The Unification of Archaeological
Sites - probably one of the most ambitious plans of urban transformation
ever conceived - is now well under way in Athens, the densely populated
historic capital of Greece. The plan has been set up to undertake the
creation of a large open museum, a project of crucial importance for
the capital is aesthetic appearance and cultural role, a project which
shall unify the rich heritage of the past and the city's everyday life. View virtual tour
It is a particularly ambitious and long-term project, the final aim being the possibility of an uninterrupted walk in space and historic time from the city's birth to the present day. So says Yiannis Kalantidis, the president-CEO of the Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens SA, a company created by the Ministry of Environment, Regional Planning and Public Works, and the Ministry of Culture, and partly financed by the European Community. Although ideas for a vast archaeological park were proposed by visionary designers more than forty years ago, it was around the mid-1970s that most people realized that the modern city had been built hastily from the 1950s to almost the present time - over the remains of ancient Athens. The need to create homes and businesses for a fast growing population was then much more important than the preservation and showcasing of the city s glorious history. The Acropolis, Thission and the other important archaeological sites were suffocating, as very busy streets, on which endless lines of private cars and buses passed by, often in bumper-to-bumper traffic, surrounded them. Traffic jams are the norm and in an attempt to reduce the traffic, and the pollution created through this traffic, the government has instigated a law stating that you may use your car only on alternate days. Parking is a nightmare. Some walking through the centre of the city is necessary in order to see some monuments and sights. The sights shown below are all within walking distance. Athens Tour
THE GREEK PARLIAMENT. The plain, neoclassical building which is the Parliament of the Greeks today, was built between 1834-1838 as the palace of the first kings. In front is the monument of the Unknown Soldier, with the two guards, called "Evzoni", who are the presidential guards (changing of the guards every two hours). Every Sunday there is a parade and a band playing the National Anthem at 10:45 a.m.
SYNTAGMA SQUARE. Here beats the heart of the modern city. The Parliament at the east of the square reminds us the deviation of its name. In 1843, the Greeks, received their first constitution from King Otho, after numerous and persistent demonstrations.
NATIONAL GARDEN. The green lung in the center of the city. Beautiful and rare flowers, trees and bushes as well as little ponds decorate the garden, which is open all day long.
PANEPISTIMIOU STREET (EL. VENIZELOU). El. Venizelou street, which is known as Panepistimiou street, is one of the central roads of Athens. Beautiful neoclassical buildings decorate it: "Iliou Melathron", meaning the palace of Troy. This was the house of Erik Schlieman. "The Academy", the highest spiritual institution of the country. "The University", "the National Library" with thousands of manuscripts and books, "the Bank of Greece" etc. These buildings are typical copies of ancient Greek architecture and will help you to imagine how Athens looked 2500 years ago.
MONASTIRAKI. This was the centre of the Turkish town with the bazaar and the shops as well as the main mosques and administrative buildings. Now it is a popular commercial district incorporating the Athens flea market. Start from Syntagma Square. Go west down Odos Ermou, a busy shopping street lined with boutiques selling feminine apparel, dress materials and ready - to - wear clothes, furs and shoes, leather goods and jewelry. Some columns from the Adrian's library are in site, a mosque which has been turned into a library and a beautiful small church (Kapnikarea built on 11 C) are some of the interesting monuments of this place.
ATHINAS STREET. A central road of Athens connecting Omonia square with Monastiraki. It is here that one can feel the oriental character of the city. The main market of the city, the little shops, with their peculiar merchandise make this busy, noisy street very attractive.
The restoration of Plaka, and then Thission, Psyrri and the other old neighborhoods in the centre of Athens started in the early 1990s. A vast network of pedestrian streets, together with financial incentives given to the owners of properties to renovate their homes completely changed the face of these areas. They have now become favorite spots for a quiet stroll during the day or at night. Athenians and tourists alike gather at the multitude of tiny restaurants in Psyrri, or climb up to the northern side of the Acropolis, walk through the picturesque streets of Plaka, lined with beautifully restored private homes. The so-called historic triangle of Athens, the old commercial part of the city, has also improved dramatically. Ermou, the principal commercial street, as well as many other narrower side streets have been freed from traffic and turned over to pedestrians, giving new life to this lovely part of downtown Athens, which for years had declined progressively. Athens Tour
The Unification of Archaeological sites plan, which also incorporates these restored neighborhoods, consists of the creation of a long network of pedestrian ways and open spaces. These stretch from Ardettos hill, the marble Stadium and the temple of Olympios Zeus, all the way to Kerameikos, through Dionysiou Areopagitou and Apostolou Pavlou streets, on the southern side of the Acropolis, crossing the Thission. The plan also includes the area past Kerameikos, reaching as far as Gazi - the former large gasworks plant, which is now a very lively cultural center. We needed to take in to account the needs of locals and visitors alike as we carefully knitted together the urban areas with the archaeological and the natural sites , explains Maria Kaltsa, an architect and Yale graduate, who is part of the team working on the project. Dionysiou Areopagitou and its continuation, Apostolou Pavlou Street, running along the southern and southwestern sides of the Acropolis, is the backbone of the plan.
During the large-scale excavations carried out with state-of- the-art instruments for the long awaited Athens Metro ( Web Site: http://www.ametro.gr/ ), more incredibly interesting ancient monuments and artifacts have surfaced. The Metro, although only partly finished, has greatly improved the life of Athenian commuters. But besides providing stress-free transportation, it has also created several underground museums at most of the new stations. At Syntagma, for example, one can admire the stunning cross-section of the ground, illustrating the various eras that once flourished in Athens. There are also cases of ancient objects found during the work on the station. Many people also are drawn particularly to the turn-of-the-century photographs of Syntagma square, which speak louder than words about the changes the capital of Greece has undergone in its most recent past. At the newer Acropolis station, visitors can admire a different permanent exhibit: copies of the Parthenon s eastern frieze, wonderfully depicting goddess Athinas creation, together with many other of the most important Parthenon sculptures that enrich the British Museum of London. The station pays homage to the late Melina Mercouri, the well-known actress who - as Minister of Culture - had made it her life s goal to get these so-called Elgin Marbles back to Athens. Melina is shown sitting in front of the Parthenon in a large photograph, while another most impressive picture on display at the station shows hundreds of ancient vases being unearthed as the huge crane moved the earth while digging for the station. It is not only the works of the various ancient creators and craftsmen that adorn the various stations of the Athens Metro. The compositions of modern, well-known Greek artists may also be admired. Yannis Moralis work can be seen at Panepistimiou station, Zongolopoulos flying umbrellas hang at an atrium on the Syntagma stop, Chryssa s creation is at Evangelismos, while at Dafni, Dimitris Mytaras bas-reliefs inspired by the 4th century BC depiction of the fighter Dexileos cover an area 3 x 11 meters and dominate the station. These are just an example of the many important artworks that can be admired at the Metro stops, which have created small underground art museums in various parts of the city, forcing even commuters who would never consider going to an art gallery or museum to get a glimpse of what they have been missing. On the other hand, these new well designed stations make Athenians appreciate their city again, restoring the pride which was almost lost after all they had to endure on their way to work.
But the transformation of the city and the great new face of Athens wouldn't be complete if travelers had to be squeezed into the small old airport of Hellinikon. The modern large Eleftherios Venizelos airport website www.aia.gr, at Spata, is comfortable and well designed, equipped with the latest technology available. The new Athens airport has a vast shopping mall, ready to serve travelers and local residents in this well populated area. Spata, situated on the eastern side of Attica, together with the upgraded port of Lavrion will enable visitors to get to the islands by boats much faster, as the distance from Lavrion, at the tip of the Attica peninsula, is considerably shorter than the trip from Piraeus. The vast roads and highways that lead to the airport will also help commuters who want to get to Mesogia, the lively area around Spata. It will also facilitate traffic to the varied and wonderful eastern coast of Attica, with its wonderful, clean beaches, which has remained less known to the visitors of Athens...
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