As we head into the first fall that looks like it will remind us of the last before the pandemic, the lights are back on in Athens, the temperature has dropped all of a sudden (thankfully, it is forecast to go back up) and people are inevitably returning to their “winter” habits. After three very challenging seasons, the one that lies ahead looks ready to take us back to normalcy.
Talking about downtown Athens, the landmark revamp of the Ermou Street side of Syntagma Square is attracting all the interest following the incredible amount of controversy it caused on social media over the summer. The construction tape may not be entirely gone just yet (the two fountains are expected to go into operation within the next few days), but people are already curious to see what has changed at such an important intersection.
What has been drawing less attention is the ongoing interventions by the City of Athens in the National Garden and by the Attica Regional Authority (in cooperation with the Onassis Foundation) at Pedion tou Areos. The first part of the renovation at the National Garden (at its northeast corner, near the cafe, which is open again) has been completed and the rest, covering the remaining expanse of the historic Athens park, is expected to be unveiled by the spring of 2023. The plan for sprucing up the forlorn park includes planting more greenery (more than 11,100 new trees and bushes will be introduced), repairing the footpaths and making them more durable with well stabilized dirt surfaces, replacing the old irrigation system with a more efficient one, upgrading the lighting system, restoring the old traditional benches and – in one of the most anticipated moves – getting the lakes and other water elements, long a dismal eyesore, up to scratch.
In terms of the city’s cultural infrastructure, the biggest event of the autumn season is, without a doubt, the completion and modernization of a large section of the unfinished part of the Athens Conservatory, which has languished in abandonment since the iconic music school was inaugurated in 1976.
In this new chapter of its history, this fine – and widely loved yet chronically undervalued – specimen of post-war Greek modernism designed with intelligence and passion by the great architect Ioannis Despotopoulos (1903-92), will be endowed with new venues and infrastructure that promise to turn the conservatory into one of the city center’s hottest cultural hubs. It is being given a new entrance worthy of its stature on the corner of Vassileos Georgiou and Rigilis streets, a large amphitheater that can comfortably host all sorts of cultural, educational and conference events, and an open space in the foyer that will serve as a multipurpose venue for things like art exhibitions, events and concerts that can stretch across different parts of the building. It will also a have an experimental, multifunctional space that will function as a box-in-a-box and the K3 Technology Center in the building’s deepest basement (so-called level -7.80), which has been designed to host high-tech sound recording studios of different sizes with the aim of encouraging the work of young creatives.
At the National Gallery just a short walk to the north, the museum’s new director, Syrago Tsiara, is expected toward the end of October to announce the opening of the remaining spaces that were added in the 2021 expansion and were not ready for the main exhibition hall’s launch last year. The main part concerns the exhibition hall for the museum’s collection of Western European art, where the public will also be able to see its engravings by Goya, Rembrandt and Durer for the first time. The museum’s much anticipated restaurant, on the third floor and with an amazing view of the city, is also expected to open by November.
A cinema’s comeback
There’s also some great news on the cinematic front after the historic Ideal movie theater was condemned when the wall it shared with the neighboring listed Hellenic Odeon building collapsed last July. The building has now been repaired and the cinema will reopen its doors on October 1 for the Premiere Nights film festival.
This is especially good news right now, following the recent closure of the Embassy in central Kolonaki and other losses over the past few years: Since January 2012, downtown Athens has lost six of its 10 independent cinemas.
This article was previously published at ekathimerini.com.