The Last Agorà

27 When leaving on a research trip, choosing the right book to pack is no easy feat. Every destination brings with it a particular inspiration, the utility of which we will ascertain through direct experience. Tomake things harder,with regards to our destination, the available bibliography on the history of Athens and Greece is particularly vast. Eventually, following a respected suggestion, I entrust the task of accom- panying my exploration of Attica to the text by anthropologist James G. Frazer (1854–1941) on the diaries of Pausanias, the legendary geographer who lived in the 2nd century AD under the Roman Empire. During the flight to Athens I leaf through its pages dense with seductive scenes that pale, however, by comparison to the city itself, as the taxi, after driving past Syntagma Square and the Temple of Zeus, heads for the highway towards the bay of Faliro, cutting across the immense low and dusty outskirts of the capital of the Hellenes. This quick connection to the sea, built in the late 19th century by the banker and philanthropist Andreas Syngros (1830–1899), after whom it is named, pro- duces one of those landscapes typical of our time, where the erasure of urban boundaries accompanies the worst deposits of constructed forms, now gutted by an economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. Faliro is the ancient port of Athens, before the movement of shipping ac- tivities to Piraeus, with the fortifications made by Themistocles (c. 525–460 BC), the farsighted and unlucky statesman who understood the force of a large pro- ductive settlement facing the sea and the dual centrality formed by the Acrop- olis and the Arsenal. Today, between the beaches of Palaio Faliro and the port of Piraeus, lies the municipality of Kallithea, with its 100,000 inhabitants more densely settled between the base of Philopappos Hill and the sea, the view of which is nevertheless blocked by the Paraliaki, the panoramic coastal road that has become a place of smoothly flowing traffic. The only green space here is the one once occupied by the Hippodrome, selected ten years ago by the Stravros Niarchos Foundation for the construction of a cultural center designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. The financial legacy and five marriages of the shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos (1909–1996) certainly made the news more than his very powerful fleet of supertankers, “ But here we cannot but recognise: there is a mystery in broad daylight. ” Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Moments in Greece , 1908