Taking an unimpeded stroll through the past

The involvement of the company that is unifying the archaeological sites of Athens (EAXA) in projects that are not directly associated with the sites (such as the refurbishment of downtown squares and pedestrianization) has made us forget the firm’s original purpose, which was to highlight six major sites in the capital and to link them. The latter task proved impracticable, as ambitious notions of putting streets underground (such as Amalias Avenue, in front of the columns of Olympian Zeus) never came to fruition. New look By contrast, the first part of the original plan hit no obstacles. The archaeological sites of the Kerameikos, the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library, the northern and southern slopes of the Acropolis, Philopappou and the Temple of Olympian Zeus have acquired a new look. Their infrastructure has been updated by work that is either in progress or has already been completed. The aim is apparent – to make access easier, visits more attractive and walking around more comfortable. Greek archaeological sites suffer from many of the ills that bedevil publicly administered venues: insufficient cleanliness, mediocre infrastructure and, all too often, service to match. EAXA has not made any drastic interventions, but it has at least made it possible to visit the six major archaeological sites of Athens in comfort. One series of jobs that was carried out at all of the sites included establishing and reinstating the ancient roads, planting appropriate flora and the provision of the minimum infrastructure required (such as water supply, firefighting equipment, drainage, lighting and reconstruction of toilet facilities). In addition, provision has been made for highlighting and maintaining the facades of buildings that face the roads bordering on archaeological sites, though, so far, this part of the project has not be accomplished as expected. The work carried out on the slopes of the Acropolis has given the city what is, in essence, a new archaeological site. Spectacular redesign The construction of three roofed shelters (for sculpture, near the Theater of Dionysus; for columns and pedestals, near the Asclepeion, and the bronze foundry) has made the antiquities more visible, while the spectacular redesign of the entrance, together with the reshaping of the square at the intersection of Dionysiou and Thrasyllou streets, has completely changed the look of the area immediately around the Acropolis. This explains the impressive increase in the number of visitors. Figures from the winter show a fivefold increase in visitors and the rate may have further increased this summer. At the Ancient Agora, apart from refurbished entrances to the archaeological site (on Adrianou and Pikionis’s cobblestone pathway to the Acropolis) and the construction of a new fence along Adrianou, the most impressive change is a new dirt path linking Thiseion with Plaka. Work is continuing at the Kerameikos on the creation of an archaeological park, a green area that will provide fresh air. The objections of local residents to the fence around Philopappou have subsided with the construction of a large number of entrances. An outdoor sculpture space has been created on the Philopappou ring road in Petralona. The most important change in the Roman Agora is the reshaping of Mousaiou Square, with masonry seating and the highlighting of the traces of a mosque. At the intersection of Klepsydra and Lysiou streets a small dwelling was demolished to open up Lysiou to the square.