CULTURE

Old tobacco factory in central Athens given new lease of life

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It is located at 218 Lenorman Street and has been a city landmark since its construction between 1928 and 1930. The Public Tobacco Factory was built using government funds. Its construction started in 1928 and it began operating in 1930, at a time when the international crisis had already reduced Greek tobacco exports.

Many Greek tobacco exporters were wiped out and the working class – tobacco growers and workers – faced enormous hardships. In its 65 years of operation, the Public Tobacco Factory housed 25 cigarette companies, with Sante being the last to leave.

Cigarettes and cigars were rolled on the upper floor, while the mezzanine housed the tobacco storing areas that were rented to Greek traders. That is where the Greek cigarette blends were produced. The factory housed specialist tobacco workers, many of whom were from Egypt, who knew all about tobacco, its processing and production. Hard work, and unhealthy, say those who did it. 

This brief return to the early 20th century serves a purpose. It was officially announced on April 27 that the project by the Neon organization to restore the former Public Tobacco Factory – Hellenic Parliament Library and Printing House had been completed.

As a result of this initiative, over 6,500 square meters of recently closed space has been renovated: a large part of the ground floor, and its famed – and boldly engineered for the time – glass-covered atrium. At the same time, it was announced that the building will host the Modern Art 2021 Cultural Program, from June 12 to the end of December.

We hope its new purpose will rejuvenate the building and elevate the surrounding area, which remains run down. The city of Athens would truly strike gold if it not only managed to save the form of the building – a definitive example of the capital’s early modernist architecture – but also its soul: the memories of the people who worked here, the history of the country.

The creation of a tobacco museum, which was in an earlier study drawn up by the National Technical University of Athens, remains important. 

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