As an individual with a connection, albeit tenuous, with the recent events in Athens, I have been asked to contribute my thoughts regarding the planning and construction of a parking facility within that city’s august citadel, as well as the subsequent collapse of the citadel itself.
First of all, I must admit that while I personally harbored reservations regarding the overall practicality of the project, I had no idea that it posed the danger that we now recognize. Like many of my countrymen, I admire the great achievements of classical Greek culture, but I am no Cassandra.
After careful consideration, including a firsthand examination of the site by several of my firm’s senior engineers, the then directors of Hoher Aufzug AG of Stuttgart submitted a bid (see Addendum A.2 of the official Hoher Aufzug statement) for three elevators within what would be the excavated core of the Acropolis—one near each corner of the oblong complex and one very near its center, offset slightly so as to avoid blocking the area between the Parthenon and the site of the Old Temple of Athena. Before submitting the bid, the directors also consulted at length with their opposites at Ballard Associates of Shepperton, who undertook an initial survey of the site, and Ingegneri Agosti SA of Rome, whose bid to excavate the outcrop had been accepted by the Municipality of Athens. I note that the answers that we at Hoher Aufzug received from both Ballard and Ingegneri Agosti regarding the excavation (Addendum C.18) were entirely satisfactory and illustrated what appeared to be a complete understanding of the issues involved in the overall project. After all, Ingegneri Agosti enjoyed a particular advantage in having been the principal entity involved in placing a parking facility within Rome’s Colosseum. While that project was, admittedly, far less complex than the one contemplated for the Acropolis, its successful completion was a strong factor in gaining our support.
I also note that by the time the project was completed, it had garnered the support of a large proportion of the Athenian population. Any solution to that city’s nightmarish traffic problems would have been welcome. But one that combined utility (providing long-term as well as short-term parking spaces for nearly three thousand vehicles) with the added benefit of rendering the monument accessible to the aged and the infirm was doubly welcome. We should also keep in mind the pride with which all Greeks remember their country’s first engineers, renowned figures such as Archimedes and Hero of Alexandria, and realize that a project of this magnitude was almost guaranteed to capture the modern Greek imagination. Perhaps most importantly, the project had received the official support of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports—the body responsible for preserving and maintain the country’s cultural heritage. Archaeologists, of course, remained fierce critics. I believe that everyone involved realized that winning over this learned body would be difficult, although we were convinced—incorrectly, it has turned out—that in time their approval would be forthcoming. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, their doubts have proven to be justified.
As most observers will agree, the first real indication that some aspects of the geological makeup of the outcrop on which the Acropolis stands may have been incompletely understood came with the unfortunate incident involving the bus carrying a group of senior citizens that lost its brakes and burst through the south wall. Words cannot convey our horror at this event, and I am proud to point out that the directors and shareholders of Hoher Aufzug, like those of the other entities involved in the project, immediately contributed to a fund to compensate the victims’ survivors. On the positive side, it proved possible to restore, almost completely, the ruins of the Theatre of Dionysus into which the vehicle plunged. Sadly enough, these efforts were to prove meaningless within a short time.
Of course, worse was to come, as last year’s earthquake illustrates all too clearly. Those involved in the project believed (and continue to believe) that the deficiencies revealed by the bus incident had been resolved with the insertions of girders at close intervals around the walls of the facility (Addendum D.4), but there was no way to foresee a disaster of the proportions that we have witnessed. That the damage and loss of life throughout the entire Attic Peninsula has been extensive can in no way diminish the devastation that the Acropolis itself has sustained, and once again the directors and shareholders of Hoher Aufzug have voluntarily made substantial donations to compensate survivors and landowners for their losses.
We must point out, however, that it is impossible to know whether the excavations and construction undertaken during the project actually contributed in any substantial way to the collapse of the Acropolis. In fact, the geologists retained by Hoher Aufzug believe that the collapse may well have taken place even if the project had never been undertaken. In light of such doubts, Hoher Aufzug has joined Ingegneri Agosti and the other forty-three entities involved in the project in rejecting responsibility for the damage until the matter can be adjudicated in the appropriate venues.
I will mention, however, that it is something of a point of pride that the highest point on what remains of the Acopolis is now the upper housing of the easternmost elevator shaft installed by Hoher Aufzug. To highlight that fact and in somber recognition of the terrible events that have taken place, we have undertaken to erect a flagpole on the housing on which the flags of Greece and Germany will fly, night and day. We will also mount a metal-halide floodlight and a webcam nearby, allowing viewers around the world to view the flags virtually, live and in color, at any time.
In conclusion, I must respectfully reject the efforts in the popular press to link the recent calamity to the unfortunate events suffered by Greece during the Second World War. Thankfully, those events are now long behind us, and no longer have any bearing on the good relations between our two countries. I particularly resent the calumny that had been poured by the Greek press upon Hoher Aufzug and Ingegneri Agosti, both of which have proceeded with the full backing of all pertinent official bodies, and look forward, as I am sure we all do, to an even-handed investigation of this terrible calamity.
Grove Koger is the author of When the Going Was Good: A Guide to the 99 Best Narratives of Travel, Exploration, and Adventure; Assistant Editor of Deus Loci: The Lawrence Durrell Journal; and former Assistant Editor of Art Patron magazine. He blogs about travel and related subjects at worldenoughblog.wordpress.com/author/gkoger/. Grove recommends Bat Conservation International.