Lakkos, Irakleio: Rescuing a Ruined Neighborhood with Art

The long-neglected neighborhood just outside the center of Irakleio has been transformed into an open-air art gallery that is well worth exploring.

In the previous century, the Lakkos district used to be frequented by rebetika (aka “Greek blues”) musicians, prostitutes, drug users and every type of social outcast. Later, it became the neighborhood of the refugees arriving from Asia Minor as part of the population exchange that took place between Greece and Turkey in 1922. Following World War II, the area was abandoned, save for the few economic migrants who lived there from time to time.

Eight years ago – at the eleventh hour, just before Lakkos was completely lost to the ravages of time – the Australian artist Mathew Halpin moved in. And in collaboration with local artists Vangelis Vandoulakis and Kostas Stavrakakis, he aimed to give the area a fresh start.

In 2015, Halpin created the first mural based on a dated photograph that had been taken at the traditional neighborhood café, depicting the rebetika musicians of old; at the same time, he began to envision the Lakkos Project, an ambitious scheme that includes the repainting of old buildings, various artistic interventions on abandoned urban structures, and the renovation of houses or their remodeling into stores.

Halpin has invited artists from Greece and all over the world, hosting them in his home, so that they may contribute to working on the neighborhood’s “artistic canvas,” which is none other than its buildings’ very walls. The main square has once again returned to life, since a café now operates here. During the summer, there are several noteworthy cultural events, organized with the support of the municipality within the framework of the Art on the Road and Invisible City festivals.

There is certainly no lack of difficulties, since the renovation and rehabilitation of the old houses is not always possible, given that many of the owners show little interest, others cannot be located, and there are also cases where some are waiting for the neighborhood to be redeveloped, so that they can sell for a higher price. Equally sad is the recent phenomenon of murals being destroyed with spray paint by vandals, yet the supporters of the project have no intention of giving up.

The transformation of the Aghia Triada, another rundown area next door to Lakkos, is another a municipal urban redevelopment project. It is worth taking a stroll there as well: old houses and narrow lanes, children playing in the streets, neat flowerpots and authentic local cafés create a setting that more resembles an idyllic village than the heart of Greece’s fourth largest city.

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