Athens, Greece skyline Image Credit: Agency

Athens: It is one of the least green cities in Europe, but Athens hopes to change that by opening up a long-hidden river that flows through the heart of the capital.

In ancient times, the Ilissos river was an idyllic, winding watercourse shaded by plane trees, where Socrates once taught. “Let us turn aside here and go along the Ilissus; then we can sit down quietly wherever we please,” Socrates told his followers, according to an account by Plato, his student.

But in the Thirties, during the rapid urban development of Athens, it was covered over and a tram line was built on top it. Poor maintenance and the rumble of thousands of trams caused structural damage to the tunnel beneath the track, and in October the tram line was closed.

Urban planners have suggested that, rather than spending millions of euros on reinforcing the tunnel and repairing the track, the tram line should be diverted along a different route and the river opened up.

They are proposing the creation of a park along a one-mile stretch of the formerly forgotten river.

Athens city centre has few parks and gardens and the city was ranked 22nd out of 30 cities in a European Green City Index drawn up by the Economist Intelligence Unit, with Copenhagen coming in at number one and London at number 11.

Ancient marble statue of the great Greek philosopher Socrates on background the blue sky, Athens, Greece Image Credit: Agency

“Reconstructing that part of the tram line would be very expensive,” Katerina Christoforaki, an urban planner behind the proposed scheme, said. “We are suggesting that the tunnel should not be repaired. Instead, we would uncover the river and create a pathway that would lead from the Acropolis to the Museum of Modern Art, right through the heart of the city.”

The proposed river walk has been likened in concept to New York’s celebrated High Line — the linear park that was built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets of Manhattan’s West Side. The rail line was saved from demolition and opened as a green pathway in 2009.

Athens is unusual among European cities in not having a river that flows through the city — at least not one that is visible.

“Actually, we have two rivers, the Ilissos and the Kifissos, but they are covered up and almost invisible,” said Prof Christoforaki, from Athens Anaplasis, an urban renewal firm.

During winter, when Athens receives most of its rain, the Ilissos flows to a depth of around 6ft.

— The Daily Telegraph