Athens is undergoing a radical face-lift

Athens is undergoing the biggest planning transformation in its modern history, with large boulevards being pedestrianized and new squares and parks being incorporated into the urban landscape. Started in 1997, when the ministries of culture and town and country planning set up EAHA, the company for the unification of Athens’s archaeological sites, the initial rate of progress was slow. Huge obstacles had to be surmounted before the first work, the pedestrianization of Dionysiou Areopagitou Street, was delivered. Works which had been announced (such as the sinking of Amalias Avenue in order to link D. Areopagitou with the Temple of Olympian Zeus) were finally ruled impractical, and major works (such as the redesigning of Omonia Square) have been subject to unconscionably long delays. The situation today is much improved: EU funding is flowing smoothly toward the projects and the imperative need to rejuvenate the urban landscape, in view of the 2004 Olympic Games, is having the desired effect. This does not mean that all the problems have been solved. Both bureaucracy and entrenched attitudes have acted as brakes on projects. The original goal of creating a broader archaeological park appears to have been exceeded long ago. The reconfiguration of central squares (Omonia, Syntagma, Monastiraki and Koumoundourou) or roads (Athinas, Mitropoleos, Aeolou and Kolokotroni) do not so much serve the purpose of linking archaeological sites as highlight the urgent needs of the modern city. But it is the smaller, less important and mundane works that will serve to improve the urban environment and life in the city rather than the more grandiose works made to impress visitors in 2004. A guard patrolling the Albanian border of Drymades north of Ioaninna, Epirus, suffered leg wounds yesterday after a group of men fired at him with Kalashnikov rifles before fleeing, abandoning two bags containing 150 kilos of Indian cannabis. Dimitris Kouros, 33, was shot at after he and his colleagues appealed to the men, reportedly Albanian nationals, to surrender.