Abandoned Airport in Greece to Be Converted To Largest Coastal Park in Europe

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Nikos Pilos/ Bloomberg/ Getty Images/ Cropped

Situated along the Greek coast, Ellinikon International Airport operated for 63 years just outside of the capital city of Athens. Although it was closed when the current airport was built, it’s now being repurposed for a different use by the architectural company Sasaki. They’re taking the abandoned airport and converting it into Ellinikon Metropolitan Park, a 600-acre community space.

A long history

Ellinikon, sometimes called Hellinikon, was built in 1938, just before the outbreak of the Second World War. It was then called Kalamaki Airfield. When Greece was invaded by the Germans, it was converted to a base for the Luftwaffe which used it until they were pushed out of the country by the Allied forces. When the war ended, international forces continued to use the airport.

Aerial view of the old Ellinikon International Airport on the coast with sprawling cities around it, and mountain ranges in the background.
Aerial view of Glyfada and Elliniko with Elliniko International Airport situated on the coast, 2014. (Photo Credit: r Marek Ślusarczyk/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 3.0)
Airport terminal with a sign in Greek letters above it and people milling around outside it.
Ellinikon International Airport, West Terminal for Olympic Airways, while it was still in operation, 1961. (Photo Credit: Mike Loader/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0)
Row of airplanes lined up on pavement with mountains in the background.
Olympics Airways Boeing 737s at the old Ellinikon International Airport, 2001. (Photo Credit: Reinout van Rees/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY 2.0)

The government gave permission to the United States Army Air Force to use the facility, now named Hassani Airport, as the base for their Air Transport Command which flew between Rome and the Middle East frequently. This was a lengthy partnership, as the Americans were there from 1945 until 1988. Throughout this time, the airport also operated as the main hub for Greece’s Olympic Airways.

Closure

It was only when the Greek government put in a bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics that the country reclaimed the facility from the Americans. Following numerous studies and deliberations, it was decided that the airport should be closed and a new one opened elsewhere. This was in part due to the fact that Ellinikon was considered to have one of the most dangerous runways in the world.

Air traffic control tower on top of a rusting building overlooking an airfield.
Air traffic control tower at Ellinikon, the former international airport, in Athens, Greece, May 17, 2011.(Photo Credit: Nikos Pilos/ Bloomberg/ Getty Images)
Entrance to Ellinikon International Airport with a white facade that reads "2001 Olympic" with a chain fence around it.
The entrance to Ellinikon, the former international airport, in Athens, Greece, May 17, 2011. (Photo Credit: Nikos Pilos/ Bloomberg/ Getty Images)
Tall red and white light tower in front of airport pavement.
A light system at the old Ellinikon International Airport, 2008. (Photo Credit: Badseed/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

On March 28, 2001, it was officially closed, although never entirely abandoned. Parts of the airport were converted into baseball, kayaking, and fencing venues for the Athens Olympics in 2004. Between 2011 and 2018, the Civil Aviation Museum operated in the West Terminal. However, the rest of the property fell into disrepair and decay as there were disagreements over how it should be redeveloped – until now, that is.

The Sasaki architectural company recently released plans for the space. They intend to begin the overhaul in early 2023, creating a “restorative landscape” that will include a park, playground, and cultural center. The plans show that some elements of the original airport will remain intact – one of the terminal halls and the runway lights – while much of the concrete will be repurposed into benches or new pavement.

Ellinikon Metropolitan Park

Sasaki intends to highlight Greece’s natural flora by including 86 different native species, both trees and plants, that will be sourced from local nurseries to ensure that they provide positive ecological benefits in the region. The site will still have paved areas, but will also feature a significant amount of “softscape,” plants that are used specifically to help absorb rainwater and prevent flooding.

Pavement runway with lights running down either side and abandoned materials in the middle of it.
Abandoned runway at the old Ellinikon International Airport, 2018. (Photo Credit: Evanonthegc/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0)
Pavement at Ellinikon International Airport with the air traffic control tower in the distance, with the water and mountains past that.
The air traffic control tower at a distance at the old Ellinikon International Airport, 2014. (Photo Credit: Dennis David Auger/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0)
Old building at Ellinikon International Airport with a large stretch of pavement in front of it.
The main runway of the former Ellinikon International Airport, 2014. (Photo Credit: Dennis David Auger/ Wikimedia Commons/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ellinikon is designed to be self-sufficient in terms of irrigation and electricity needs. The irrigation will come from a nearby lake, a wastewater treatment plant, and collected stormwater. In addition to the natural space, the park will also include a number of residential and commercial buildings. The entire project is estimated to cost Greece $8 billion and will be completed in late 2025 or early 2026.

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