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Cycladic islands’ character under threat

by Staff

The alarming course of destruction wrought to the unique landscape and character of the Cycladic islands in the Aegean is highlighted by the proposal of the Hellenic Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ELLET) to the Europa Nostra federation regarding endangered monuments and cultural heritage sites.

The islands of Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, as cases representative of the dramatic change that has taken place in the Cyclades in recent years, made it to the federation’s short list of endangered monuments and cultural heritage sites, with the final results to be announced in April.

The proposal submitted by ELLET for Europa Nostra’s 7 Most Endangered Program 2024 concerns all of the Cyclades, which, it stressed, are facing a multitude of challenges posed by the surge in tourism development and uncontrolled construction.

“Despite the economic growth achieved, a number of environmental, cultural and social issues are arising, such as the degradation of natural resources, the destruction of cultural heritage, water scarcity, waste management problems and socioeconomic inequalities,” the nomination document stated.

“The islands are at risk of losing their authentic character as rapid tourism development threatens to overshadow their intrinsic beauty,” it added.

ELLET noted that small island destinations of the Cyclades in particular are under considerable pressure from overtourism, in terms of the strain on infrastructure and increasing demand for hospitality.

It stressed that the demand for buildings outside the boundaries of settlements is very high and construction is unprecedented. 

Citing Hellenic Statistical Authority data, it highlighted a steady increase in new building permits from 916 in 2018 to 1,280 in 2022. 

The square meterage built, increasing from 291,722 square meters in 2018 to 419,232 square meters in 2022, underline the intensification of construction activity. In just four years, the new square meterage built on the Cyclades islands has doubled, even tripled, ELLET said.

As an example of the uncontrolled building and touristification of the islands, ELLET referred to construction outside zoning areas, at the expense of rural land, which is eliminating any trace of it in the Cycladic landscape (terraces, rural infrastructure, paths). ELLET selected three islands as typical of the change taking place, Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros. 

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