These elaborate mini-chapels abound on twisty highways off the mainland.

Road safety infrastructure isn’t all stop signs and steel barriers. There are locally made traffic interventions all over the world. Take the “Slow Down Cat” of Sebastopol, California, the Transformers-esque robots of Kinshasa, and that PVC pipe stretched across the pavement in a suburb of Arkadelphia serving as a DIY speed-bump.

Some of the richest examples of citizen infrastructure are the roadside shrines of Greece. The twisty mountain highways of the Peloponnese peninsula is particularly packed with them. You’ll pass a couple of these tiny, pedestaled constructions, usually topped with a cross, nearly every kilometer.

Some kandylakia (as they’re called) are simple wood or metal boxes; others are elaborate, multi-story models of Greek churches made of ceramic or marble. Virtually all have tiny doors, and those that are maintained generally house an icon of a saint (or two), an oil lamp, a bottle of extra oil, and often a handful of personal offerings (on a recent trip to Greece, I saw lots of Coke cans).

You might think these shrines mark the sites of fatal accidents, akin to roadside crosses or wreaths. And some of them are. More often, though, the shrines commemorate a driver’s brush with mortality: a close-call around the bend, or a crash where a life was ultimately spared. Still other times, the shrines are meant to invite prayer or rest on a long journey, in a spot with a gorgeous view.

For all of these reasons, the shrines are a especially common sight on steep highway passes. Thus they serve as warning signs to passing drivers by the local families who maintain them: Slow down, bucko, and enjoy the trip.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man and a woman shop at a modern kiosk by a beach in a vintage photo.
    Design

    Why Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect

    The places where we enact our daily lives are not grand design statements, yet they have an underrated charm and even nobility.

  2. A chef prepares food at a restaurant in Beijing, China.
    Life

    What Restaurant Reviews Reveal About Cities

    Where official census data is sparse, MIT researchers find that restaurant review websites can offer similar demographic and economic information.

  3. A photo of anti-gentrification graffiti in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification

    A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

  4. A photo of downtown Youngstown, Ohio
    Perspective

    The Latest Bad News Out of Youngstown Is Different

    The closing of The Vindicator, Youngstown’s daily paper, means that this long-suffering Ohio city won’t have the ability to shape its own narrative.

  5. Environment

    How ‘Corn Sweat’ Makes Summer Days More Humid

    It’s a real phenomenon, and it’s making the hot weather muggier in the American Midwest.

×