The Kifissos River drowning in the Athenian collective memory

For the past five years, MELD has been working with German Artist, Alexander Schellow, developing a multimedia animation piece on Athens’ central river, the Kifissos. We have engaged more than fifty Greek experts in the fields of architecture, urban planning, hydrology, green chemistry, to name a few, to incorporate, within the art work, scientific data relevant to the river. This information has been complemented with interviews of communities settled and living on the fringes of the Kifissos. Two years later, we are back on the grounds, capturing the sound of the Kifissos with young Greek composer and musician, Ted Regklis.

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As I embarked in this journey towards the South West part of the city where the Kiffissos drags its tale to the sea, my heart was biting with excitement and I wondered if anything had changed… would I find some of the settlers that were living and working there?  would the river would be cleaner or dirtier?  have some Athenians finally realized the treasure they had within their reach?

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WP_20150930_10_46_15_ProWe started walking towards the Metropolitan Hospital, where a couple of years ago we had met Galitea, an older opera singer living in the streets with her dog and a community of pigeons that she fed every day.  As we approached the area, my heart started shrinking as I couldn’t hear the wings of the pigeons alerting Galitea of any arrival. There was only one pigeon left and when we got closer, we were confronted with two brand new parking lots, which took over Galitea’s home.

We then moved on towards the seaside, at the point where the Kifissos joins the Saronic Gulf .  The river was still there, in full force underneath the highway, populated by the sound of cars, trucks and people crossing back and forth over the river. The walls built on its two sides had grown up again and to be able to see the river we literally had to climb up.  Why is it so important to hide this natural force?

In the not so distant horizon of Kalithea, the amazing construction of the new Niarchos Opera House and Library, designed by architect extraordinaire Renzo Piano.  A new cultural center, very much needed in Athens, built under the premise of sustainability and using the latest technology to respect the environment. Ironically, within the Niarchos’ park, an artificial canal was constructed. This would have been the prefect time to refurbish the river and connect these two areas of the city which had been cut by the highway. Millions of Euros have been spent to bring the existing biodiversity within the compounds of the Niarchos’ Park, but not one time during the presentations of the project was the Kifissos mentioned.

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Moving along towards Eleonas where the magnificent Olive trees orchards use to reside in ancient times, we entered again a no man’s land of trash and construction. Not one sign of an olive tree, not one sign of the river! Clouds of heavy yellow dust from trucks coming in and out of this gigantic construction site and garbage depot… A bit further on we approached Plato’s Academy which has become and abandoned park…

Now more than ever, we need to enlighten this situation and re appropriate the memory of the Kifissos. The river is still dormant in the collective memory of the Athenians and is only used to dispose of trash! Can we make a change and revive the God Kifissos? Can we create awareness of this situation by involving the citizens of Athens in the process of the elaborating this art work?