Visiting Athens, Greece, you will hear that the city looks pretty in August or during popular holidays, while half the population is away on vacations. Obviously less people equals less noise and traffic, but is this really the case? Could Athens ever be described as a pretty place?
Blinded by the history of Athens, contemporary Athenians have forgotten what has happened around them, and when they turn their eyes away from the Acropolis they find themselves inside a sea of concrete buildings, searching for the lost identity of their city. Apart from the ancient monuments, only a few neo-classic style buildings have been rescued to bitterly remind the former landscape of the Greek capital.
Buildings on Omonoia Square
Having the concrete grey as a baseline aesthetic, what comes to supplement the picture is the resounding absence of green and the colorful unrestrained advertising. Ugly new constructions next to preserved historical buildings, neglected public spaces and parks, tagging graffiti and posters on every wall are common encounters in the city of Athens. And if you ask for a room with a view, chances are you will find yourself gazing at the Acropolis through a forest of rooftop TV-antennas and solar heaters. Even in the suburbs of Athens, where the situation becomes increasingly better, the view of deserted billboards, burnt forests or open quarries are to be expected.
Acropolis view from Pagrati neighborhood
The city of Athens grew unfamiliar with scenic conservation, without respect to the geographical features of the area, lacking in established policies for preservation and control of natural systems. The city’s latest expansion to the north is in progress after two decades of forest fires and changes in land-use. Let’s hope that in the near future sustainable landscape design will compensate for the damage done.
Over the last couple of years, since Athens has lost its natural beauty, several actions for the beautification of the city’s centre have taken place. Stairs painted as a piano, lanterns hung over an alley, a retro TV signal, two hands from above and other wall paintings, all desperately trying to give Athens a facelift.
Wall painting at Kriezotou Street, near Kolonaki neighborhood
Wall painting at Peireos Avenue, near Metaksourgeio neighborhood
These artistic interventions originally triggered by street artists and citizen groups caught the attention of businesses and institutions instigating a new wave of interest in urban landscape. The Ministry of Environment & Climate Change (ΥΠΕΚΑ), the School of Fine Arts and Athens Municipality have carried out projects to motivate people to participate in these actions. “Athens-Attica 2014” is an ongoing ΥΠΕΚΑ project that hopes to restore the city’s functions and redefine the citizens’ relationship with the urban environment.
For the time being, the citizens of Athens have very few options to relieve their fatigued eyes. Imprisoned by their built environment, the only escape seems to be the distant view of the sea, reserved for those who inhabit the city’s highest floors.
What do you see from your window? Is your urban environment pleasant or do you feel like you want to escape from it?
Credits: Images by Valia Stavrianidi. Data linked to sources.