas Museum Oral Testimonies’ Archive). The choice of Gazochori as the place to settle in Athens had to do with the neighbourhood’s position at the fringe of the city’s urban centre. Its location outside the city plan meant that crude makeshift shacks could be built at a low cost while evading the scrutiny of zoning inspections and regulations.
“The Whores of Gazi” and Other Stories of Delinquency
In addition to the frequent epidemics, Gazochori became associated with one more thing: prostitution. A police ordinance of April 1894 “On common women and houses of debauchery” put Athens’ brothels “close to the gasworks premises”. The same ordinance described a three-level classification of common women, according to which, the third and lowest level comprised those who lived and worked in the brothels of Gazochori (Δρίκος 2002: 174-175). Classifying the neighbourhood’s prostitutes in this third level could be connected to an expletive that remained popular in later years: “Gazi whore” (Z.R.’s oral testimony, Industrial Gas Museum Oral Testimonies’ Archive). In 1897, police records show the arrest of two sex traffickers who tried to sell a 16-year-old maid “to the houses of ill-repute in Aeriofotos” ( Newspaper Empros/ Εμπρός 10 July 1897). Two months later, a schoolteacher from Methana was arrested in Gazochori while negotiating the “sale” of his wife to the brothels (Newspaper Empros/ Εμπρός 7 September 1897). These two incidents not only confirm the existence of brothels in the area but also seem to indicate that prostitution flourished there at the end of the 19th century. Gazochori would go on to become synonymous with prostitution, to the point that in 1900 the press was referring to the neighbourhood’s prostitutes as “the women of Gazochori” ( Newspaper Empros/Εμπρός 15 May 1900). ). It is worth noting that a reply sent by the Medical Council, to the Ministry of the Interior in 1905 on “secret brothels” does not mention Gazochori, but states that such businesses exist in the streets of Kerameikos (Thermopylon, Leonidou, Kerameikou, Kallergi, Deligiorgi) and Omonoia (Agiou Konstantinou, Satovriandou, Acharnon, Zinonos, Veranzerou, Solomou, Gamveta). Perhaps this is because Gazochori was considered to be at the fringes of the city. Many years later, Stefanos Stefanou discussed the area in an article, referring to it as “the territory of common women. ‘Let’s go to Gazi,’ said the soldiers and the bailiffs with their red coats and their whips in their hands” ( Newspaper Eleftheron Vima/ Ελεύθερον Βήμα, 9 July 1929).
Burglars and thieves often sought refuge in Gazochori and there were frequent brawls ( Newspaper Empros/ Εμπρός 31 December 1895, 23 October 1927, 30 June 1962).Armed brawls often involved soldiers, whose consistent presence in the area was a result to its proximity to the Engineer Corps barracks and, probably, to the area’s brothels ( Newspaper Skrip/ Σκριπ 23 November 1903).
As a working class neighbourhood, Gazochori was also the backdrop against which many love affairs played out, some of them fatal:
|“When you are young and in your prime and full of life and working in a smithy from dawn till dusk and the work and the fire are eating you up and you’re swimming in your own sweat and you’re dying at the anvil and losing your breath at the bellows, it is impossible not to fall in love with a pair of eyes that pass by that place where you’re hammering brass and iron. Something along these lines happened to the 20-year-old coppersmith Aristeidis Triantafyllopoulos, who fell in love four years ago with a pair of eyes belonging to then 15-year-old Katina Xenou…” (Newspaper Eleftheron Vima/ , 5 October 1924).|
|“Stamatis was a 28-year-old man. A woman called Thodora came across his path. She was 26… Both of them black marketeers, they became partners in trade. He was in love and she was wily, sensing his weakness and tormenting him.… he cut the thread of her life. The next morning, passers-by on Sofroniou Street stumbled upon the two bodies blocking the narrow alley.” ( Newspaper Eleftheron Vima/ Ελεύθερον Βήμα, 6 February 1943)|
However, beyond this delinquency, the working-class environment was favourable for the spread of communist ideas and therefore also for clashes with the police:
|“Regarding the clash with the communists in Gazohori, the following was ascertained”
Communists resident in the neighbourhood have been collecting small sums of money from residents to go towards supporting unemployed communists and to contribute to the coffers of the communist centre. They have also forced residents to buy Rizospastis [the newspaper of the Communist Party of Greece]. As a result, police carried out a surprise search that resulted in the arrest of many of the communists. The fighting between police and communists occurred during the search and approximately 50 shots were fired, injuring a policeman and the communist Dimakos.
Later, another group of communists, believing that their ‘comrades’ had been arrested after being turned in by neighbourhood president Mr Haralambidis, attacked and beat him. Of the communists, five were arrested.”
( Newspaper Athinaika Nea/ Αθηναϊκά Νέα, 6 June 1933)
Incidents of social deviance and criminal delinquency reconfirmed the neighbourhood’s symbolic position on the city’s fringes. For 56 years (1901-1957), Gazochori was also associated with Athens’ vegetable market, which was situated next to the gasworks on the corner of Iera Odos and Pireos Street (which is now a carpark that serves the metro station). The establishment of the vegetable market at the beginning of the 20th century seems to be connected not just with the trade of produce but also with the trade of hashish, as the so-called hasisopotes, as hashish smokers were colloquially referred to, frequented the tavernas and cookhouses that sprung up all around the market. The narrative that defined Gazochori as a hotbed of dangerous and immoral activities appears to have gradually waned after WW II. The intense emphasis on delinquent behaviours that was seen during the early 20th century is likely related to the wider spread of such phenomena and to the rhetoric of moral cleanliness and rehabilitation, which dominated the thinking of physicians, labour inspectors, sociologists and hygienists during that time (Platt 2000: 194-222).
Gazochori and the Urban Planning of Athens
Due to their proximity to Pireos Street, the commercial road that leads from Athens to Piraeus, the neighbourhoods that were established to the west and southwest of Athens—such as Pireos (today known as Kato Petralona), Gazochori, Hezolitharo (today known as Metaxourgeio), Akadimia Platonos, Iera Odos (Elaiotriveia neighbourhood) – attracted trade and manufacturing activities early on and were populated largely by lower income groups.
The area was incorporated into the city plan in 1880 and the city plan mostly followed the routes of existing older streets. Beginning in Gazohori, Orfeos Street crosses Elaionas following the ancient “Strata tis Koulouris” (archaic for “the road to Salamina”), a road once travelled by the Turkish traveller Evliya Celebi.
In 1908, A. Georgiadis’ Pinakas, which depicts the first official division of Athens into neighbourhoods, most streets in Gazohoridon’t even bear an official name. Nikolaos Igglesis’ 1928 Guide to Greece directory only lists 24 streets, compared to 38 that exist today. And until about 1940, the settlement appears to belong to the neighbourhood of Kerameikos, although a number of its streets appear to also belong to the neighbourhoods of Iera Odos (which stretched from 21 Iera Odos to the beginnings of Evmolpidon Street), Keiriadon (which stretched from 150-152 Pireos Street and reached the Engineer Corps barracks).
Despite not having clear borders, its main landmark and defining feature was the gasworks after all, Gazohori was probably delimited by Pireos, Konstantinoupoleos, Petrou Ralli and Iera Odos streets. However, the use of Petrou Ralli as one of the four streets that demarcated Gazohori was not clear until the 1950s. Maps from the early 20th century, such as the one from 1944, seem to show Vassileiou tou Megalou Street as the border, whilst a 1958 map seems to mark Echelidon Street as the area’s boundary.
Gazochori was not a formal parish. Two churches, Agios Vassileios at Rouf and Agia Triada at Kerameikos, were situated at the area’s two extremes, at the west and east end of Gazi, but neither was really located within it. Even Agios Vasileios, which was technically within the “borders” of Gazochori, was not a parish church, but was the chapel of the Ecclesiastical Orphanage of Vouliagmeni.
Gazochori was a neighbourhood without public squares. Locals recognise only one “common”: Koulouris Square, the small area at the intersection of Stratonikis, Elasidon and Orfeos streets. Anoixeos Square, which is located at the neighbourhood’s edge, is much more recent.
Map 3: Points of reference in the Gazochori neighbourhood
The Residents and Businesses of Gazochori, According to Nikolaos Igglesis’ Guides, 1910-1958
Thanks to Nikolaos Igglesis’ Guide to Greece directories, we are able to study the socioprofessional make-up of Gazohori’s population and the economic activities that took place in the area. The directories for 1910 and 1928 (the latter being the most comprehensive as it was very likely based on the records of the population census of 1928) list both business premises and individuals, whereas those for 1939 and 1958 list only business premises—with the exception of liberal professions such as physicians and lawyers, whose names and addresses were likely provided by their respective professional associations. As such, the very form and data of these directories dictate the limits of the study of the evolution of the socioprofessional make-up and economic activities of Gazochori; we can track changes in the occupations of the area’s male residents for 1910 and 1928, and we can track the evolution of local businesses between 1939 and 1958.
According to the 1910 Guide to Greece (Table 1), just 127 men with a trade or steady employment resided in the neighbourhood. Neither the female population nor the gasworks workers are listed, with two exceptions: a gasworks inspector and a gasworks tinsmith. Two blacksmiths and a mechanic are also listed, but it is not specified whether they were employed at the gasworks. In 1910, coffeehouses, cookhouses, wine shops and small food stalls were the main economic activities, concentrated in an arch-like area around the factory. The social elite is represented by three lawyers and the gasworks inspector (Map 4).
Table 1: Socioprofessional categories of the male population of Gazochori, according to Nikolaos Igglesis’ Guide to Greece directory (1910)
Map 4: Location of businesses in the Gazochori neighbourhood in 1910
We don’t know the exact numbers of the neighbourhood’s population because Greek census findings at the district or neighbourhood level are not published. All we know is that in 1920, Gazi, Kerameikos and Metaxourgeio—collectively known as “Kerameikos exo” (literally “outside”, or west, of the ancient cemetery of Kerameikos)—had approximately 20.000 residents comprising a total of 4.321 families.
The neighbourhood’s population appears to have been constantly growing, either due to the arrival of internal migrants or due to the influx of refugees from Asia Minor. Igglesis’ Guide of 1928 (Table 2) lists almost 1.000 individuals and business premises in Gazochori, as well as another 114 individuals whose address is noted as “the vegetable market” and who we assume did not actually live in Gazochori (Map 5).
Table 2: Socioprofessional categories of the male population of Gazochori, according to Nikolaos Igglesis’ Guide to Greece directory (1928)
Map 5: Location of businesses in the Gazochori neighbourhood in 1928
The largest category, “artisans/craftsmen, retailers, hoteliers, food service professions”—representing approximately half of the economically active residents recorded by the editor of the 1928 directory—comprise primarily food services professions, including coffeehouse keepers, wine-sellers, tavern keepers and grocers (Map 6) who conducted their business from very small premises and whose financial situation did not much differ from that of their clients. Their sheer numbers point to tiny businesses and confirms the neighbourhood’s working class character. That same year, the press referred to an “excess of shopkeepers” in Athens (article titled “The crisis of our large urban centres-Athens: The city of phenomenal prosperity” Newspaper Eleftheron Vima/ Ελεύθερον Βήμα 5 February 1928), a result of the considerable increase in the number of grocers, who according to the article’s author went from 3.116 in 1920 to 4.755 in 1928: “Many have fallen to the level of the proletariat.”
Map 6: Evolution of the location of food services, including coffeehouse keepers, wine-sellers, tavern keepers and grocers, in the Gazochori neighboorhood (1910-1939)
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