Strolling Through History

By Kathy Tzilivakis

IMAGINE a city built like a museum, where the space between monuments and sites are arranged as a garden with trees and verdure.

That's what architects Stamatis Kleanthis and Eduards Schaubert had in mind when they were commissioned to draft a master plan for Athens.

Fast forward almost two centuries later...

Athens is still struggling to realise the architects' ambitious plan, aimed at making it possible to do most sightseeing on foot. The plan's completion now hinges on the pedestrianisation of Athinas Street, one of the city's busiest commercial thoroughfares.

"It's part of our efforts, together with the municipality of Athens, to drive the cars out of the centre of Athens," says Kyriakos Griveas, president of the Unification of Athens Archaeological Sites office, established by the culture ministry in 1997. "The completion of the pedestrianisation of Athinas will mean that 80 to 90 percent of our work in the city of Athens will be complete."

While Athens municipal council members still have to vote on the pedestrianisation plan - estimated to cost around 5 million euros, Athens Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis has already endorsed the scheme. He and Griveas are expected to unveil the blueprint of the plan as early as this summer.

A pedestrianised archaeological promenade already skirts the foot of the Acropolis and the area bordered by Omonoia, Syntagma and Monastiraki squares, as well as the Plaka and Kolonaki.

The pedestrianisation of Athinas is one of the last legs in Greece's decade-long effort to curb pollution by making it easier to do most sightseeing on foot and investing in public transportation. The plans have been in the works for more than two years.

Trading objections

A 2008 announcement of the Athinas pedestrianisation was met with objections, mainly from shopkeepers concerned about how they will transport supplies and other goods to and from their business.

There are about 20-odd shopkeepers who believe their business will be hurt," said Griveas. "But in talks we have had with them, they have come to understand that this will not be the case, especially in the long run. We hope the objections will not be intense so that we may proceed with our plan."

Griveas has proposed a special shuttle service that shopkeepers would be able to use. "A truck will drive up and down Athinas Street every 15 minutes," he said.

Similar opposition had been expressed by merchants when Ermou Street was turned into a pedestrian road in 1996. "Ermou shopkeepers had also protested, but now their businesses are located on one of the city's most expensive commercial streets and their business has increased tenfold," said Griveas.

Then and now

EFFORTS to unify the city's archaeological sites can be traced as far back as 1833, shortly after the Greek war of independence and Athens was designated the capital.

1833 Architects Stamatis Kleanthis and Edward Schaubert of Bavaria were appointed to draft the new capital's master plan to restore the city's historic centre. The plan was intended for a population of some 40,000 and foresaw the opening of roads and the creation of open spaces and a large archaeological zone around the Acropolis

1834 Opposition to the Kleanthis-Schaubert plan's proposed expro- priations forced officials to revise it. A new plan was drawn up by Leo von Klenze. He narrowed the streets and restricted the original public spaces, as well as the zone that would be excavated to highlight the city's ancient heritage

1836 Another plan was drawn up by Theophil Hansen and Schaubert

1985 Parliament passes law 1515/85, launching the unification of archaeo- logical sites in downtown Athens

1988 The culture ministry commissions a master plan for the unification of archaeological sites. The plan foresees the creation of a 4km-long archaeological park running across the city centre that will include all sites and monuments in the historical centre. The plan requires converting several main roads like Vasilissas Olgas, Dionysiou Areopagitou, Apostolos Pavlou, Iera Odos and Ermou into pedestrian walkways

1997 The government establishes Unification of the Archaeological Sites of Athens - a company owned by the culture ministry

(Posting Date 2 September 2009)

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