Photographers' Blog

Athens’ Ghost Airport

June 26, 2014

Athens, Greece

By Yorgos Karahalis

It’s been over a decade since Athens’ Hellenikon airport closed down after around 60 years of duty as the only airport serving the Greek capital.

 Olympic Airways airplanes are seen at the premises of the former Athens International airport of Hellenikon June 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

In 2001, just three years before Athens hosted the Olympic Games, Hellenikon was abandoned in favour of the glitzy new Eleftherios Venizelos airport, constructed to the east of the city. 

What has happened to Hellenikon since then?

Well, the glory days of the airport are long gone.

A station for the airport's limousine service is seen outside the east terminal of the former Athens International Airport of Hellenikon June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Nothing has been done with the property aside from using part of the land to construct a few secondary sports facilities for use during the 2004 Olympics. In turn, these too now stand abandoned.  

The former airport is now surrounded by a wire fence and weeds have taken over wherever they can. One terminal was burnt out by a fire and now sits in ruins – nobody cleaned it up after the incident. 

A view of a burnt building at the West terminal of the former Athens International airport of Hellenikon June 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Despite a private security service operating in the area, the building shows evidence of trespassing and looting. Boxes filled with anything from travel tags to piles of boarding passes and other documents are strewn on the floor amidst other debris and garbage. 

An office full of destroyed documents is seen at the former Athens International Airport of Hellenikon June 17, 2014.  REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

The sad spectacle continues, following me with every step as I make my way through the deserted complex. 

An auxiliary control tower is reflected on a mirror of a deserted cafe at the east terminal of the former Athens International Airport of Hellenikon June 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

I see ghostly halls, smashed windows, broken doors. Stray dogs bark at me, reminding me that this is their territory. It’s hard to imagine how the international airport of a European capital ended up in this state. 

An announcement board displaying the destination "Zakinthos" island is seen inside a deserted hall at  the West terminal of the former Athens International airport of Hellenikon June 16, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

But everything may change soon. A private development group wants to turn the old airport into a seaside resort and build a huge park, hotels, and residential buildings. But the project has already run into opposition from those angered about the land’s privatisation. The left-wing political party Syriza wants to see the site turned into a massive free public park instead. 

Controversy over the future of the site seems strange in view that no one seemed to care that it stood abandoned for so long. 

The departures building is seen behind palm trees at the east terminal of the former Athens International Airport of Hellenikon June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Meanwhile, as the discussion continues, Hellenikon still stands a sad derelict shell on the outskirts of Athens. Visiting it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

A view of the area outside the East terminal of the former Athens International airport of Hellenikon June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  • Editors & Key Contributors