Monastiraki facelift on, but who will foot the bill?

Is Giorgos Souflias, head of the Environment, Town Planning and Public Works Ministry, going to put an end to the disgraceful appearance of Monastiraki Square? The minister took over responsibility for one of the capital’s main focal points last week, when the Culture Ministry’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS) approved a long-languishing architectural proposal last week. The same council first examined the proposal in July 2002, but had rejected it because the paving design suggested by the architects who were awarded the European tender was not «Greek» enough. The colorful stone and marble mosaic suggested by the architects was supposed to reflect the neighborhood as a whole, but the council said it would have to be replaced by conventional paving stones similar to those used in the squares and pedestrian zones of Plaka. Wasted time In the end, Monastiraki failed to become Plaka, and a lot of valuable time was lost. As a result, this hub of Athens – a thoroughfare and major tourist area – was left to go to complete ruin. It is surprising to see the City of Athens, so active in other sectors of the capital’s management, allowing this shoddy, derelict appearance in Monastiraki. It is also surprising to see how the Central Archaeological Council itself, after rejecting the proposal, turned a blind eye to the abandonment of the square’s monuments, such as the Church of Pandassas and the Tzistaraki Mosque. The question, therefore, is what happened between July 2002 and May 2005 that made KAS have a change of heart? As far as the architectural study is concerned, nothing did. What did change was the makeup of the council, and that in itself is significant. The study submitted in 2002 by the five architects – Nikos Kazeros, Zinovia Costopoulou, Vasso Manidaki, Christina Parakende and Eleni Tzirtzilaki – has finally been approved, but under the following two conditions. First, the number of trees on the west side of the square must be increased. The architects were skeptical about whether this could be done because of the metro that runs underground as part of the square. Secondly, the mosaic paving – which is proposed to stretch onto Areos Street toward Plaka – should be limited to the level where the north side of Hadrian’s Library begins. From that point on, a more conventional paving pattern seen in Plaka should be used. A matter of money The good news came at the wrong time. Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens (EAXA) – the body which had announced the tenders for Omonia, Syntagma, Koumoundourou and Monastiraki squares three years ago – will be hard pressed to find the 2 million euros budgeted for the proposal in their coffers. That’s where Souflias comes in, because while EAXA is run by both the Culture and the Environment, Town Planning and Public Work ministries, the fiscal difficulties being faced by the Culture Ministry land it directly in the other ministry’s lap. Should the ministry decide to put the proposal into effect, it will be the first gesture of good will on the part of the new government toward the city of Athens.