Monastiraki plans bite the dust

Award-winning plans to radically redesign Monastiraki Square in one of the most popular areas of Athens have fallen foul of objections raised by Culture Ministry archaeologists, forcing officials to redirect European Union funds earmarked for the square to another project in the capital’s center. The state-run company set up to manage the beautification of central Athens ahead of the 2004 Olympics, Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens (EAXA) said yesterday it had been forced to abandon the Monastiraki project, although EAXA chief Ioannis Kalantidis said he had been perfectly happy with the plans. «I was one of the people who supported the study,» Kalantidis said. «But then came the decision by the [Culture Ministry’s] Central Archaeological Council [KAS] which we could not ignore. We had to comply.» The award-winning study – selected under a project to revamp four of the city’s center’s main squares – had envisaged paving the square with a multicolored stone patchwork. But this met with strong objections from conservative KAS members, who called instead for the use of the gray paving stones used extensively throughout the adjacent Plaka neighborhood, a major tourist attraction under the Acropolis. EAXA had to seek KAS approval as the square – which is now a mess of concrete paving blocks and disused tarmac following years of metro work – contains a medieval church and an 18th century mosque. The problem was compounded when two of the architects behind the plans sued EAXA. Now, the EU funds meant for Monastiraki Square will be used to prettify the surroundings of Zappeion Hall. It is unclear what will happen to the square. An EAXA project to redesign Omonia Square failed miserably, while work will soon start on Syntagma Square.