Dams as symbols of modernization: The urbanization of nature between geographical imagination and materiality

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The article offers an analysis of the iconography and symbolism of dam constructions at three levels: first, as embodiments of the dialectics between geographical imaginations and material practices in the process of modernization; second, as symbols of modernity's quest to conquer and urbanize nature; and third, as the catalysts for reconfiguring the relationship between nature and the city. The article grounds its analysis on the study of the Marathon dam, the first dam project for watering Athens, constructed in the 1920s. Being the biggest dam construction at the time in the Balkans, it became an iconic marker of Athens's modernization and of Greece's modernist project for controlling and taming nature. It also signaled a new era of trade relations between the United States and Greece by introducing American capital and work practices into Greece. However, this decidedly modern project was wrought with heavy neoclassical ornamentation and symbolism, and was veneered with the same marble as that used for the Parthenon. The article interprets this as an effort to reconcile iconographically the two prevailing geographical imaginations that infused the modernizing desires of Athens: modernizing the city through connecting it to the West and modernizing it through reconnecting it to its classical past. In the analysis, the article draws on original material from the archives of the National Library of Greece in Athens. © 2006 by Association of American Geographers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)276-301
Number of pages25
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2006


  • Athens
  • Dams
  • Marathon
  • Urbanization
  • Water


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