Colour photographs 1993-1994 and 2003, Agra Publications, Athens, 2003. Texts: Aris Georgiou, Vana Charalambidou, Sakis Serefas, 104 pages, 24x17 cm.

Aris Georgiou
Olympos Naousa, 21 June 1994

I delve deep into hazy memories of childhood years, seeking my first recollection of the Olympos Naousa. I try to determine if this is a genuine memory or just the echo of tales told by my family. I can just (barely) make out my grandfather Nikos, of my grandmother I am really not sure, nor of my parents, but I do remember that I was still so young I did not come up to the height of the table, with its white cloth, one of what seemed to my eyes an infinity of tables stretching away through the immense space. The recollection is bound up with that of my first taste of beer, urged on me by my grandfather, although the taste blends and merges with other precocious and illicit samplings at another seafront restaurant – as venerable as the Olympos – ‘O Stratis’. Family meals at the Olympos Naousa were always an occasion, always (one always too many?) associated with exceptional circumstances. The restaurant seemed to embody the very idea of the ‘festive outing’ – at a time when the available venues could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

A more tangible memory is associated with another childhood tradition. Once a year, not I think on any special occasion like a birthday or name day, the parents of one of my good friends and classmates would invite their son Nikos’(Dino’s) friends, together with his younger brother, to a meal – and, more extraordinary still, an evening meal – at the Olympos Naousa. The tradition must have begun when we were in the fifth grade and continued until we were half way through high school. The long table was usually set up for us in the atrium, at the rear of the right-hand (side?) room, sometimes on the mezzanine. All through the intervening years these childhood occasions have been gathering dust in obscure corridors of my memory, waiting patiently to be recalled. For as we entered on our adolescence, a meal at the Olympos Naousa began to seem passé, an old-fashioned form of entertainment we had now outgrown.

When I returned to Thessaloniki in the 1970’s, on summer vacations from university, I would often find myself walking by the restaurant, already a strange survival from an earlier time, and I began to appreciate it as a place with its own unsuspected cultural charge. Rediscovering the city, and discovering too my passion for photography, I finally ventured inside it one day, for the first time in so many years, and took some photographs – almost casual shots, without any particular design or project in mind. And then later, in the 1980’s, I discovered the restaurant once again, now as an adult customer, eating regularly at an Olympos Naousa which had now entered irrevocably upon its final period of decline. Its distinctive atmosphere was the product of its two separate clienteles: the younger visitors, who viewed it with curiosity as the remnant of a more cosmopolitan age, and the carefully groomed elderly ladies and their eminently respectable, elderly companions, for whom dining at the Olympos Naousa was an unthinking reflex, one of the undeviating habits which imprison our declining years. Disillusioned by too many brave attempts to ‘rescue’ fine old buildings through conservation or rehabilitation, I had come to realize that what I sought more and more as the hallmarks of authenticity in a building were decay and gradual abandonment. I positively relished the atmosphere of the old place as it tottered through its final days, all too aware that I would be among the last to enjoy it. I returned at every opportunity, bringing friends unfamiliar with the city, anxious to share with them – even those to whom the charm required explanation – that strange aura of familiarity which permeates a monument as it prepares to expire. We lived through the final days together. And as if I still see in my mind’s eye the restaurant staff – Panayiotis, Neoklis, Grigoris, Stelios, Yiannis and Mihalis, with all their gestures, the way they walked and spoke, or the way they waited, motionless, contemplating the shoddy scenery against which their lives had been played – I pledge my absolute commitment to the process of natural aging, without conditions, without artificial intervention. To the process of natural decay of matter organic or inorganic, decay to the point of total dissolution. The advance of time against which even memory battles in vain.

During the restaurant’s last years I would regularly invite my colleagues there to celebrate my birthday – participating willy-nilly in a foredoomed movement of resistance. As on other occasions, however, the knowledge of an impending end had assumed the dimensions of a threat. The only substitute for the ‘conservation’ I feared was a photograph (photography) – its duration and efficacy both matters for doubt. But in December 1993, and once again, in June 1994, just three days before the Olympos Naousa closed its doors on its clients for the very last time, I managed to steal a few images of its final hours.



On 4th April 2003, entering by the door with the broken glass which appears on the left from the interior, I photographed all the rooms in the building, on all its floors.

I found that all the areas to the rear – i.e. those housing the kitchen, the toilets and storerooms – now no longer existed, and that the opening which had provided access to them had been blocked up. The open ground to the rear, now uncovered, could be seen from the windows of the floors above, and amidst the confused debris there were still traces of the restaurant’s old tile floors, metal frames stripped from the walls and discarded tables. The area which had once been the mezzanine floor of the restaurant, to which one ascended by the stairs opposite what had been the cashier’s desk, had during the final years been converted into a storeroom and changing room for the staff. It was a wretched scene: piles of receipt books and order pads, curtains, ledgers, old wine lists and menus, light fittings – all strewn across the ground, evil-smelling, soiled by their contact with the vagrants who had at times made this their home, but seemed now to have been evicted.