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Patision Avenue is an important street in Athens. It's more than four and half kilometres and connects the centre of the city, Omonia square, to northern areas such as Patisia and Nea Filadelfia. It started to get its current form during the first half of the 19th Century, when the road was modernized for car traffic, and from then has been a vital part for the city and its people, not only as a simple connection but as a place of culture and history as well. Throughout time, Patision Avenue has been so many things: the modern road with state-of-the-art neoclassical buildings, the street of theatres and nightlife, the stage for a student uprisings and their violent repression, the cultural hub of the city. Nowadays, after years of crisis, the avenue’s lights are darker and its reputation worse, but its relevance in the city’s life is still there. Athens’ past and present are in full display on Patision Avenue.
Any visitor or tourist visiting Greece’s capital is going to spend time walking up and down this street; here, in fact, you can find the Greek National Archaeological Museum and its outstanding collection of Greek artifacts, usually a must-visit point on any Athenian itinerary. But you might do so without knowing you are on Patision Avenue. This is because the street’s name (its first couple of kilometres, actually) was changed into 28th of October Street in 1940 to celebrate the decision taken by then dictator Ioannis Metaxa to not surrender to the Italian troops at the Greek-Albanian boarder ready to invade Greece during World War II. This decision is still celebrated today every 28th of October with a bank holiday and a parade on the street. So, keep this in mind since is not uncommon to get confused and not remember that the two streets are the same.
Another historic location on the avenue is the National Technical University of Athens or, simply, Athens Polytechnic. Founded in 1837, the school moved in a bigger building complex on Patision Avenue in 1873 due to the increasingly numbers of students. The university was key for the development of the city and it quickly started to become a hub for culture and ideas. Today any visitor can access it and enjoy some of the great street art and murals while young students, professors, and activists live around; sadly the Polytechnic is mostly remembered for what happened here on the evening of the 17th of November 1973: for three days a massive group of students and protesters occupied the building and started to call the people of Athens to rise against the illiberal military junta that was ruling Greece at the time. The colonels answered by telling the army to raid the University with tanks, killing more than 20 people, stopping the protest, but also starting to lose grip on the population, paving the way to their end. November 17th is celebrated every year with massive demonstrations and events as a day of freedom and democracy in Greece.
The historical buildings on Patision Avenue are not just limited to these two. Along the street you can find, among others, the Acropolis Palace Hotel, a symbol for Athenian high society until the 80's, the Athens University of Economics and Business, the house of one of Greece's most iconic figures, singer Maria Callas, or the Italian Institute of Culture, which hosts events such as screenings or exhibitions during the year. Of the many bars and theatres where Athenians were coming to spend their nights though, many are missing today. Surely you can still find great food in the many restaurants and bakeries of the street, have a coffee in the energetic atmosphere of Thinking (C)up Café, check out the old movie theatre Alexandra, enjoy a drink in the always busy Au Revoir Bar, and have a great time while doing so, but you won’t be overwhelmed by the offer as much as you would if you’d happened to hang out here some decades ago.
Today Patision Avenue remains an incredibly vital area of the city and an example of the changes that are happening and of the ones that have already happened in Greece and the challenges these bring with them. The recent economic events forced shop owners to close or move and the change in demographics that has been going for years, has now created a true multi-ethnic area. And Patision Avenue displays it all, past and present, with little filter.
Cover Picture Credits © Federico Spadoni
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