Beloved parks are sorry sight

The National Gardens were created by King Otto and Queen Amalia, «who loved Greece more than they loved Greeks,» according to Vassilis Rafailidis. Then, they were attached to the new – now old – palace (currently housing the Greek Parliament), which was why the gardens were named the Royal Gardens. Later, modern Greeks were not content simply to excise (absolutely correctly) the monarchy from their lives but also wanted to cleanse history of any hints of royalty. The Royal Gardens were thus renamed the National Gardens. Democratic purity also demanded that church services changed the «grant victory unto kings» to «grant victory unto the high,» a prime example of historical distortion and democratic hypocrisy. They could equally be called the National Gardens or national indifference, as Marianna Koromila wrote to me, having gone to the trouble recently of photographing testimony of neglect. I had already prepared a «serious issue» for Sunday June 29 (wherein this piece appeared) when I received the pictures sent to me by Marianna Koromila. I didn’t hesitate for a moment: I left the «serious issue» on the back burner. The heat those days also played a part, bringing back the memory of the freshness breathed out by the National Gardens and Zappeion, even to those simply passing by. Strange things are happening in Zappeion as well, despite the so-called improvements carried out for the Greek presidency of the European Union, which ended on June 30, or round about then, and it’s to be seen how we’ll manage without it. After all, at other times, I’ve dealt with the parks and squares of Athens and its woods and streams, whatever has been saved from the invasion of cement and «development.» The second-largest park in Athens, the Pedion tou Areos or Field of Ares, is indeed the place where provocative state indifference and insolent arbitrariness, as described in detail by lawyer Ioannis Stathopoulos, has had a field day. The same mess (the word favored by the prime minister) can be seen at the Syngrou Estate, in the Lycabettus and Ardittos woods, at the Votanikos archaeological site, in what remains of Elaionas… everywhere. Last week, Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyianni, during the opening ceremony of the photographic exhibition of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment in the pedestrian street of Dionysiou Areapagitou (a beautiful show set up by Veroniki Manges), announced that the protection and upkeep of the National Gardens would fall under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Athens. The Pedion tou Areos, it is said, would fall into the hands of Athens and Piraeus’s super-prefect, Fofi Yennimata. It is difficult for anyone to understand what reasoning or necessity imposed this division of powers. But that is not today’s theme. The main question is whether the funding necessary to improve and maintain the National Gardens and the Pedion tou Areos is also being handed over, together with the responsibilities and duties. In addition, the two first ladies of local administration, once they have assigned the study, could just display the plans and models to the public so that we know what will be done, and avoid unpleasant surprises like Omonia and Dimarchiou squares.

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