Heraklion, as every major urban centre, is a city constantly changing, “evolving” and “developing”, through a process that is creating contradiction, marginalization, abandoned landscapes and decayed neighborhoods very often invisible, hidden behind the city’s bright façade. These “invisible” areas within the city are the main inspiration and target of Atheati Poli.
Founded and run under the auspices of the Architects Association of Heraklion, Atheati Poli started off from a small group of architects and gradually expanded to involve other creative individuals also interested in the city’s social & cultural life. It soon evolved to become one of the city’s main art festivals, in fact the only one to specifically target socially, economically and environmentally deprived areas of the city.
The overall aim of the festival is to redefine and reformulate the relationship between the citizens, public space and the neighborhood, and reclaim public space in order to improve the quality of the urban environment and ultimately public life. In that context, through a series of activities and interventions, Atheati Poli aims to develop public dialogue, exchange knowledge, raise awareness and mobilise citizens both individually and collectively.
Atheati Poli is a non-profit initiative, entirely based on volunteer work from the organizing team and volunteers participating in the festival activities each year. Support is provided by sponsors (funding and in-kind contributions) and, when available, municipal funds. The festival is open to creative citizens, artists, and collectives, hosting events, exhibitions, workshops, public art, visual interventions and other activities.
The first Atheati Poli Festival took place in the neighborhood of Hagia Triada in October 2012, and the second in the Lakos area in September 2013. In June 2015 Atheati Poli returned to address the “hidden” side of the Venetian Walls. In 2016, the festival was organised in abandoned buildings and open spaces along the submerged Arab-Byzantine wall, highlighting the need to reuse and reclaim public space for the benefit of the citizens.
The first Atheati Poli Festival took place in the neighborhood of Hagia Triada. Although a key part of the historical city center, the area had always remained “hidden” – outside the commercial areas.
Historically, it was developed to host supplementary functions, either housing or small industries of the -inside the Venetian walls- city and has always been occupied by the lower class and refuges.
Today the area is characterized by decay and marginalization but also elements of great importance for the city plan (mainly buildings) are present and therefore need to be brought back into our attention with a mild use according to the general feel of the area.
Using the Hagios Georgios Barracks building as a starting point we set courses within the neighborhood, trying through various projects to regain access to public and private space. Groups, cultural clubs and individuals participated for a brief period in reopened – mainly located in the ground floor- buildings, filling them with every form of art, installations and performances in the surrounding area.
Atheati Poli 2012 was an alternative approach to city tours, art installations, reference to historical monuments and acts during which the citizens had the chance to experience their city in “other ways”.
A place within the walls, though outside of the “frame”. For the Festival in 2013 we chose Lakos, an area of Heraklion city center with a lot of particularities throughout the city’s history. Lakos was occupied to gather and provide shelter to all the marginal elements of society, that at the same time provided their “special” services to the city’s elite but also an area that would never blend in with the rest of the city.
Lakos today remains one of the most underrated neighborhoods even though is just a stone’s throw away from the city centre, literally by the Venetian walls and right next to the new Cultural Center of Heraklion. During the first decades of the 20th century, Lakos was a “red light district”, following a law passed by the Cretan Government that called for all the brothels to be transferred there. This lead to the development of a subculture of prostitutes, folk musicians, drug users and other criminal elements but also formed a core of cultural creation and a dialogue between the locals and the refugees that fled there after the Minor Asia incident.
In this “invisible” neighborhood that today is full of contradictions and decay but at the same time also full of historical memories and references, we organized a festival with visual artists, tours from archaeologists, music acts and speeches. The citizens of Heraklion had the chance to (re)discover the area, walk among its narrow streets and join in an ongoing dialogue about its past, present and future.
The 3rd Atheati Poli Festival, took place at the Venetian Walls of the city. Building on what was accomplished during the first two festivals and motivated by the broad acceptance and participation of the citizens of Heraklion, the idea of an annual festival supported by the municipality was born.
The Venetian Walls, were selected as an historic monument of fortification from the Venetian occupation era, that today is being projected as a solid, continuous structure that signifies the connection (or disconnection..!) of the old and the new parts of the city.
The area of intervention focused mainly on the upper part of the walls that are today totally abandoned. By hosting art projects, archaeological, sociological and architectural acts we invited the citizens to view the walls not only as an historic monument, but also as a distinctive part of the urban landscape and a public space, engaging in a series of discussions addressing ways to reconnect it with the city and its people. An estimated 5000 people visited the Venetian Walls and participated in the activities organized during the festival in June 2015.
Co-organized with the Municipality of Heraklion and the Heraklion Ephorate of Antiquities, the 4th Atheati Poli Festival followed the route alongside the –today invisible- Arab-Byzantine wall.
History and modern art creativity co-existed, with more than 30 projects taking place in buildings and open spaces along this route: exhibitions, shows, installations, theater and live music performances were organized. Institutions with a key role in the city’s life and cultural activity, such as the University of Crete, the Technical University of Crete, Ephorate of Antiquities, Historical Museum of Heraklion, School of European Culture, the School of Arts also participated.
The re-use of empty & abandoned architectural cells in the city center (the former Police and Traffic Police headquarters, the Chronakis residence, all build on top of the Arab-Byzantine Wall), the connection of those cells with the urban environment and the development of spaces to host art exhibitions was the main concept of the festival. More than 3.500 visitors engaged in the activities organised over the three days of the festival, denoting strong interest from the public and a high potential for the activities of Atheati Poli in the future.