The Age of Kronos

The Kronos factory was built in 1923-1926 to produce alcohol products, wine, molasses, and tanning extracts. The parent company had been founded in Piraeus in 1911, but a rise in the demand for alcohol and wine in the 1920s persuaded them to expand their operations in Eleusis. When it was founded, Kronos was one of the most technologically advanced factories in Greece. The main building was erected by the construction engineer Alexandros Zachariou, a graduate of the Zurich Polytechnikum, and an early advocate of the use of reinforced concrete in architecture.

Hands and mouths

Kronos appeared at a time of rapid industrial growth. The country was struggling to accommodate 1.5 million refugees, who had been forced to abandon their ancestral homeland in Asia Minor following the population exchange agreement signed by the governments of Greece and Turkey at Lausanne, Switzerland on 30 January 1923. Existing industries could not satisfy the demand for consumer products and essentials (food and clothing), so industrialists invested heavily in new enterprises. They were assisted by the abundant supply of cheap labour, a direct result of the countless new working hands that suddenly found themselves destitute in a new country. Eleusis possessed the necessary infrastructure and inexpensive land to entice the owners of Kronos to invest here.

A potpourri of styles

The factory extended over almost nine acres of land and consisted of warehouses, machining centres, boiler rooms, coal bunkers, pumping stations, engine rooms, wineries etc. The distillery was housed in a Neo-gothic industrial tower that combined the innovative use of cement (a 20th-century material) with the eclecticism of 19th-century architecture. Pointed Gothic arches and Renaissance crenellations endow the distillery with a fantastical character that seems out of place in an industrial landscape defined by modernizing functionalism.

The administration building dominates the entrance to the industrial compound. It was built near the shoreline with reinforced concrete and took the form of a proper bourgeois mansion. Its interior offered the level of comfort and luxury that was deemed appropriate for the factory director.    

Crimson strike

Almost from the beginning Kronos employed close to 300 people. It was a great opportunity for people who had recently lost everything, but there were also many demands for the respect of workers’ rights. In February 1929 the Union of Craftsmen and Cement Workers of Eleusis demanded a wage increase, respect for the eight-hour day, and recognition of the Union. The government attempted to defuse the tension by promising to look into these demands but the industrialists were unmoved. The owners of Kronos appeared willing to grant some of the workers’ requests, provided the other factories did the same, but to no avail. On March 5th, the workers of Eleusis went on strike.

More than 2000 people participated in the industrial action, including 280 workers of Kronos. The chief of police sent his men to patrol the factories; those responsible for Kronos were placed between the main entrance and the sea, to protect a group of strikebreakers. When more than 700 strikers tried to enter Kronos, the police opened fire, killing a young man and injuring eight others (including a woman). A few hours later there was a mass protest in Eleusis, demanding compensation for the victims and the arrest of the police officer who ordered the attack. The government attributed the strike on troublemakers that had turned against the state without reason. The police banned all rallies (and the sale of alcohol) and arrested the labour leaders on the day of the dead worker’s funeral.     

The end of the line

The factory closed in 1986 as a result of intense competition and problems with the management of its waste. Most of the equipment, machinery, and metal storage facilities were removed. Extensive shoreline alterations have changed the original appearance of the area in front of the factory. While Kronos operated, there was a loading quay, a railway line to transport cargo from the factory to the waiting ships, and a large rotating crane to facilitate the loading and unloading of vessels that docked here. All this was eventually replaced by Kanellopoulou Street.

Today Kronos faces critical problems that threaten its very existence. The present owners seem unable (or unwilling) to protect an iconic example of the cultural and industrial heritage of Eleusis. The factory complex remains abandoned. Building materials and metals are continuously being removed by unauthorized private individuals for recycling or resale; the company archive has been scattered to the winds; and the buildings, that were declared listed monuments in 1990, are in danger of collapse. The only hope for Kronos seems to be the raising of awareness among the public and the indefatigable efforts of a handful of Eleusinians, who seem fully aware of their town’s historical wealth.

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