Monastiraki facelift approved

A much-delayed facelift for Monastiraki Square is set to transform one of Athens’s most popular tourist attractions with cobblestone paving, including a glass-floored section revealing the long-covered Eridanos River underneath, Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis said yesterday. The renovation is expected to cost -2.5 million and should be completed by November, the minister said, noting that works were due to begin in May. The revamping of Monastiraki, which sits at a crucial point between central Athens’s main shopping district and the city’s historic center, originally had been scheduled for completion prior to the Athens Olympics in 2004. But disputes between ministry authorities and architects over the design led to the project losing European Union subsidies (which it has since regained). Technical deliberations related to the metro station, which is right next to the square, have also contributed to delays. Apart from the cobblestones and the glass-floor detail, the planned refurbishment also foresees a renovation of the Saint Pantanassa Church in the middle of the square and the construction of a new fountain. Speaking about plans to prettify Monastiraki and Plaka yesterday, Voulgarakis said, «With the right planning, this broader area could become a cultural hub which would emit a very clear impression of our concept of culture.» The ministry owns hundreds of buildings in Plaka and Monastiraki. In a separate development yesterday, the ministry said that it has signed an agreement with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles for the return to Greece of two ancient artifacts: a 4th century BC gold wreath and a 6th century BC marble statue of a young woman. They are to be handed over to Greek officials by the end of next month.