NEWS

Transformation of Athens on track

Four years after it set out to implement government promises for a pedestrian network linking the main ancient sites of Athens, the state-owned company handling the multi-billion-drachma project is now in a position to start the bulk of the work rolling by the end of this year. Ioannis Kalantidis, chairman of Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens SA (EAXA), told a press conference yesterday that tenders will be held over the next three months for 17 projects throughout the city center. Costing some 13 billion drachmas, they are all scheduled for completion by the end of 2003. Our program will definitely proceed, he said. The funds have been approved and we already have some of the cash in hand. If there are no forthcoming results, it would be a question of our own ability – or inability. We would have no excuse. So far, the most substantial result EAXA has to show for its efforts is the transformation of a busy street leading from Hadrian’s Arch to the Acropolis – an 800-meter walkway paved in gneiss and marble with stretches of beaten earth. Work on Dionysiou Areopagitou Street started in early 2000 after being delayed by government-sponsored millennial celebrations and was completed last month. Described by Kalantidis as the flagship of the entire project, it cost 3 billion drachmas. The company has also supervised the extensive facelifts to buildings looking out on the central Omonia roundabout currently in the course of being transformed into a square under an EAXA project to redesign four of the capital’s main squares. Now clean and relieved of the lichenous growth of advertising billboards and assorted external clutter that disfigured them for decades, the buildings – ranging from two-story neoclassical hotels to 1960s office blocks, some of which were radically refurbished in the 1990s – have regained their initial clarity of line and shape. Until very recently, everyone poured scorn on these buildings in Omonia, Kalantidis said. Now we can admire them. This is largely due to the removal of about 450 advertising billboards of all sizes and shapes, made simple by a new law passed this year which enables EAXA to circumvent red tape in the case of illegal installations. If the owner does not remove the boards, we do, Kalantidis said. There can be no delay. By 2004, EAXA officials hope to have taken down some 10,000 billboards in the city center, while company officials have already extended their campaign to Amalias Avenue and Filellinon Street. And Kalantidis said he is lobbying Athens 2004 organizing committee president Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki to extend the anti-billboard campaign to the rest of the capital. By the end of 2003, Kalantidis said, a 4.7-billion-drachma pedestrian network will be in place, stretching from the ancient marble stadium along Vassilisis Olgas Avenue through Dionysiou Areopagitou, Apostolou Pavlou and Ermou Streets to the ancient Kerameikos cemetery and Pireos Street. At the same time, EAXA employees will be tidying up six major sites: the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Philopappou Hill (which will be fenced), the Kerameikos, the Ancient and Roman agoras and the slopes of the Acropolis – many of which will expand slightly. Other streets such as Athinas, Aeolou, Kolokotroni and Mitropoleos will be tidied up and their sidewalks widened, while a stretch of Melidoni Street beside the Kerameikos will become a walkway. We want our fellow citizens to be able to walk safely on the sidewalks, Kalantidis said. The company’s mandate runs until 2007. With a total budget that exceeds 110 billion drachmas, it hopes by then to have extended the pedestrian network to Plato’s Academy, west of the Kerameikos and, in some form or another, as far as Elefsina.