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A stroll through Athens July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.

Greeks call it the volta.

The daily stroll is a beloved ritual. It helps reduce the stress and anxiety of life in the city, especially in such a live city as Athens is.

The proper stroll, with the proper effect, must be slow. It can never be rushed.

Visitors to Athens need only put on their walking shoes to partake in a favourite pastime and discover the other side of one of Europe’s most lively capitals.

A new cobblestone promenade around the base of the Acropolis offers history on two levels: the ancient monuments and a taste of turn-of-the century Athens before traffic and runaway development turned the city into a sprawl of nearly four million inhabitants.

“The great walk,” as is called by its architects, winds for four kilometres past elegant neoclassical buildings, poppy-dotted knolls and the epicentre of antiquity, including an arched 2,000-year-old open-air Roman theatre (Herod of Atticus theatre) ringed by olive trees. Above, the ruins on the Acropolis offer a visual feast.

The Olympics provided the momentum for the project, part of a long-overdue facelift to Athens’ centre, but the work continued even after the athletes and spectators went home.

Under the program, called the Athens’ Unification of the Archaeological Sites, a program inspired by late Minister of Culture Melina Merkouri, hundreds of neoclassical buildings have been restored, unsightly billboards have been removed and much-needed green spaces have been planned.

“The Athens downtown will be aesthetically, environmentally and culturally upgraded,” according to the unification program’s plans. “The residents and visitors of the Greek capital city will be able to enjoy a ‘vast open museum’ that will include all the archaeological sites and monuments of Athens, along with the traditional districts of its historic downtown.”

Along the majestic Dionissiou Areopagitou Street, lovers nuzzle on a stone wall, cafés serve iced coffees and an outdoor cinema advertises this summer’s movie lineup. The classics are on tap, from the 1935 Anna Karenina to 1951’s The African Queen.

All is quiet. Footsteps tap on the cobblestones, tourist click their cameras and the senses are aroused by the aroma of flowers and grilled oregano-sprinkled souvlaki.

One of the most tangible changes is Athens’ revamping project that includes the foot trail around the Acropolis. It makes up, somewhat, for the city’s lack of public green spaces and bike trails so common in other European cities.

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