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The arches
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The arches

The 1964 cemetery of Magoula was a result of an original idea by Georgios Sainopoulos, philanthropist and mayor of Sparta for 8 years. He dedicated his life to the improvement of urban life in Sparta, delivering numerous projects related to sport and cultural facilities, road & water network improvements, and monumental public art.

The cemetery at the hamlet of Magoula, his birthplace, was created at his behest. It was realised via donations he secured from close relatives in the USA in the early 60s. Sainopoulos then invited local architects Charilaos and Sophia Polychronopoulos to deliver his vision of a monumental cemetery. Sainopoulos might have been informed by his own experience of monumental modernism as a visitor during the Olympic games of Helsinki in 1952.

Indeed, the thin concrete arches that greet us at the entrance emanate an aura of Alvar Aalto's wave designs, or elements of Oscar Niemeyer's Brasilia. Their waveform is symbolic of the up's and downs we go through life. There are entrances to either end of the arches : one leading to a small functions area, and another to the ossuary, both decorated with saints and religious figures made out of bent rebar. The windows reflect the bright Peloponnesian sunshine in the colours of the CIAM grid : green, red, yellow and blue, creating a kaleidoscope of colours inside the space where the funerary chests are kept. Further inside the cemetery proper, it is evident that several monuments and graves have been created in deviation to the usual, marble-clad basilica orthodoxy of Greek cemeteries. The shapes and materials are different, and there are statues and symbols that reflect a closer affinity to European funerary traditions. Uniquely, Sainopoulos' own resting place is a vault, accessible through a flight of steps near the entrance. It is a feature rarely - if ever - seen in Greek cemeteries, and underlines the ambition of the cemetery's mastermind, conveyed through the avante garde architectural mindset of the 60s.