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Landmark ruling forces Athens hotel to demolish view-blocking top floors

A Little Off the Top, Please

Landmark ruling forces Athens hotel to demolish view-blocking top floors

Size matters: After permitting two view-blocking hotels to be built nearAcropolis, Greece’s highest court has reversed course and is now placing height restrictions on new buildings near the ancient site. (Ed Bierman/Flickr)

Conservationists and citizen activists alike in Athens have claimed victory in an ongoing court battle to force a new 10-story luxury hotel to shave off its top two floors, which campaigners claim obscure neighborhood views of the world-famous Acropolis. Per the Guardian, the ruling requiring the hotel to raze its view-impeding floors was made by the Central Archaeological Council (KAS), Greece’s powerful governmental advisory body charged with preserving the country’s wealth of antiquities.

Located on Falirou Street in the hip Koukaki neighborhood opposite the Acropolis Museum and in close proximity to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 93-room hotel, owned and operated by Greek natural mattress purveyor and lifestyle brand Coco-Mat, has been the subject of fierce local opposition ever since construction on the project commenced. One of four upmarket lodging establishments operated in the Greek capital city by Coco-Mat, the Athens BC location, which has been open for just under a year, boasts a lounge, spa, and rooftop garden complete with a swimming pool and eye-popping views of the Acropolis. A number of guest rooms in the Elastic Architects-designed property also offer unobstructed views of the ancient hilltop site.

“It was a very brave decision,” said Athens mayor Kostas Bakoyannis of the ruling, which limits new buildings in the immediate vicinity of the Acropolis be no taller than 78 feet in height. (The Coco-Mat Athens BC Hotel stands at just over 103 feet tall.) “The Acropolis is our heart and our soul, an essential part of our cultural heritage,” he said. “It’s very important that everyone can enjoy it.” A new, even taller hotel which had been previously approved and was in the works near the Acropolis has also since had its building permissions revoked by Greece’s highest court, the Council of State.

In announcing the ruling, Culture Minister Linda Mendoni noted the council’s decision was not an easy one to make. She, however, stressed that the Acropolis isn’t a run-of-the-mill historic site. “When the Acropolis is harmed, in essence our civilisation is harmed too,” she said. Mendoni. “The Acropolis is a symbol. It is not simply a monument.”

The landmark ruling, which enjoyed support from European cultural heritage organization Europe Nostra and other conservation groups, is part of a larger push to limit the height of new construction, hotels in particular, in Acropolis-adjacent Athens neighborhoods such as Koukaki and Makriyianni, the latter of which is directly south of the nearly 2,500-year-old citadel that’s home to the Parthenon and several other 5th-century landmarks. As the Guardian reported, an online petition launched by concerned residents of Makriyianni garnered 23,000 signatures in just a matter of days.

“Makriyianni is a residential neighbourhood. It was never meant for buildings of such dimensions,” Irini Frezadou, an architect and Athens native behind the petition, told the Guardian. “The mass tourism we have witnessed may have disappeared with coronavirus, but it will be back. And if it goes unchecked it will destroy the very monument visitors have come for, the Acropolis itself.”

Coco-Mat has yet to publicly respond to the ruling and it remains unclear how or when the top two floors of its hotel will be demolished. The company initially received the green light to build the hotel as it currently stands from KAS, which only reversed course and overturned its previous ruling following what the National Herald referred to as a “furious campaign by local residents protesting they couldn’t fully see the famed hill and the Parthenon.”