The Greek airport that was left to fall apart

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After months of shutdown, Athens International Airport is gearing up to “welcome the world” once again as Greece moves ahead with plans to gradually lift coronavirus restrictions in a bid to revive its key tourism industry.

But while authorities hope the phased return of international travel from June 15 will eventually bring the arrival halls of the Eleftherios Venizelos hub roaring back to life, a few kilometers to the west, another airport will remain eerily quiet — as it has for much of the last 20 years.

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

The former airport complex was originally built in the late 1930s at a time when Greek aviation was still in a nascent stage. During the World War II occupation of Greece by Axis powers, the site was used by Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe and became a target of Allied air raids.

Following the end of the war, Hellenikon hosted Greek, US and British forces but by the 1950s it had become Athens’s main hub for commercial air travel. Significant reconstruction work followed, including expanded runways and a new control tower and terminal halls.

With Greece’s tourism industry rapidly expanding, Hellenikon served as the gateway for millions of people arriving from all corners of the globe to explore the country’s archaeological marvels and sun-baked beaches.

Time took its toll, however, and on March 30, 2001 — after years of debates and planning — Hellenikon shut its doors indefinitely to make way for a larger, more modern facility.

“In the 1990s, the airport had ended up handling well above 10 million passengers [annually],” Vasilis Tsatsaragkos, president of the Olympic Airlines Workers’ Cultural Center, tells CNN.

“Hellenikon was unable to meet the country’s dynamically increasing tourism needs.”
In 2004, parts of the disused complex were transformed into venues for the Athens Olympics, hosting baseball, fencing, kayaking and other sporting events.

But years of neglect followed and the 1,530-acre brownfield site — once envisaged largely as a metropolitan park — was left to decay amid disagreements over its redevelopment and Greece’s descent into economic chaos in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

By: Dimitris Sideridis
Source: CNN Travel

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