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[ Contents ]

The Heritage as a Resource

 

"Of mills and men"

Emmanouil Yalitis
[LEADER Lassithi, Greece]

 

Since the 15th century, a time when the Venetians
occupied Crete, the windmill has been the
symbol of the Lassithi plateau 860 m above
sea level. The smallest plot of cultivable
land had its own, and at one time there were about
14 000 windmills scattered across 24 km2.
These are actually small windmills that primarily
served to irrigate the specialty crop
grown on the plateau, potatoes.

 

Beginning in the 1970s, however, the exodus of young people and the decline in farming led to the deterioration of an important part of the local landscape: due to a lack of maintenance, a growing number of these small pretty white windmills was falling into ruin.

Aware of the risk of this unique heritage disappearing, a few local officials came up with a plan to restore them and use this identity-based symbol as an asset for the integrated development of the Lassithi plateau. In response, local authorities, farm cooperatives, women's cooperatives and cultural associations set up a development agency that became a member of the LEADER I group. A long process of awareness raising among local people was then begun.

Once the idea had been accepted by a majority of the residents, the LAG organised a training programme: 20 people, mostly young people, learned to build and restore windmills with the help of craftsmen, who were often well advanced in years and the only ones to have the know-how. The Polytechnical School of Athens also lent its assistance and each participant in the training course renovated a windmill.

A list of the windmills was then drawn up, and 300 of them were selected for the large-scale restoration operation. This operation, which lasted from April to December 1995, benefited the young people who were hired to do the work and the craftsmen and small local businesses which produced the materials and parts needed to put the windmills back into working order.

The operation was part of a much vaster programme to develop heritage sites which also included the opening of a Museum of Local Traditions in 1995, the restoration of a convent and its conversion into a Museum of Natural History, the creation of small restaurants and tourist accommodation, etc. All these actions aim to benefit day tourism, as the plateau (which is some forty kilometers from the coast) attracts between 180 000 and 200 000 visitors a year. The restoration of the windmills represented an investment of ECU 279 583 of which ECU 20 000 was allocated for training, ECU 100 000 in wages and ECU 159 583 in local materials.

The economic situation of this hard-to-reach plateau remains very fragile, but the rehabilitation of these windmills which makes the countryside more attractive, the utilisation of traditional local know-how and the substantial increase in facilities for tourists help consolidate existing jobs and in some cases even create new ones and have persuaded the local people that their area has a future.

 

source: LEADER Magazine No.17 - Spring, 1998


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