Athens, the historic capital of Greece, is a city steeped in ancient culture and modern charm. While tourists flock to marvel at the Parthenon, Acropolis, and Plaka, there is a lesser-known gem nestled in the heart of the city that is worth exploring – the Niva Button Factory in Patissia. This unassuming yet historically significant factory has been producing buttons for generations, offering a unique glimpse into the artistry and craftsmanship of the past. In this article, we will embark on a journey to discover the fascinating history and enduring legacy of the Niva Button Factory.
For quite some time, a viral picture depicting “an immense number” of buttons scattered throughout a deserted factory has circulated on social media platforms. This image displays a vast quantity of buttons strewn about haphazardly, prompting everyone to ponder the circumstances that led to the factory’s current state of abandonment.
Initially, it was believed that the factory was situated in a city called Longhua Shenzhen in China, and this was the source of the initial reports. However, the actual location turned out to be Greece. The image accurately portrays the building’s surroundings, which is situated in Patissia, a district within Athens. Following a thorough investigation to satisfy the curiosity of enthusiasts, it was revealed that the factory was under the ownership of a company named Niva.
A Brief History of the Niva Button Factory
The story of the Niva Button Factory dates back to the late 19th century. Established in 1885 by a group of skilled artisans, the factory quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality buttons that were sought after not only in Greece but also internationally. The factory’s founders had a vision to create a center for craftsmanship and artistry, and over the years, they succeeded in doing just that. The cause and circumstances surrounding its abandonment remained a mystery.
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Traveling down Acharnon Street towards the city center, as you reach the intersection with Konstantinou Kavafi Street, you will notice an old, towering chimney and a lengthy, slender, disused concrete structure to your right. All of its windows are shattered, likely due to years of vandalism and neglect.
The juxtaposition with the nearby expansive shopping mall a few meters away creates a cinematic contrast. Adjacent to the button factory once stood an even larger facility dedicated to the production and dyeing of fabrics and clothing items—the renowned Nathanael factory, which thrived during the 1950s. Following the intervention of the Agios Eleftherios parish, it was eventually demolished. In its place now stands a small park, donated for public use by the Municipality of Athens in 1997. Remarkably, this park also features a discreet fountain.
It is worth noting that Agios Eleftherios was a small church constructed by the factory owner Nathanael. It stood opposite his own factory and was dedicated to Agios Eleftherios as an homage to Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, possibly following an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister by royalists in Paris in 1920. The abandoned building area is enclosed by a fence, and all of its entrances are securely sealed with iron welds. Each day, hundreds of people pass by on foot or in their vehicles, yet most remain unaware of the hidden historical treasures concealed within its walls.
The Art of Button-Making
Button-making may not immediately strike you as an art form, but at the Niva Button Factory, it truly is. The process of crafting buttons is a meticulous and intricate one, requiring a keen eye for detail, precision, and a deep understanding of materials. The artisans at Niva have honed their skills over generations, preserving and passing down the craft from one master to another.
Traditionally, buttons were made from a variety of materials, including bone, horn, mother-of-pearl, and wood. The Niva Button Factory specialized in producing buttons made from natural materials, with a focus on mother-of-pearl buttons, which are renowned for their elegance and durability. The factory sourced its mother-of-pearl from sustainable and responsible suppliers to ensure the highest quality and environmental consciousness.
A Journey Through Time
Stepping into the Niva Button Factory feels like a journey through time. The workshop, with its vintage machinery and tools, evokes a sense of nostalgia. As you explore the factory, you will see millions of buttons. Each button is then meticulously polished to reveal its natural iridescence. The level of craftsmanship and attention to detail is truly remarkable.
The building structure itself consists of three floors, with each floor covering an area of a thousand square meters. On the ground floor, you can find heavy equipment such as cutting machines, button molds, and large workbenches. On the first floor, the only items present were packages of colorful buttons, now scattered all around. The second floor housed not only buttons but also samples displayed on paper cards, machinery, and a wardrobe equipped with hangers for staff uniforms. Additionally, the second floor was where the business documents and paperwork were kept.
The Niva Button Factory in Patissia, Athens, is not just a place about buttons; it is a testament to the art of craftsmanship and the enduring beauty of tradition. As you explore this hidden gem, you will discover the meticulous work that goes into each button and gain a deeper appreciation for the skilled artisans who kept this art alive.
In a world that often values speed and convenience over quality, the Niva Button Factory stands as a beacon of artistry and sustainability. It reminds us that there is value in preserving the skills and traditions of the past, and that true craftsmanship is timeless.
So, the next time you find yourself in Athens, take a detour from the well-trodden tourist paths and visit the Niva Button Factory. It is a journey through time and a celebration of the enduring beauty of craftsmanship – an experience that will leave you with a newfound appreciation for the art of button making and the rich cultural heritage of Greece.