Ellinikon (which in Greek literally means ”Greek”) was the international airport of the city of Athens for nearly sixty years, from 1938 until 2001.
Located only four miles from the city center of Athens, it was constructed just before WWII, in an area which was barely inhabited at the time.
Its name derived from the nearby village of Elliniko, now an Athenian suburb.
The airport is bounded on the west by beautiful beaches and on the southern side by the coastal suburb of Glyfada. For years it was one of Europe’s few airports which were inside a city, and very close to the city center.
The airport was used by the Germans during their occupation of Greece as a base for the Luftwaffe, the German air force, and during this time the Germans expanded the airfield’s area.
Following the liberation of Greece in 1944, the Americans used it for decades as a a base of operations for Air Transport Command flights between Italy and the Middle East. Their operation stopped in 1988, when Greece decided not to renew the contract, which dated back to the 1940s.
In 2001, Athens’ international airport, now named Eleftherios Venizelos, opened in the area of Spata, just outside the Greek capital.
The ancient city now had one of Europe’s most modern airports, and Ellinikon was abandoned once and for all.
In 2005, a group of architects led by David Serero, Elena Fernandez, and landscape architect Philippe Coignet won the competition to design a metropolitan park from the old airport.
They envisioned the new public area as the largest metropolitan city park in the world. Court battles had raged for years between the people who wanted the area to become a park and the Greek authorities, who wanted to use the space for a variety of purposes.
As many feared, however, the development of the old airfield into a beautiful public green space never occurred. And no meaningful commercial development took place either. With barely any commercial use, this giant park would end up being a huge financial burden to the already-struggling Greek economy.
Over the years, new proposals surfaced, and in 2012 the Greek government finally decided to develop the site commercially, with both leisure and commercial spaces as well as smaller parks inside the larger area.
It was then that a new round of delays began, with many locals insisting that the area should become a park rather than a complex containing entertainment and leisure infrastructure.
Lawsuits, protests and unrest were the main themes of the story of Ellinikon for decades.
Trapped in never-ending disputes, the old airport stands still there, eighteen years after its official closure, reminding us of another era, of the glory years of Olympic Airways and the legacy of Aristotle Onassis.
Ellinikon sadly also became a symbol of Greece’s never-ending domestic problems of bureaucracy and civil unrest, both of which have left this beautiful suburb of Athens without any use at all for nearly two decades now.
But there is hope on the horizon. Despite decades of delays, Lamda Development, a Greek-led consortium of businesses has now undertaken the task of the new Ellinikon project. An €8-billion investment is set to begin soon, which will once and for all transform the area and add more than 75,000 new jobs to the Athenian economy.