The natural water supply and runoff network of Athens has been exhausted and destroyed, a fact often considered as a ‘historical mistake’ that cannot be easily amended. The main rivers of Athens Kifissos, Ilissos and Eridanos have been channelled underground in a gradual process beginning in the late 19th c. and culminating in the middle 20th c., giving their place to the modern, expanded city of Athens, degrading however the public space of the city and causing low rate of rainwater absorption and increased risks of flooding in several areas.
Considering Ilissos, nowadays, only a few parts of its course are open (Goudi park, Mets area and at P. Tsaldari Avenue – Kallithea area), though unattended and not intended for visitors, making the river neglected and invisible to the passer-by.
However, in the last few years, the river has been a motive to contemplate on a different future of the city, ecologically and socially sustainable. The urgent need for a viable city has provided the trigger to proposals for the qualitative and operational upgrade of the lost river, regaining parts in the contemporary metropolis, enhancing the historical, natural and cultural identity of Athens. However, most of these are works in progress and many just proposals.
Goudi ‘Metropolitan Park’ area
This is a large area of 4500 m2 at the borders of Athens, Papagou and Zografou municipalities, containing particles of high architectural and ecological values. The project to create a large ‘Metropolitan Park’ in the area of Goudi-Ilissos, managed by Laboratory of the Urban Environment of the National Polytechnic School, involves -among others- the cleaning and enhancement of the rivers’ banks and the protection and raising awareness on the physical environment in the area through green routes. The project aspiring to unify a wide area and provide 1450m2 of green space and 2400m2 for health, research, sports and education activities, stumbles upon loose political volition and ownership issues, involving in its vicinity: ex and current military camps, hospitals, ministries and a university campus.
A few kilometres to the South lies the Byzantine and Christian museum of Athens, also known as Villa Ilissia (19th c.), once the winter quarters of the Sophie de Marbois-Lebrun, Duchess of Plaisance. The building was constructed between the right bank of Ilissos (nowadays covered) and the boulevard that linked Athens with Kifissia, lined with public buildings and private mansions, all designed by leading architects of the time. Currently, the Byzantine Museum transforms its surroundings in an open, public, ‘byzantine’ garden, hosting endemic flora, information points and a restored ottoman cistern, connected to the Peisistratian and the Hadrian’s aqueduct. One of its entrances, on Vasilissis Sofia Avenue, will connect with the archaeological site of Lyceum gymnasium, also to be opened in the following years.
The “Citizens of Mets Initiative” is an active movement acting for the protection of the remnants of Artemis Agrotera temple, defending the public character of the monument and its potential as an open-visitable site. Among its activities in 2010 were consequent cleaning operations at the open site of Ilissos, especially under the 19th c. bridge. For this site, nowadays invisible and degraded –hosting a number of parasitic activities- a number of proposals have been made in order to turn Kallirois Avenue (and further on Posidonos Avenue) into a pedestrians’ walk with parallel reclaiming of the banks of the river.
National Museum of Contemporary Art
What is more, on the façade of the National Museum of Contemporary Art -the former FIX brewery building-, not far from the Olympieion area, an installation will be built, composed of glass and running water, in memoriam of the lost river.
Finally, a study-report has been compiled (ΕΟΕ 1989 & ΕΟΕ 1992) proposing the establishment of a Natural Park at the delta of Ilissos, at Faliro gulf, and the creation of a Centre for Environmental Education.