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Cycladic Islands in Greece ‘Threatened by Surge in Tourism’

Cycladic Islands tourism
Folegandros has been designated among the 7 most endangered places in Europe. Public Domain

Tourism development in the Cycladic islands of Greece, and in particular Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, threatens the islands’ integrity, a report by Europa Nostra finds.

Europa Nostra is a pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage, representing citizens’ organizations that work on safeguarding Europe’s cultural and natural heritage. It is the voice of this movement to relevant international bodies, in particular the European Union, the Council of Europe and UNESCO.

The Cyclades, renowned for their unique charm and rich culture, find themselves grappling with a myriad of challenges it says are caused by unchecked construction.

Sifnos Greek island
Sifnos. Credit: Greek Reporter

Tourism creates challenges

Despite driving economic growth, this brings along a host of environmental, cultural, and social issues, including the degradation of natural resources, damage to cultural and natural heritage, water scarcity, waste management problems, and socio-economic disparities.

“The islands are at risk of losing their exceptional and authentic character as increasing tourist-oriented construction threatens to overshadow their inherent allure,” Europa Nostra warns in its report.

It adds that of particular concern are the smaller island destinations within the Cyclades, which bear the brunt of overtourism. The strain on infrastructure and the escalating demand for accommodation present significant challenges. The clamor for new constructions beyond settlement boundaries has reached unprecedented levels.

The report includes data from the National Statistical Authority revealing a steady rise in new building permits from 916 in 2018 to 1,280 in 2022. The built square meters, escalating from 291,722 sqm in 2018 to 419,232 sqm in 2022, underscore the intensification of construction activities, Europa Nostra notes.

Cycladic islands are among the most endangered in Europe

The nomination of the Cyclades, in particular of the islands of Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, to the 7 Most Endangered Program 2024 was made by Elliniki Etairia – Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage.

“The three islands were chosen because of their particularity: they were not very touristic islands, but in recent years they have been changing rapidly. Therefore, we must highlight the problem to preserve them,” said Stathis Potamitis the president of Elliniki Etairia.

“Our organization tries to approach the issues in a balanced way. That is why he does not condemn development, but we raise the issue of tourism development in the Cyclades in terms of sustainability. We must not be carried away by the explosion of their popularity, which will disappear after a few years after it would have caused irreversible damage,” he added.

Elliniki Etairia advocates for strategic policy-based measures to address the pressing issues in the Cyclades, proposing a comprehensive approach to safeguard the islands’ integrity.

Immediate priorities include establishing the Special Spatial Plan for Tourism to regulate and manage activities, along with instituting a binding Regional Spatial Plan of South Aegean.

The proposal also emphasizes the need for Local Urban Plans to define landscape enhancement zones, collaborate between the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Environment for policy convergence, and create specific institutional regulations to integrate carrying capacity into spatial planning.

These are the 11 most endangered monuments and heritage sites in Europe shortlisted by Europa Nostra for 2024:

Archaeological Site of Muret e Portës, Durrës, ALBANIA
Amberd Historical and Cultural Reserve, ARMENIA
Palais du Midi, Brussels, BELGIUM
Working-class Housing (courées) in Roubaix-Tourcoing, FRANCE
Cycladic Islands, notably Sifnos, Serifos and Folegandros, GREECE
Church of San Pietro in Gessate, Milan, ITALY
Synagogue of Siena, ITALY
Palace in Sztynort, northern Masuria, POLAND
Home of the Yugoslav People’s Army in Šabac, SERBIA
Greek Orthodox Church of St. Georgios, Altınözü / Hatay province, TÜRKIYE
Iron Gate of Antioch, Antakya / Hatay province, TÜRKIYE

Related: Overtourism in Greece Makes Travelers Change Vacation Dates

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