A city square nearly ready for the public

When in 1998 the office of the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens (EAXA) announced competitions to smarten up the city’s four main squares, Koumoundourou was something of an architectural outsider. Koumoundourou (or more properly, Eleftherias) Square had none of the symbolism of Omonia or Syntagma, nor the doubtful tourist attractions of Monastiraki. The architectural competition and its first prize (awarded to the firm of Lefteris Pavlidis), the obligatory changes during the implementation phase and the renovation itself, all went ahead without the fanfare given the other three squares. Perhaps that is because Athenians themselves have little to do with Koumoundourou. But even its own somewhat shady past has receded before the city’s new cosmopolitan image. Koumoundourou is a square claimed by immigrants: In recent years, Indians, Pakistanis and Nigerians have opened stores in the neighborhood. Though very close to Psyrri and Kerameikos, Koumoundourou belongs in spirit to Omonia Square and the crowds of fringe dwellers struggling to stay on their feet. Little remains today, however, of the working-class occupants of cafes and small shops in the region. The important thing is that the square’s makeover will be completed within a few weeks. Already the main part of the square has been opened to the public and only minor jobs remain. The main work site has moved north toward Dipylou Street where an open amphitheater is being built, following the direction of the road. Unfortunately, this architectural marvel is in danger of being wasted if nothing is done about the building facades. Recent demolitions of old houses have left open wounds, now used as parking lots bordered by the old inner walls of the neighboring buildings. All of the models for the square are an improvement on the reality. Unfortunately – as we found to our dismay from the final result in Omonia Square – the situation is far different on the ground. In Koumoundourou itself, work is nearly complete. The central idea in the architectural design provides for a split down the middle of the square. In the original plan, the split had a purpose, as it highlighted the coexistence of the ancient and modern cities. Following an agreement with EAXA, it was decided not to excavate too deeply, as there was a serious risk of uncovering important antiquities that could considerably delay the completion date. So now there is simply an interrupted line of water. To the left and right of it, the square’s surface has been laid with combed concrete, beaten earth and gravel. There has also been an impressive change in the way the vegetation is being highlighted and protected.