The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a young person. But, sometimes, it takes young people to raise a village. That’s what’s happening in Vamvakou.
Located in the Peloponnese a few hours’ drive from Athens, Vamvakou went from having hundreds of residents decades ago to having just a handful of permanent residents as emigration and Greece’s economic crisis took their toll. Yet the area remains fertile ground for the chestnuts, nuts, potatoes, and herbs for which it was once famous. Its idyllic mountain setting is as beautiful as ever, offering opportunities for outdoor recreation and an ideal weekend destination.
Seeing the opportunity to write a new chapter in the village’s storied history, a group of five friends with roots in Vamvakou began to shape a plan for bringing new life to the village. In 2016, they met with Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos, and in 2018, they founded a Social Cooperative Enterprise called Vamvakou Revival. With a grant from SNF, the first stage of the project included developing a plan to draw visitors to the village, offering a variety of programming, and creating new infrastructure.
Today, the village once again has a restaurant, a café, and the Ruga of Vamvakou guesthouse. It offers organized sports activities, such as hiking and cycling, as well as a rich program of cultural events. The village school serves as a creative space for children and school visits and hosts V.Lab (Vamvakou Technology Lab fully powered by SNF), a state-of-the-art STEAM center.
SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos says, “The revival of Vamvakou is a very ambitious project which, we believe, expresses a collective need, today perhaps more than ever, to return to our roots with respect and hope. Our own roots happen to be in Vamvakou, as it is the village where my great uncle and our founder, Stavros S. Niarchos, came from. Respecting its tradition and its history, we look forward to seeing Vamvakou gradually fill with life and evolve into a model village, paving the way for other such villages to follow, both in Greece and internationally.”
Vamvakou Revival envisions the creation of a new community and a model village based on sustainable development. Its primary objective is the return of permanent residents through the creation of jobs and modern living conditions, so that Vamvakou once again bustles with life and the school bell welcomes students once again.
Vamvakou was built in the 15th century on the slopes of Mount Parnon, at an altitude of 903 meters, surrounded by fir, walnut, and chestnut trees. The village is steeped in historical and cultural heritage and rich in natural resources and beauty. Today, it is part of the municipal sector of Oinountas in the Municipality of Sparta, in Laconia.