Damage to park’s main source of water is a ‘crime against Athens’

The sound of drills are drowning out the twittering of birds in Athens’s National Gardens, the city’s main park that has boasted a wealth of Attic flora and fauna since being laid out 150 years ago. The park’s management is looking for new sources of water after construction of an underground car park blocked the park’s main supply, resulting in a lawsuit by the park’s board and protests from environmental groups. Since the park was established, its water supply has come from an underground spring in the district of Goudi along a route damaged recently during the construction of the car park, the park’s director, Yiannis Petamidis, told Kathimerini English Edition this week. Petamidis said the park’s management has taken steps to rectify the situation, Until then, the current emergency «rations» are the only source of moisture and, needless to say, not nearly enough. Water is also being brought in by tanker truck. Kathimerini English Edition also spoke to the new president of the board of the public entity that manages the park, Theodoros Behrakis, chairman of the Athens Municipal Council who, along with other municipal officials, was appointed to the board about a month ago, pending a legislative amendment giving the municipality jurisdiction over the park. The 15.5 hectares are owned by the State; four years ago, management passed from the Agriculture Ministry to the Region of Attica, which monitors the park. Behrakis said the board was taking a series of steps to solve what were a number of serious problems, beginning with a suit lodged a few days ago against all those responsible for the damage to the water supply. Two of a total five boreholes have found water, and another should be in operation soon, although Behrakis said it was not yet certain how much water would be found or whether its quality would be suitable for the goldfish and ducks in the ponds, which are to be moved elsewhere until the water problem is resolved. When Kathimerini English Edition visited the park on Wednesday, it was evident that many plants were withering, although Petamidis said much of this damage had actually been sustained during last winter’s unusually heavy snowfall. Nature lovers and environmental groups are deeply concerned. «This is a crime against Athens and someone should pay,» said George Sfikas, president of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Nature. The spring was the basis for the entire concept of the park, said Sfikas. It emerged at a place known as «Boubounistra,» which during Ottoman rule stood alongside a huge plane tree, and flowed through channels and into the garden’s many ponds, now empty. The National Gardens were originally created for the use of Greece’s new royal family who arrived after Greece was liberated from Turkish rule. In 1923, the park was opened to the public. Improvements were made in the following years, up until 1940, and after World War II. The landscape architecture follows a style popular in England in the 18th century, in which human intervention was in harmony with nature, in contrast to the more geometric French style adopted in the adjoining Zappeion park. A year ago, there was a cleanup of the park that focused more on infrastructure than the actual vegetation, which bears evidence of some years of neglect. In the playground, equipment was renewed and a non-slip surface installed, public toilets were renovated and benches replaced throughout the walkways and clearings. The pond beds were replaced and insulated to prevent water loss through cracks in the old concrete. Athenians have always used the park as a refuge. The spring water rushing along stone channels alongside the many footpaths has always been part of the park’s charm, particularly on a hot day. The meandering paths give a feeling of depth, then emerge suddenly into open glades, past a sunken Roman mosaic floor, a duck pond, a fountain, an alley overhung with wisteria, a section of an ancient column overgrown with a vine. Light and shade alternate, as open spaces contrast with overhanging vegetation. Pensioners sit discussing the state of the world in a little square off the main entrance. Tourists collapse on shady benches out of the heat, and grandparents let their charges run ahead without fear of passing vehicles. It would indeed be a crime if such a haven were to be spoiled and the work of decades gone to waste. One can only hope a solution is found before any permanent damage is done.