How do I get to the beach?

Patience and endurance are required to get through the various barriers and concrete structures that hinder access to the Attica coast. The Greek Constitution (Article 24) clearly states that «the protection of the natural and cultural environment is the obligation of the state and everyone’s right.» If the seafront is an element of the natural environment, then it is up to the state to ensure free access to it and safeguard its communal character. Today, though, the sea is visible only from behind fences, locked gates, dumping grounds, tables and chairs, nightclubs and illegal extensions. The unfortunate residents of Neo Faliron, Moschato and Kallithea need binoculars to get a glimpse of the sea, as the Kifissos intersection, Poseidonos overpass and Beach Volleyball and Tae Kwon Do Olympic venues completely obscure the view. «In 1994, the National Technical University (NTUA) proposed that an ecological park be created in the area between the banks of the Kifissos and Ilissos rivers. The proposal was included in a study on the seafront undertaken by the Athens Organization for the Master Plan in 1995. A similar proposal won first prize in a competition by the International Architects’ Union. It was also incorporated into the plans of a presidential decree in 2004. The Ilissos Delta has a rich habitat where 119 bird species have been observed, many of them protected species. However, since then, nothing has been heard about the issue,» remarked Apostolis Aloniatis, a member of the Coordinating Committee to Save the Saronic Coast. It is possible to walk along some of the seafront – although the noise and fumes of the cars are a counterincentive – until one reaches one of the daunting marina walls. According to NTUA professor Dimitris Karydis, «a marina separates land from sea and, as the boats are painted with toxic paint, this has an impact on the food chain and the types of fish living in the sea. When creating a marina, the suitability of the location should be taken into account. The seafront is an inelastic commodity, it is not possible to stretch it and make it larger. There is no reason why a marina should be located in such fragile areas, such as between Varkiza and the Peace and Friendship Stadium, which is the only outlet to the sea for 4 million inhabitants.» In Palaio Faliron it is possible to swim in the sea without paying for the space a towel occupies on the sand. Interestingly, the part of the beach that has won an award is taken up by hotel sun beds and umbrellas. Another large marina in Alimos blocks off a part of the sea and there is also the coastal avenue to contend with. Crossing this busy road that runs along the seafront is no easy feat. The section of the seafront at Hellenikon boasts the largest number of illegal barriers. Residents had no access to any of the 85 hectares of coastline until recent protests turned the private beach into a municipal one. Still there are nightclubs, a go-cart center, the Hellenic Sea Research Center and sailing clubs that cut off access. The garbage strewn along the coast is also an eyesore. The 2004 presidential decree – that provides for protected zones along the seafront, cycling lanes and pedestrian walkways, as well as banning umbrellas, tables and chairs at a distance of 10 meters from the sea and obstructions that hinder free access – is evidently not being implemented. After the Aghios Cosmas Sports Center, there are four beaches that offer free access to the public but there have been many complaints about their cleanliness. After fines imposed for infringements, the pay beaches in Voula are now also free to the public. The rundown state of the seafront here, however, is disheartening. At Vouliagmeni, access is easier but there are still many private villas that cut off parts of the Saronic Gulf. Tavernas and cafes continue to put out tables and chairs on the beach. Further along the coast, a hotel complex and the Vouliagmeni marina prevent any access to the coast. More pay beaches with barriers plunging down to the sea are a recurring image all the way to Varkiza, enough to deter anyone who believes the coast is a public commodity. Voula Mayor Georgios Mantesis thinks there should be a united plan of action for the seafront with both private and free beaches, a scheme that takes the Attica coast into account as a whole. In practice, though, it is not easy for 10 to 15 mayors to reach agreement. This article first appeared in the July 1 issue of the Kathimerini supplement K.

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