Promenade nearly ready as Ermou opens

In one of his last appearances as a prime minister, Costas Simitis walked what was essentially the last stretch of the «Great Promenade,» as the 2.7-kilometer (1.7-mile) pedestrian precinct below the Acropolis is called. The walkway, which starts at Dionsysiou Areopagitou Street, below Syntagma, and runs to Pireos Street, has Ermou Street as the last stretch. Vassilissis Olgas Avenue, which was included in the original scheme, has had its pedestrianization postponed till after the Games, since the road was deemed essential for traffic circulation. Though the presence of the prime minister on February 24 was official in nature (he was accompanied by Minister of Culture Evangelos Venizelos and Planning and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou, as well as the president of the Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens (EAXA), Yiannis Kalantidis), the pedestrianized way could only with difficulty be looked on as a finished work. It was not only that trees and shrubs had not been planted nor the pitiful sight of parked vehicles all around the Church of Aghioi Asomatoi, on the site of what was supposed to be a square. The area outside the ISAP station of Thiseion, where KTEL Attica buses still park, has yet to be revamped. The slapdash revamp of last April, before the European summit meeting, is no longer endurable: The cement-lined flower beds with their drooping plants (which were badly hit by the frost) are an aesthetic offense. The new pedestrian precinct begins at Ermou Street, at the level of Aghioi Asomatoi Church and ends where it joins Pireos Street. Built in much the same style as Dionysiou Areopagitou Street (on the other side of the Acropolis), which has provided the model for every new pedestrian precinct that EAXA attempts, it has been surfaced with paving stones, interspersed with geometrically shaped sections of matted earth. On Ermou Street, a lovely belvedere with a view of the Kerameikos cemetery and the Acropolis steals the show. It was erected after some smaller buildings were demolished. In his speech, an expansive Simitis noted that «Athens’s monuments used to be inaccessible, and the citizen was unable to get to them easily, while today the archaeological promenade enables us all to incorporate them into our daily existence.»

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