NEWS

In Patras, a year of cultural celebration brings little joy or even reaction from city’s residents

Patras is a strangely attractive city. Its port makes it Greece’s biggest gateway to the West and so it has become a crossroads of cultures, ideas and people. Yet it is also clearly a place in transition, ready to make a great leap forward. The city and its inhabitants may have suffered when the factories closed down, but Patras is slowly regenerating. It has a vibrant market, and the large number of young people who study at Patras University enliven the city. The recession did not crush Patras. The old factory buildings, remnants of another era, are gradually finding new uses. But the port itself, which has done so much to define the city, is not the center of life for locals, who envision a city that is modern, beautiful and attracts tourism. To that end, naming Patras the Cultural Capital of Europe this year was both important and promising. «Patras is still seeking an identity. When it was chosen as Cultural Capital, we saw it as a guarantee that things would change. It engendered hopes that new infrastructure would be created to make the city a point of reference for all of Western Greece, and that institutions would be established that would give ongoing help toward developing the region,» said Ilias Pavlidis, general secretary of the Patras commercial association. But, he added, disappointed, «the promises were not fulfilled.» Patras certainly does not present the visitor with a clear message. It has been Cultural Capital of Europe for five months, but it does not seem to be enjoying it or celebrating it. On arrival you see no posters or flags or banners, or anything advertising events. Only the KTEL long-distances coaches (the company is one of the few sponsors) are emblazoned with the official colors of the city’s year-long reign. In the port, set among the big ships, is the little boat that is the emblem of the cultural capital. Kiosks in the squares issue information and material about events and where to buy tickets. In the city center is the Marangopoulou building, refurbished for the needs of the cultural capital. Akti Dymaion, home to the institution’s offices, is dominated by the Ergostasio tis Technis, recently completed to meet the need for a modern indoor theater. An ultra-high-tech prefabricated structure that seats 800, it was built in the face of strenuous protest, chiefly because it was prefabricated, but also because of its Lego-like appearance. «The organizers trumpet rational fund management without taking the content into consideration. Fine, they built a theater. It’s prefabricated and costs less than a normal one. But is this what the city needs? What happened to the big theater they promised us?» asked Nikos, 30, a sales clerk. Next to the Ergostasio tis Technis is the former Ladopoulos factory. The former industrial site is being used as a venue for exhibitions, including «Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist and Inventor,» which has been the most successful event so far. School groups from the area and neighboring prefectures came to see it and it attracted more visitors than any other event. «Nothing has changed in our everyday lives, but we all went to see the Leonardo exhibition,» laughed Natassa, a speech therapy student at the technical college.