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The new face of Athens Central Market

A daring intervention that could change the character of the city centre and the face of the city.

The Athens Central Market, or Varvakios, as it is better known, is one of the most important landmarks of Greece’s capital city. It has been in operation since 1886 and has survived all of the challenges of contemporary Greek history; the unique covered structure houses a retail food market.

How does it look to visitors today? The western section of the Varvakios building, home to meat and fish vendors, suffers from multiple technical problems. Equally, the elevated Varvakios Square, which houses the dated vegetable market, and the underground car-park, are dens of decadence, lawlessness and disorder. Merchants and consumers alike have expressed their intense dissatisfaction at the supply problems, the lack of cleanliness, the delinquency, the lack of access for all age groups, and so forth, all of which are problems that degrade the area even further, and prevent the full exploitation of the Market as a “social melting-pot”.

In recognition of the problematic situation at the Varvakios market, and its potential, a study was elaborated for the Central Market and Fishery Organizations by AMBIO SA Development Consultants.  The improvement strategies can be classified under the following headings: Security, Access, Promotion, Identity. The restoration of security and the facilitation of access are linked to bringing back circulation to the square, combating the desertion of the area after the stalls close, and modernizing the facilities in order to make them more accessible to all age groups. Promotion of the market and projection of its identity, requires uncoupling from its purely commercial nature, and offsetting its identity as a Greek gastronomy hub, by introducing leisure activities. Restoration of the Varvakios Market building, and redesigning the market square will also contribute to promotion of the city’s cultural capital, by taking advantage of the Market as a tourism product.

The spatial interpretation of the above objectives requires specific steps. The entire Varvakios Market building requires renovation with due respect for its character and historic nature. It is critical to ensure that the market square is lowered to the level of Athinas Street, thus restoring visual contact from the street. Through the creation of a visual corridor from the Central Market atrium to Sokratous Street via the square, the market and the market square become a single operational unit. In order to increase foot traffic and upgrade operation of the square, the vegetable market stalls are consolidated, rearranged and provided with underground storage space, from which to receive supplies and dispose of waste. The Varvakios atrium is decongested by rearranging the stalls and creating a “pocket” configuration that separates standing and moving customers. The introduction of leisure and educational activities in the Market premises, extends opening hours and creates additional incentives for visiting the Varvakios. The operational consolidation of the Varvakios Market with Theatrou Square is suggested as a way of linking the Market to the rest of the urban area.

The importance of the intervention

Through the above proposals, all of the fragmented, unused areas are transformed into a cohesive hub of retail food trade, including modern equipment, supply and waste disposal facilities, as well as leisure, education and green uses. The intervention is sure to bring increased commercial demand for space, and the Varvakios Market will become a vehicle for upgrading retail food trade in the centre of Athens.

The most important benefit is that the new face of the Market can create the necessary leverage to promote the upgrading of the entire city of Athens. It can act as a catalyst for linking other commercial pockets in the city. The proposed intervention will organize transport, supply, branding and communication policy, creating unity among the markets of Athens, and establishing this network as a commercial, cultural and tourism product.

An article on the above subject was published on the daily newspaper KATHIMERINI.