Tentes – Athens’ awnings

Traditional craftsmanship in Greece – Tentes workshop– Athens’ awnings

In a small workshop in Athens’ artisans district Psiri Christos and his father Barbalias Kurtoglu are sewing customised “tentes”, sun blinds.

The colourful awnings that are found on almost every balcony in Athens during summertime bestow a cheerful lightness on the heavy architecture. Especially in southern countries balconies are an indispensable extension of the interior and tentes, awnings, protect from the unbearable summer heat.

The Syntagma Square marks the end of the famous shopping mile Ermou that stretches between the districts of Monastiraki and Psiri. Side by side there are antiques dealers, souvenir shops, workshops, retail businesses and wholesalers. Underneath a large canopy, bearing the inscription TENTES, Christos Kurtoglu’s small discreet workshop is hidden away. Multi-coloured bags are hanging on the graffiti-covered wall at the entrance.

“My father helps me now and then, like today”

From ship sail to sun sail
Next to an old Singer sewing machine Christos Kurtoglu is holding up a long panel of fabric. His father Barbalias Kurtoglu, warmly wrapped in a winter jacket, is working on the machine. “My father helps me now and then, like today”, Christos says and takes up the fabric that his father calmly feeds through the machine. They are a well-coordinated team that only needs few words. The rattling of the sewing machine is accompanied by the radio echoing in the background.

Barbalias Kurtoglu took over the workshop from his former employer in 1955. In the old days they made ship sails for the caïques, fishing boats. “But that was a long time ago”, Christos says. Awnings have become their main business. “We do everything, from sewing and iron constructions to installing the awnings.”

Tsantes – bags from fabric remnants
Fabric remnants are piled up in wooden shelves. “We have been using those for years to make tsantes”, Christos remarks. These durable bags were formerly used by artisans for their tools, nowadays they are mainly bought by women as shopping- or beach bags. Christos mostly works alone; now and then he hires someone for the installations. He would like to employ someone on a regular basis but he too feels the impact of the crisis. New buildings are almost not even worth considering. People economise whenever they can, they use their awnings until there are only scraps left. Without complaining Christos says: “What can we do, we are all in the same boat.”