Athenians finally have the chance to enjoy the renovated central park Pedion tou Areos that wasn’t visited for years. Favourite place for walking, jogging and backgammon the park was abandoned for many years and then closed for renovation. The famous Greek architect Alexandros Tompazis who has 110 international awards and the museum in Vergina and the Temple of the Holy Trinity in Fatima in Portugal among his architectural pieces won the project for its restoration.
A stroll in the park is enough to see that people care about its future. Will it be protected from vandals, will there be guards, will there be lighting, won’t there be too much cement that will take away the charm of the greenery... "It is good that it is still here. I am coming with my husband and my child for the first time after it has been renovated and I can say that I like it. The children can play, it is green, the lanes are nice. This is something that we missed in Athens," said the 38-years-old Mirto.
Backgammon players could be seen here and there as they do not miss a day without playing. "I am 67 years old and I grew up in this neighbourhood. We’ve been coming here to play backgammon for 30 years. There was a swimming pool in the park when I was a kid and we came to swim. Then it became amphitheater. We gather to play with my friends, these five here, and some years ago we were spending the winter nights here while playing backgammon. But we are not so tough. There was book market and a booth on this lane before," shows Mr. Nikos who has gone out to play a game of backgammon with his friends. They were drinking a little of rakia while playing and said that drinking goes with eating. So, they had olives and bread for appetizer and rushed to tell their stories.
"We made even backgammon tournaments two or three times a year before. There was a lot of valuable people. We could talk, argue and get along. But we broke down and it is our fault," says Mr. George, throwing the dice while talking. "It was paradise here until the early 1990s. You could feel all four seasons. There were amazing plants, gardeners and guards, but not like the security guards at the moment. For they do not care much now. Even vandals broke things here in the park a few days ago. There was fear of the guards before. Nobody would dare to break. And now ... But we ourselves, the citizens, must take care to keep the park and not be afraid to come. It will be paradise again - they planted plants, made the lanes," continues Mr. George. "But they did not place the benches cleverly. They had to be on the lanes not into the greenery because you can not sit if it is raining – you’ll get dirty," adds Mr. Nikos."But there is still a lot of work. Probably for at least a year. Some areas in the park should be finished but it is still good that it is opened. Those jogging had to do it around the park on the sidewalk to the boulevard and breathed in the harmful gases there but see how many people are skating and jogging again now. It is alive again," he adds.
A little further from the backgammon players who have placed their chairs away from the central lane is a large, sunlit meadow where children play lively and chase dogs. Two guards passionately blow with whistles to the children and tell them not to play ball in the grass because they'll trample it. "They can run but can not play ball. How will the grass grow again then...", grumps a security guard. Dads who look on start to argue whether dogs should be tethered on a leash or they should run freely. A family from an eastern country waves at me and shows me they want to take a picture of them. They have toothy smiles and together with their five little children take a pose for the photo. Two girls walk arm in arm and talk about whether the alleys will be graveled or will be covered with asphalt.
The architect, who has taken the project on the park restoration, is known for being one of the first to make bioclimatic architecture. Alexander Tompazis’ life is unique. He was born in India and later moved to Greece, where he didn’t understand the language at first and had quite of difficulties. He studied at the Polytechnic University and was influenced by Hadjikirgiakos Gikas and Lekorbyuzie who had overturned the view of architecture in his era. Tompazis soon discovered his own unique path. His motto is that the architect must let his heart in the sky, but his feet must be firmly on the ground.
Architecture is not just a matter of inspiration, he said in an interview for an architectural magazine. According to him, architecture is not abstract as painting or poetry. It is also an art like them, but it concerns practical matters related to everyday life, very trivial. It is something so vast that has no end. Therein lies the problem, but the beauty too. And when you begin to talk about architecture you will see finally that you talk about almost everything, says Tompazis.
The park Pedion tou Areos was delivered finished on December 28, 2010 despite the suspicion and the reactions of the residents of the neighbourhood. Its recovery began in April 2008 and large part of its area which is 250 acres is ready. The project, estimated at more than 9 million euros, was funded by European Union subsidies and the state. 1,200 trees, 50,000 flowers, 7,500 shrubs and roses 2,500 have been planted. Asphalt lanes of 22,650 square metres were broken to be covered with soil and marble and granite were flagged in some places. The project involved mainly the restoration of basic infrastructure - sewer, water and electricity network. Park lighting has been fixed and the restoration works aimed at preserving the area's history, including the monuments and sculptures located in the park that have been restored too. It is expected that summer temperature will be between 3 and 5 degrees lower in the park than in the rest of the city which will make it small oasis in downtown Athens.
Visitors can stroll along the main promenade near which there are two fountains in a modern style, hang around the Minoan labyrinth with the botanical garden of Attica, around the Rose garden with the spiral creek, walk around the river under the oaks shade, see the statue of Athena, take the lane of the heroes of 1821 where their busts are placed among palm trees or relax on the lawn, or in any sheltered spot among the labyrinth of flower bushes, or in a special place in front of the Ikonomidis theatre.