Stratis Vogiatzis is a photographer, filmmaker and an anthropologist. He…
Dense vegetation has prevailed upon Vitiadis mansion, causing everything –from the waterwheel and the cistern to the stone staircase– to steadily enfeeble and silently wilt before the mansion’s rocks and rods eventually merge with the soil and the scattered tree branches.
This Kambos residence used to belong to a wealthy man, Georgios Vitiadis, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, and would use it as his summer house; as he himself mentions in his notes, visiting it and seeing the estate, the vivid orchards, the running water, the waterwheel and the peacocks makes me feel like I’m in the Garden of Eden. The initials on the iron gate indicate that the mansion was presumably inherited by his son, Alexandros, but what is definitely certain is that, according to Alexandra Gripari, Vitiadis’ distant descendant, her aunt, Klio Vitiadi, an Alexandria resident and the mansion’s last inhabitant, would visit it during summer, along with friends and relatives. Although I never met her, my father used to say that she was a cantankerous person, aloof and cranky, leading him to put this whimsical disposition down to her not having any kids and winding up a spinster, as he would pointedly describe her. Klio then bestowed the house to Chios hospital, while no Vitiadis descendant showed up after she died in Alexandria to lay any claims on it.
Even though these mansions are still named after these renowned families –Vitiadis, Rodokanakis, Skilitsis, Argentis, Petrokokinos–, no descendant residing abroad ever returned to Kambos to contend for their property. Perhaps they considered Kambos just another resort they would spend their vacation in, one of these nondescript areas that people swap for another one the moment they lose interest in them, adhering to the archetypal tactics of battling against the predetermined wear time is associated with. Maybe passing through places or swimming in them generates less pain than putting down roots, even if living a life devoid of memory is the price you’ll have to pay in the end.
Kambos is done, says a passer-by I ran into under the palm tree still occupying the center of the mansion’s yard, as he was gathering dead leaves to kindle a fire. Most of the estates have been abandoned, some others are still owned by people unable to afford maintenance costs, while others have been restored thanks to well-off proprietors aspiring to revive the old Kambos aura. The magnificent orchard of the Vitiadis mansion has been turned into a potato plot, while fragments from shafts and the marble cistern now lie on the yard. The elaborate gutter belonging to the main trough as well as the smaller one featuring a rosette in the other well have been stolen, as has the cup/flower pot topping the right column of the main door, reports Giorgis Mastorakis in his article in Pelineo. The front stairs along with their mountings have given way, the yard’s pebbled mosaics have disappeared and various ivies have covered the building, now springing out of doors, windows and cracks. Although sooner or later nature is bound to gradually conquer the manor and the space it once occupied, Vitiadis mansion seems to be holding out against its preordained destiny: it looks like it’s holding up owing exclusively to its memories, which, like crutches depicted in Dali’s paintings, still support it for a little longer before it collapses.
I can’t tell if a vindictive fate has decided to punish those prominent families for their arrogance and extravagance by inflicting so much damage on this area or if, to quote Sebald, gradual decay is the natural outcome of every human activity since, sooner or later, there comes the time when nature overcomes everything people so painfully managed to create.
Special thanks go to Vassilis Ayannides for the information he provided about the Vitiadis family.
Translated into English by Nikos Loutraris
Stratis Vogiatzis is a photographer, filmmaker and an anthropologist. He grew up in Chios. He has published several books and he has directed several independent documentary films.