SNFCC (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center) is a cultural hub that came to change the everyday day life of Athenians and at the same time, it is a perfect example of how private initiative and the state can work together harmoniously with impressive results. It is located in the bay of Faliro on the Athenian seafront and houses new facilities for the National Library of Greece (NLG) and the Greek National Opera (GNO), as well as the 210,000 m² Stavros Niarchos Park. Its construction was funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the €566 million project after its completion in 2016 was donated to the Greek state in 2017.
The project was the vision of the Co-President of the Foundation, Andreas Dracopoulos – nephew of Stavros Niarchos – and the effort to implement the donation began in 1998. The initial plan was to make separate donations to the National Library and the National Opera, but in 2006 it was decided to build a complex for both organizations. After several negotiations and discussions with the Greek state, the area of the former horse race (Hippodrome) was chosen. The area was abandoned before the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens because the Hippodrome was moved outside the city limits (in Markopoulo).
In 2008 the Foundation selected the renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano to design the complex. Renzo Piano became world famous when he designed (along with Richard Rogers) the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Shard (London Bridge Tower) in London. Finally, the construction started in 2012. Piano visualized the SNFCC as a building rising out of the ground like a piece of the earth’s crust. Therefore an artificial hill was constructed and the roof of both the library and the opera house are emerging beneath it. The library is lower and the artificial hill concludes with the opera house. The roof of the library is covered with ground material and planted with indigenous Greek plants.
Apart from the main construction, the Stavros Niarchos Park with many facilities and activities is located around the hill and is one of the largest green areas in the urban district of Athens. At the same time, a large artificial Canal was constructed parallel to the complex and was filled with sea water. The canal is 400 meters long and 30 meters wide and it was designed in order to emphasize the relationship between the Center and the seafront by physically incorporating the element of water.
Finally, the Lighthouse of SNFCC (“Pharos” in Greek) is located at the top of the Greek National Opera and is a space encased in glass, offering panoramic views of Athens, Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf, as well as a direct visual connection to Acropolis hill. Surrounding the Lighthouse is an open-air space, sheltered by the canopy of the building. The Lighthouse apart from being a wonderful place to hang out, the last years has also become a place where several cultural activities take place, such as music concerts and book readings.
However, although the SNFCC is an impressive building complex, a real gem for the city of Athens, more important is the fact that it redefined the use of public space and the importance of culture. The Center is an open space that manages to combine entertainment and culture in a unique way. It is at the same time a place for walking, for recreation, for food and coffee (in one of the restaurants, cafes and kiosks that exist here), but at the same time it is a place of direct contact with culture.
The Library building is a freely accessible area where, in addition to the library exhibits, there are living rooms, computers and free spaces where everyone regardless of age could spend their time creatively. On the other hand, the Opera, although not freely accessible, hosting in its two stages (the main and the alternative stage) a series of performances (opera, music, dance, musical, etc.) at very affordable prices, has transformed into a place of art, beloved by all and not only by fans of classical opera.
An interesting detail about the things you could do at the Center venues is to see the Spyros Louis Cup. On April 18, 2012, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation announced that it acquired Bréal’s Silver Cup – the first Marathon Winner’s Cup presented to Spyros Louis at the first Modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 – in an auction held at Christie’s, where it was being offered for sale by the runner’s grandson. The Cup is usually exhibited in Agora – the area of the complex which is located between the Library and the Opera – but also travels around the world, where it is presented at various events.
The most important of all the interesting things that happen at SNFCC is the Summer Nostos Festival (now called SNF Nostos), which takes place every June. It is organized and funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and is called “nostos” which in Greek means “return home, repatriation”, symbolizing the return of the Center in the hands of the Foundation for a few days after its donation to the Greek State. It is a diverse international festival full of art, discussions, bold ideas, music, dance, performances, entertainment and sports for visitors of all ages. The Festival is a composition of a program with favorite Greek and international artists, a conference with the participation of top speakers, an evening running race, as well as various lectures and activities in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University.
It is not surprising that the Center, since its first presentation to the public in August 2016, has become a popular destination for all Athenians. Whether they are attending a concert, walking in the park, cycling, eating, having a cup of coffee, bringing the kids to play or coming to the Summer Festival, most of the citizens of the city have visited this cultural hub. At the same time, it has become one of the top tourist attractions of Greece and a mandatory stop for every visitor to Athens.
You could visit the official websites of the Center, the National Library of Greece and the National Greek Opera in order to prepare your visit here the next time you visit Athens.
The article has been published in the 1st issue of the digital travel magazine Voyagers Voice : voyagersvoice.com