NEWS

The Acropolis under a modern-day siege

Residents of Philopappou and Makryianni have sounded the alarm about the hundreds of coaches that crowd the area surrounding the Acropolis, creating traffic jams and polluting a very sensitive site. «It’s chaotic. At least 300 coaches arrive at rush hour,» local resident Stella Markantonatou told Kathimerini. «A few of them park in the public car park next to Dionysus [restaurant], and they often leave their motors running for ages, spewing out exhaust fumes. The rest of them try to find a parking spot along the Philopappou ring road, toward the Dora Stratou Theater, or near the Zappeion or elsewhere. The result is that our neighborhood is full of coaches that cause traffic jams in the narrow streets and great annoyance to residents.» The problem is expected to worsen once the Acropolis Museum opens. The metro is an excellent solution for individual tourists, but it isn’t used by organized groups. This is not an inevitable outcome for an important tourist site such as the Acropolis. On the contrary, «the Unification of Athens Archaeological Sites company promised in 1998 that visitor access to the Acropolis would be by light means of transport once Dionysiou Aeropagitou was made into a pedestrian zone,» said Akis Papasarantis. «In fact, a study completed that same year by Eratosthenis EPE into finding ways of making the unification effective proposed two transfer platforms, at Syngrou and Gazi, from which visitors would be transported by light means of transport.» But that was all talk, because already in 1997 a ministerial decision had designated the car park beside Dionysos as the transfer station. Private car park One victim of that decision was the car park. «They pulled up the vesuvianite paving stones that had been brought from the old harbor of Thessaloniki and laid cement that could bear the weight of the coaches,» said Markantonatou. As if that wasn’t enough, the management of Dionysos decided that the car park was theirs. Local residents reacted. On April 9 they held a meeting where they protested about «the ongoing encroachment on the public car parking area at Dionysos by the company that leases the restaurant. In recent years that company has put up illegal ‘Private’ signs and has employed parking valets to throw out visitors to the unified archaeological site. In fact, the valets tell the drivers to park their vehicles on paved pathways made by [the architect Dimitris] Pikionis on the Acropolis and Philopappou. So they are turning both a monument and a unique work of contemporary architecture into a car park.» The locals pointed out that «although the First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities denounced the encroachment in a letter, no public office, including the ephorate, the Acropolis police station and ETA SA (which leases the site and is obliged to supervise those it has contracts with) has so far not taken any specific action to stop the company from encroaching on the car park.» The residents who attended the meeting covered up the word «Private» on the signs with the word «Public» and about two weeks ago some of them knocked down the signs. The problem with traffic in the protected area doesn’t stop there. Many motorbikes and some cars drive through it, disturbing pedestrians and raising the risk of accident. Many locals are angry that drivers park their cars every day in the protected zone on Philopappou, systematically ignoring the row of no parking signs at the entry to the hill. Residents have suggested installing a bar but the Culture Ministry has not done so. «Church services at Ai Dimitris and performances at the Herod Atticus Theater mean the sidewalk is covered with cars, which breaks the hand-crafted paving stones and causes subsidence,» explained Markantonatou. The siege of the Acropolis and Philopappou by coaches is not a solution. It is time to seek alternatives.