Ever since the coronavirus crisis forced us to confine ourselves to our homes, the Greek capital has been put on mute. Most activities have paused and the streets have become emptier than ever. This reality is captured perhaps most starkly in images of key sites in Athens before and after the arrival of COVID 19.
How does it feel to see these images? Have these places become purer somehow, or perhaps more desolate? What emotions will we feel when we see them filled with people again?
The pictures below depict two versions of the same city: noise next to silence, company next to solitude.
As the top image shows, even in the off season the archaeological sites of Athens get quite busy (while in the summer they are heaving from early in the morning until sunset). Not only is the site empty on the bottom photo, but you can feel the silence of the whole city behind it.
It is perhaps the first time in recent memory that Greece’s famed antiquities have seen so few visitors for so long; the Greek government has shut down all tourist sites around the country, to impede the spread of COVID-19.
Parliament – Syntagma Square
The impressive Hellenic Parliament building on Syntagma Square is another one of the capital’s major tourist draws – with hundreds of visitors a day stopping to photograph the Evzones (the ceremonial Presidential Guard) and the solemn changing of the guard.
In spite of the countrywide lockdown, the Evzones still guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of Parliament; today though they only have a few pigeons as spectators.
Ermou is Athens’ most central shopping street: this pedestrian road normally attracts hordes of locals and tourists alike shopping for big international brands. Look at the top photo: this is what Christmas shopping looked like in December 2017. Under normal circumstances, these days people would be shopping in preparation for the warmer weather… But we are presented with a different sight instead.
This is another one of the capital’s most central and recognizable meeting spots – normally bustling day and night, and particularly when the weather is sunny. On April 13 this year, the square was populated by just pigeons and a few lonely walkers.
The Varvakios Central Market in the Psyri neighborhood is the oldest market in Athens; it is one of the top destinations for longtime residents and foodies, especially in the run up Easter, where the large meat market is generally at its busiest. This year, merchants worry about the lockdown’s impact on their revenues.
Athinas Street Café
Café owners worry as well. The photographs above show an establishment on Athinas Street before and after lockdown; these days the shutters remain down, and what used to be a place of socializing is barely recognizable as such. Cafés and eateries that can not provide delivery or takeaway services have been forced to remain shut.
Athens International Airport
Today Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport looks abandoned, at a time where ordinarily the departures and arrivals halls would be bustling with travelers, including many expats arriving home to spend Easter with their loved ones. The eerily quiet airport is also a reminder of the disruption COVID-19 has wrought on tourism, arguably Greece’s most important industry.