The airport in the Greek which has been left to crumble


(CNN) — After months of stop, the Athens international airport is preparing to “welcome the world” once more, as Greece is moving forward with plans to gradually remove the restrictions on the coronavirus in order to revive its tourism industry key. But while the authorities are hoping that the gradual return of international travel from June 15 will eventually revive the arrival halls of the hub of Eleftherios Venizelos, a few kilometres to the west, another airport will remain strangely silent — as it has done for much of the past 20 years.

Located on the coast athenian southern on a site approximately three times the size of Monaco, Hellenikon, which translates to “the Greek” – was for decades the only international airport in Athens.

The old airport complex was originally built in the late 1930s, at a time when the aviation Greek was still in an incipient stage. During the occupation of Greece by the Axis powers during the Second world War, the site was used by the Luftwaffe of nazi Germany and became a target of allied air raids.

Main gateway

The airport was once the largest in Greece.Dimitris Sideridis

After the end of the war, Hellenikon has welcomed the forces of Greek, american and british, but in the 1950s, it had become the main hub of Athens for the purpose of commercial air transportation. Major reconstruction work followed, including the expansion of tracks and the construction of a new control tower and a new hall of the terminal.

With the rapid expansion of the Greek tourism industry, Hellenikon has served as the gateway for millions of people arriving from all corners of the world to explore the archaeological wonders of the country and the sunny beaches.

The time has however taken its toll and, on march 30, 2001 — after years of discussions and planning — Hellenikon has closed its doors indefinitely to make way for a facility larger and more modern.

Hellenikon closed its doors in 2001.

Dimitris Sideridis

“Years of the 1990s, the airport had finished by treating well above 10 million passengers [annually]”explains to CNN Vasilis Tsatsaragkos, president of the cultural Centre of the workers of Olympic Airlines.

“Hellenikon has not been able to meet the needs of the country’s tourism, which increase dynamically. “

In 2004, some parts of the complex decommissioned have been transformed into venues for the olympic Games of Athens, home of the baseball, fencing, kayaking, and other sporting events.

But years of neglect followed, and the site of the derelict industrial land of 1 530 acres, once considered largely as a metropolitan park — was left to rot in the middle of disagreements on its redevelopment and the descent of Greece into the economic chaos in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Redevelopment stalled

The airport still contains aircraft abandoned belonging to the defunct airline, Olympic Airways.

Dimitris Sideridis

In 2014, a consortium of investors has signed a development agreement for 915 million euros ($1 billion), a key element of an agreement post-rescue between Greece debt and its international lenders.

Under the agreement, Hellenikon must be transformed into one of the largest beach resorts in Europe, full of luxury hotels and apartments, as well as shopping centers, a park and a casino and an entertainment complex.

However, the efforts to revive the project have repeatedly stagnated in a context of political opposition, and various bureaucratic obstacles. There are more than four years, at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe, the extensive site has become an informal settlement housing thousands of refugees living in terrible conditions, its terminals being abandoned and its olympic facilities met by a sea of tents.

During the past year, the conservative government Greek is committed to speeding up the regulatory process so that the redevelopment project, which has been delayed for a long time, to be able to start, and some preliminary work should start in the next few weeks.

Frozen in time

Since its closure, it was left to fall into ruin.

Dimitris Sideridis

Some of its listed buildings which will be retained from the demolition include the former east terminal, designed in the 1960s by the firm of architect revolutionary Finnish-american Eero Saarinen in the 1960s.

Currently, a sense of emptiness pervades in his room ramshackle and cavernous at ground level. A short walk down takes you to what was once a bustling lounge, now cluttered with debris, walls half ruined, and a ceiling collapsed exposing bungle of twisted wires hanging above.

Elsewhere, a jumble of trash, broken glass, and books of discs thrown reveals the extent intimidating decomposition, while the tourism posters faded and the cards torn add a note of gloom to the scene.

Outside of the ruined structures, a small fleet of aircraft Boeing abandoned, of which an imposing 747-200 with a Boeing 737 and a Boeing 727, remains idle on the edge of the complex.

The passenger aircraft are rusty and stripped, all belonging to Olympic Airways (OA), the carrier that has prevailed for decades on the sky Greek and has become a synonym of Hellenikon.

When OA has ruled the sky

Olympc Airways once had exclusive access to the West terminal of Hellenikon.

Dimitris Sideridis

Launched by the business tycoon Aristotle Onassis in 1957 following an agreement with the Greek government for the exclusive use of air transport, OA has rapidly expanded its fleet and helped to put the country on the tourism map of the world.

“It was the airline that connected Greece to the whole world – in 23 hours, Athens had a “contact” with the five continents “, said Tsatsaragkos.

OA is quickly becoming known for its service, luxury cabin second to zero, reflecting the lavish style of its founder, the Greek and one of the richest men in the world. Its air hostesses were dressed in uniform chic created by renowned designers such as Coco Chanel and Pierre Cardin, while his passengers were enjoying their meals on plates made of porcelain cutlery gilded and crystal glasses.

After the opening in 1969 of the terminal Is designed by Saarinen, which serves all foreign carriers, the west terminal of Hellenikon was exclusively reserved to the OA. Through its doors, a steady stream of celebrities — from Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren Omar Sharif and Neil Armstrong — has been photographed arriving in Greece.

The mementoes of the past of Hellenikon, will be retained in a new museum, according to Vasilis Tsatsaragkos.

Dimitris Sideridis

But in 1973, the death of the son of Onassis, Alexander, 24 years old, in the crash of a jet Piaggio amphibian twin engine aircraft shortly after takeoff from Hellenikon has shocked Greece and the family Onassis, and eventually led to the end of the golden age of the OA.

On the 1st of January 1975, Onassis sells officially the company to the Greek State and died on the 15th of march.

During its first 18 years, the fleet of AO is increased from 15 to 28 — including the technological marvel of the time, a Boeing 747-200B Jumbo bought in 1973 for the link Athens-New York — but the national carrier has faced significant financial problems in the decades that followed due to poor management of chronic.

After having been renamed Olympic Airlines in 2003, the carrier ceased its activities in 2009, several years after his relocation — along with the rest of the aerospace industry in Greek to his old home at Hellenikon.

But the memory of the airport is abandoned and OA will live in a new museum which will be housed in a building reserved to the interior of the redeveloped site, according to Tsatsaragkos.

“We have collected 23 000 articles documenting the history of the OA and of the civil aviation “, he said, adding that seven aircraft will be part of future exhibitions.

“We continue to collect materials. This museum is our great vision.

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