Athens Elefthérios Venizélos Airport

October 9, 2018

Airports, according to the French philosopher, Marc Augé, are quintessential non-places. They are anonymous and essentially figments of globalization. The local plays little or no part in their personality. Instead, they are defined by commercial brands. But Athens’s not so new airport (it replaced an uncomfortable old airport around 2000) has made significant concessions to the local with a museum occupying a couple of halls on its uppermost floor. Here, en route, to McDonalds, there is an archaeology museum and  beside it, a gallery currently exhibiting book illustrations by the Greek modernist artist, Ghika.


Athens Airport Museum


The archaeology, of course, captures my attention. A giant dolium draws me in. Roman in date, it was found in the salvage excavations as the airport was constructed. Plenty of archaeological sites were found too. Of all periods.


Byzantine finds from the rescue excavations


A fine marble Sphinx of Hellenistic date was already known from the locality of Spata. It is perhaps the real treasure from the excavations. No less striking are the Neolithic and Bronze age settlement with fine ceramics and obsidian arrowheads. Black figure ware from cemeteries and a Hellenistic pottery kiln belong to the great age of Athens and its coastal hinterland. Roman and Byzantine farms, complete with agrarian tools, make up one side of the gallery. But rich though the 13th-century later Byzantine community was, it is the church of St.Peter that grabs my attention.


The Spata sphinx


The little domed 6th-century and later church was complete when the airport works began. Rather than demolish it, St. Peter’s was sheathed in a steel frame and lifted off its footings, before being transplanted to a new site nearby.


The anonymous hills set back from the Aegean, now covered in tarmac, were once dotted with dwellings dating back millennia. In this exhibition the airport authorities, without saying it, have proudly traced the genesis of their non-place with understated but clever professionalism.

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