“Street of Poets” in Greece helps relieve COVID-19 lockdown fatigue

Under the shadow of eucalyptus trees, gray-haired locals are reading lyrics of Greek poets of the 19th and 20th century inscribed on benches, while mothers pushing baby-strollers stop to recite poems “hidden” under small windows on the pavement.

The newly opened Lambraki pedestrian street in the municipality of Glyfada, a southern seaside suburb of Athens, is offering a different experience, with poems of Nobel laureates and others, to residents and visitors suffering from COVID-19 lockdown fatigue.

While Greek people have been stuck at home due to the pandemic, for about two months last spring and six months since Nov.7, 2020, local authorities seized the opportunity to redevelop parks, construct pedestrian bridges over busy avenues and lay new asphalt on roads.

Running from the lively commercial center vertically to the beach, the pedestrian street in Glyfada has been transformed in recent months from a narrow road flooded with cars, with a tiny strip of poorly maintained greenery in the middle, to a wide, modern pedestrian path which people now call “Street of Poets.”

The initial idea of the project was to create a pedestrian oasis like the famous Las Ramblas boulevard in the center of Barcelona in Spain, Giorgos Papanikolaou, mayor of Glyfada, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

When architects started mulling where to move the existing two busts of Greece’s Nobel laureates for literature, the late poets George Seferis and Odysseas Elytis, the idea of the “Street of Poets” was born.

The two busts are now more visible, surrounded by a “sea of lyrics” by great representatives of modern Greek poetry like the two Nobel laureates, Kostis Palamas, Constantine Cavafy, Maria Polydouri, Kiki Dimoula, Manolis Anagnostakis, Andreas Kalvos and many others.

“We often talk around the world about our ancient cultural heritage, but we have a great modern Greek (cultural) heritage as well. This is what we want to highlight here,” the mayor explained.

Since December, sections of the street have gradually opened to the public.

In the final phase in the coming months, the municipality plans to extend the project across the coastal front and create a four-km route, selecting also excerpts of works by foreign writers who loved Greece, Papanikolaou told Greek national news agency AMNA recently.

Locals and visitors have warmly welcomed the project. “The image of the most central part of Glyfada indeed changed,” Dimitris Bentos, a resident of Glyfada, told Xinhua.

“People could not walk among the cars. Now pedestrians can come here for a walk with their children, they are bringing their babies here,” Stathis Svolakis, another local, added.

“It is always a great joy and excitement for us seeing that during this period of the pandemic, at times of great difficulties, our fellow citizens are walking here, smiling, reading lyrics,” the mayor told Xinhua.

“People come from everywhere. Lyrics have been written also in English, as we have many tourists. We are very happy that here on this street we also see many families from China taking a walk,” he said.

With its prime waterfront location, vibrant commercial center and modern business district, Glyfada, as a famous seaside tourist destination, receives a large amount of domestic and foreign tourists every year, especially in the summer.

“In our city, we have the honor and the joy to have welcomed dozens of families from China … and we are very happy that they are in our city,” he added.

Papanikolaou learned from parents that children often return home to search for more information about the poets after taking a glimpse at their work on the street.

Such stories reminded Papanikolaou of the lyrics of Maria Polydouri: “This time, like no other, I think of you, lonely soul, stranger passerby.”