Building Boom on Mykonos Reveals ‘Wretched’ Side of Greece’s Recovery
On a recent evening, wealthy holidaymakers descended from luxury hotels into the glittering labyrinth of Mykonos’ historic old town, gleaming gold jewels and heading to bars serving expensive bottles of Veuve Clicquot. Tourists sailing across the Aegean Sea on 15-story cruise ships would take day trips to immerse themselves in the designer’s boutiques and enjoy shopping at will.
Along the island’s famous turquoise coastline, upscale beach clubs kept busy with extended restaurants on fine sands in preparation for the influx of billionaires, celebrities and influencers.
With more than two million tourists annually, Mykonos is one of the world’s most popular holiday destinations and a source of prosperity for Greece’s economic renaissance. Since the country’s decade-long financial crisis ended in 2018, Greece has been on a recovery track, aided by tourism and investment. Investors have flocked to Mykonos to tap into the goldmine of luxury real estate, sprawling hotels and high-wattage nightclub developments for the free-spending crowd.
But recently, a darker side to that glitz has surfaced when a state archaeologist documenting building violations on the island was mysteriously attacked. Civil servant Manolis Psaros, 53, suffered a broken nose, broken ribs, blackened eyes and lost consciousness in an attack that shocked all of Greece.
Nowhere is the reaction more intense than in Mykonos. There, tight-knit clubs of local residents engage in illegal and sometimes aggressive activities by well-funded developers, and anyone with enough money can go beyond the legal norms. has long been whispered about a loose enforcement system. law. The Greek government launched a swift crackdown.
“The situation in Mykonos is spiraling out of control,” said Despina Koutsomba, president of the Greek Archaeologists Association. “The attack on Mr Psaros was a mafia-style attack aimed at intimidation,” she added. “It’s clear that big corporate interests are at stake.”
Police have opened an investigation into the assault outside Psaros’ home in Athens on the night of March, but declined to comment on the incident.
Apart from its Instagram appeal, Mykonos is one of Greece’s most important antiquities locations.neighborhood Delosis an ancient sacred site of the god Apollo and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting travelers from all over the world.
Archaeologists from the Ministry of Culture are tasked with preserving such treasures by inspecting land before new structures are built. On the island of Mykonos, 12 ancient ruins were discovered within eight years during excavations for building foundations, in some cases stopping construction and in some cases forcing relocation.
The state archaeologist’s mission has become increasingly demanding with the surge in development and the pressure from the investors behind it. Psaros had reported multiple violations on Mykonos before the attack. He was due to testify about the misconduct at a trial that was postponed last November, the latest in a series of adjournments since 2018.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is moving to restore order ahead of Sunday’s controversial elections. Last week, the government ordered one of Mykonos’ most famous beach clubs to close until further notice due to building violations, and this week also ordered the partial closure of another beach club.
It also recently sent 100 police officers, along with financial crime investigators and environmental and building inspectors, to step up its crackdown. More than 75 arrests have been made in connection with illegal construction, bringing the total number of arrests in 2022 to 36. It is investigating reports of corruption by its own officials who tipped off Mykonos developers about inspections.
The government has suspended most new building permits on parts of the island until new parcel blueprints are completed. And a Greek Supreme Court prosecutor called the situation in Mykonos “dire” and ordered a further investigation into illegal construction.
Civil society groups that work to address community concerns said the government was turning a blind eye. “It’s no secret what’s going on in Mykonos. The state authorities have known for years,” said Marcos Passaliadis, spokesman for one of the groups, Active Citizens Movement. “If the attack on Mr. Psaros had not come to light, everything would have remained as it is.”
Residents deplore its injustice, but to speak ill of the island, which many fondly remember as a cultural destination popularized by Jacqueline Onassis and Princess Grace during a quieter and more gracious era. is cautious about
Many are wary of investors coming from outside their world, and nervously talk about developments in recent years with an influx of black vans with tinted windows and guards keeping off-limits.
It remains to be seen whether the government crackdown will have any effect. Some coastlines are already encased in concrete housing clusters. Near Super Paradise Beach, one of his biggest party havens, no less than 50 hollow shells cover the surrounding hillsides, waiting to be completed.
Local authorities are trying to halt construction of a new mega-hotel complex, including the multi-million-euro Four Seasons Resort, approved by the Athens government.
Homes have sprung up like mushrooms on mountain slopes and in areas previously considered ‘unbuildable’, some larger than the permit. Lookouts have been set up at some construction sites, and workers disappear when the police arrive. Koutsomba said some small businesses and hotel owners have reported being under pressure to sell their properties for greater profits.
Big clubs have also benefited from building more bars and restaurants and walls blocking access to public beaches.
Among them is Nammos, a jet-set playground with outdoor luxury boutiques and beachside restaurants, owned by Dubai-based private equity holdings Monteroc International and Alfa Dhabi Holding. there is On Friday, the government ordered Nammos to close, and police closed one of its beach restaurants. Lawyers for Nammos said the order was illegal and the company will appeal. The Greek court also dismissed Nammos’ appeal against another government order ordering the demolition of illegal structures on the site.
Despite multiple citations, there’s also Principote, a high-end destination that has expanded over the years to Panormos Beach along the picturesque bay. Authorities have imposed fines of €22 million for illegal building additions, but have the option to reduce the fine to just €500 if the structure is removed. Principeport, registered as a Marshall Islands holding company, has challenged the violations and associated fines. Police last week ordered it closed until further notice. The company has appealed this decision.
In 2016, Mykonos Mayor Konstantinos Koukas closed the business after reports of unauthorized additions to the building. “But the owners just kept opening up and there was little we could do,” he said.
Mr Principote’s work has set a red flag for the Greek Antiquities Authority, which has identified antiquities under a hill near the club. Panormos is one of the areas subject to inspection by archaeologists. At a media briefing after his hospitalization, Psaros said he had asked for police protection after archaeologists encountered armed guards while trying to inspect an extension to the building.
A lawyer for Principote did not respond to a request for comment.
Thassos Sidakis, owner of the adjacent Albatross Club Hotel, is watching the club’s expansion with vigilance. In 1989, his father built a small bungalow over Panormos, a public beach that was once accessible to everyone. Mr. Sidakis and his brother expanded the business into an idyllic hotel complex with a bird’s eye view of the Aegean Sea and Principote.
Sidakis has watched Principote transform from a rustic 1970s beach taverna into a destination for party-goers paying thousands of euros for sunbeds and sushi. He said hotel guests regularly complained that they were barred from entering or leaving the beach.
Local authorities say enforcement resources are scarce and if investigators and police forces leave, illegal construction will probably start all over again. Mykonos has a small police force, and in 2017 its planning authority was transferred to Syros, the administrative capital of the Cyclades, following the suspension of a Mykonos official for corruption.
“We want to protect the island, so we’re asking the state for help,” said Koukas, who served two terms as mayor. “Everybody wants to build everything on Mykonos, but the lack of manpower creates a situation where people can break the law.”
There are many opportunities to do so. Only three government-appointed archaeologists, including Psaros, are tasked with approving building permits and inspecting sites on Mykonos.
“Some people don’t want to wait for approval, which can take nine months to a year,” said Antonis Kirantonis, president of the Mykonos Project Engineers Association. “They say, ‘Let’s build something illegally and see what happens.'”
Christos Veroniz, who served as mayor from 1991 to 2009, said years of treating tourism like a money maker had hit the island again. But he said a government crackdown would certainly help improve the situation.
The ugly real estate squabbles don’t seem to have detracted from the charm of Mykonos, which has already been teeming with tourists from the United States, France and China months before high season.
“This is an international destination,” said the current mayor, Mr. Kookas. “This is the Greek Star Island.”