Images of Athens

Last Sunday’s edition of Kathimerini published two parallel but conflicting interpretations of Athens. The cover of View magazine depicted the vibrant, «cool» capital we would like Athens to be. Meanwhile, the newspaper’s front page was dominated by a photograph of the sprawling construction sites and dry landscape of the Olympic Village. The message of the mud and concrete was clear: This will be the Athens of 2004 if a severely delayed project to spruce up the capital with greenery is not speeded up. But there is a third image of Athens, which will be presented at an international architectural exhibition about to open at Vienna’s Biennale festival. The aim of Greece’s contribution, judging from its title – «Athens – Absolute Realism» – is the raw depiction of the capital’s grim reality, shorn of any frills. And the photographs in the informative booklet do just that. But the image of Athens presented to Biennale visitors will not be that of a cosmopolitan city straddling East and West, as the booklet says, but rather an urban nightmare spewed out long ago somewhere in the Middle East. The well-known Athenian disease of aesthetic chaos and unrestrained arbitrariness is gradually revealed to us through images of plastic roofs on half-finished buildings and campsites on busy highways. But which of the three images of Athens is the closest to reality? Even if they all contain a few grains of truth, isn’t the need to believe in a brighter future for our capital greater than the need to shamelessly export our plastic roofs?

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