Athens Prepares its Olympic Welcome | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 26.01.2004
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Athens Prepares its Olympic Welcome

Athens is promising to offer visitors more than just the excitement of the Olympic Games this summer. Preparation for the event carries on apace in a city literally built on the foundations of Olympic history.


The centerpiece Athens Stadium will provide a striking contrast to the ancient monuments of the Greek capital.

Sports fans are expecting great things from Athens this summer, when the Greek capital will host the 2004 Olympic Games. The ancient metropolis, the cradle of the Games, has undergone radical changes over the past few years in preparation for the return of the competition.

Olympic fever is in full swing. As you walk around the pulsing heart of the city, the official Olympic hymn can be heard drifting out into the streets from stores full of souvenir coffee mugs, caps and key rings emblazoned with images of Athina and Phoibos, the mascots for 2004 Summer Games.

Elsewhere in the city and in the sprawling outskirts, Athens is rocked by sounds of heavy machinery as construction on the many sports sites and access roads continues apace. New buildings rise, existing venues continue to be modernized and the restoration of ancient monuments goes on all over the city. Despite the problems of the past few months, Athens now looks like a city ready to stage the Games.

For those who live here, the Games can be seen as both blessing and curse, but many believe that the work being carried out in the ancient metropolis is well overdue.

A much-needed face-lift

Nikos Delivorias, a documentary filmmaker and translator, was born and bred in Athens. He has observed with interest the changes that have taken place in his home town over the last few years. “The face of Athens has changed very much due to the imminent Olympic Games,” Delivorias told Deutsche Welle. “And the town will continue to change. Some say, Athens is getting a much needed face lift.”

Athens has long been a sprawling modern capital with a sea of houses pushing high up the slopes of the surrounding mountains. Four million people now live in the city, with over two-thirds being new residents -- those who have come to the metropolis from the surrounding provinces to find work in the capital.

Those sports fans who are preparing to brave the chaotic Greek capital for the Olympic Games will undoubtedly be aware of the notorious traffic problems which plague Athens. Fortunately, many sites and places of interest in the center of the city can be reached comfortably on foot. And since the running of the metro system changed hands in 2000, the traffic problems now seem to be at least a little improved.

History below the surface

The metro is not only credited with helping ease the congestion on the Athenian roads. For Wolf Dietrich Niemeyer, the chief of the Athens Department of the German Archaeological Institute, the metro is much more: "For me, the Athens metro is the nicest underground system in the world. Nowhere else have I found stations that contain small museums at their center. Each has been renovated to include a nice small museum which informs the passenger about what ancient artefacts have been found at this point."

Building in Athens is not an easy process. In many cases an excavation has to stop almost as soon as it has begun, such is the rate that new archaeological finds are discovered under the city. One major discovery uncovered during the Olympic construction project is the ancient Acharnón Street, unearthed under Kotziá place just in front of the Athens city hall. The preserved byway clearly shows the outlines of plans of houses that once flanked the road.

Ancient sites add to Olympic fervor

It is the history that surrounds the city that will make the Athens Games a delight for the visitor away from the cheers and tears of the many Olympic events. While competition and sporting endeavour goes on below, the Games will once again be overseen by the Acropolis and its mighty Parthenon temple. Elsewhere, those wanting to experience Ancient Greece in modern Athens can head for the city’s oldest quarter, Plaka, and the old residential area of Psirrí, where small taverns burst with life and music.

Athens is preparing to deliver a thoroughly modern Olympic Games to the world this summer. But for all the reconstruction and renovation, it will be the ancient history and the city’s long association with the event that will bring that little bit extra to those making the trip.

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