CULTURE

Basic issues still dog the metropolitan character of Athens

For over six years, the city of Athens has been living with the prospect of the Olympic Games. Never before has there been such a significant milestone. From the monuments of the Acropolis to the very last museum, each awaited its opportunity. And 2004 would herald the turning of a new page. Now that the Athens Olympics have come and gone, very little of this romantic image remains. We may live in a city that is better than before, but neither is the National Archeological Museum in operation, nor are cultural venues significantly on the rise. The metropolitan identity of Athens is still lacking, despite the development of the integrated transport system. Foreign journalists and tourists who expressed their enthusiasm for their experience of Athens during the Games and say they would like to return will not be satisfied with just Plaka and a bit of couleur locale next time around. They will want to see new, interesting things and the Greek capital must live up to their expectations. Lest we forget, Athens is the only capital in Western Europe that has no home for its National Opera nor for its Museum of Contemporary Art. Work on the new Acropolis Museum continues and is expected to be completed by 2006, but one cannot help but wonder: Without the pressure of the Games and in a less than flourishing financial climate, will the promises come through, and not just for the Acropolis Museum, but also for all the other pending projects? The National Opera House issue remains open. The previous government had planned to extend the existing building onto a still unbuilt lot on Harilaou Trikoupi Street, and now the current government is discussing the possibility of building a new one from scratch. Work on transforming the old Fix brewery on Syngrou Avenue into a home for the Museum of Contemporary Art has come to a standstill; the architectural tender has been completed but contracts remain unsigned. Things look more promising for the Parliament Library on Lenorman Street, as several sections are in place and operational. Another project that appears to be going well is the construction of the new House of Letters and Arts of the Alexandros S. Onassis Foundation on Syngrou Avenue, scheduled to be in operation by end-2006. In contrast to these, two other significant projects appear cast in the shadows: the new wing of the National Library at the Plessa military camp grounds on Mesogeion Avenue, and the transfer of the Greek Film Library to new, and more adequate, headquarters in Metaxourgeio. The first is delayed because the Army Chief of Staff has yet to sign the agreement ceding the grounds, while the film library is still waiting for an architectural tender to be announced.