Parko Eleftherias: the newest (half-)park in Athens!

When the Athens Concert Hall was created, 19 years ago, there was a certain controversy raised, as is the case with most big projects. The controversy had to do with an open lot next to the main one (the main one would be used for the Concert Hall itself anyway), which was, up until that time, used as a park but also (mis-)used as a parking lot. The "Friends of Music" organization, which operates the Athens Concert Hall, had pledged to create an underground garage under the lot in question and, afterwards, to re-create an urban park on top of the underground structures.

To make a long story short, the day for this new park came this summer. The park was inaugurated, without much fanfare in my view, and is now open to the public and operating. The funny - and awkward - thing is that one part of the park is now open 24/7 (the old, untouched and semi-abandoned part) while the newer part (the one built and operated by the Athens Concert Hall Organization-ACHO) has iron bars and shuts down at night. This probably has to do with the presence of the US Embassy across the road and the extra security precautions taken these days.

Parko Eleftherias (ACHO) w/ Lykavittos Hill in the background
Parko Eleftherias-ACHO, looking east, w/ Mt. Ymittos in the background
What sets it apart from almost all other parks in Athens is that, this is a park that clearly seems to be well landscaped, thought out and well kept, at least for the short time that it's been open. Most Greek town squares seem like copies of the same 2-3 designs being implemented in a hundred different locations, in total indifference for their surroundings or their intended public and their interaction with them. This is not just my impression. Some years ago a colleague gave me a call, asking if I had "some plan for a town square" available somewhere! He was part of a team that was going to place a tender for a town square in some other Greek town -far away from Athens- and they just needed a drawing / plan to use as part of their bid (or to be inspired from, although that didn't sound like the case...)! Thankfully, I had no such thing to offer and I never bothered to ask what happened next.

But Parko Eleftherias-ACHO has an original design, dictated by its location and its interaction with the underlying structure but also quite suitable for an urban area. The US Embassy in Athens stands on the opposite block, a hospital lies in the back of the park and the Athens Concert Hall in the front. On the side, there is "another" public space (the part of Parko Eleftherias which is still under the jurisdiction of the Municipality of Athens). The "two" parks are separated by tall, iron rails and you have to exit Parko Eleftherias-ACHO from the Vasilissis Sofias exit, at the front side, to go to the Parko Eleftherias-municipal, which also has a cafeteria, hidden behind the trees as well as some buildings supposedly housing cultural exhibitions.

Parko Eleftherias-ACHO: Exit towards Vassilissis Sofias Avenue.

View OMIG-Parko Eleftherias-ACHO in a larger map

If you zoom out of the map you will see that  Illissia wood (that I wrote about last month) is very close to Parko Eleftherias. Yet, the two are different in many respects. The former is an urban pine wood, very large and left (on its own) in a rather... natural state while the latter is a landscaped urban park, which closes at sunset, that you feel much safer in, even though the... (imaginary?) cameras from the US Embassy next door made me feel kind of uneasy :)
Anyway, you can see that Athens could have a huge, continuous, urban public space with a relatively small effort (cost) if it united all these parks (from Illissia to Lykavittos) with the missing pieces (blocks) in the puzzle.

Back in the day, from ancient times till the great reconstruction of Athens in the 1950's, a stream named Illissos was running through Athens, underneath the current Michalakopoulou St., and ended up into the Saronicos Gulf several kilometers down the road. It's not hard to imagine its presence today if you find yourself in Michalakopoulou St. /Vasilissis Sofias Ave. and you look at the slopes of Lykavittos on the one side and the slopes (much shorter) of Illissia wood on the other.

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