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SNFCC – A lighthouse of culture in Athens

SNFCC (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center)

SNFCC (Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center) is a cultural hub. The Cultural Center came to change the everyday day life of Athenians. It is a perfect example of how private initiative and the state can work together for the culture reasons. The Center is located in the bay of Faliro on the Athenian seafront. It 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. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation financed the construction with the project of 566 million euros. In 2016, after its completion, it donated the construction to the Greek state in 2017.

Foundation Co-Chair Andreas Dracopoulos, Stavros Niarchos’s nephew, had the vision for the project and the effort to implement the grant began in 1998. The initial plan was to make separate donations to the National Library and the National Opera. In 2006 the Stavros Niarchos Foundation decided to build a complex for both organizations. After several negotiations and discussions with the Greek state, the Foundation chose the area of the ancient horse race (Hippodrome). The Hippodrome was moved outside the city limits (in Markopoulo) and consequently the abandonment of the area before the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

National Library in Athens
Photo by George Tasios on Unsplash
National Library in Athens
Photo by Michalis Mantelos on Unsplash

The design of the Foundation

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. He also designed the Shard (London Bridge Tower) in London. Finally the construction started in 2012. Piano visualised 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. Material ground and planted with indigenous Greek plants covers the roof of the library.

Stavros Niarchos Park
Photo by Dimitris Chapsoulas on Unsplash

Apart from the main construction, the Stavros Niarchos Park with many facilities and activities is located around the hill. It 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. It was filled with sea water. The Canal is 400 metres long and 30 meters wide. It was designed in order to emphasise the relationship between the Center and the seafront by physically incorporating the element of water. 

Lighthouse of SNFCC

Finally, the Lighthouse of SNFCC (“Pharos” in Greek) is at the top of the Greek National Opera. It is a space encased in glass, offering panoramic views of Athens, Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf. It also offers direct visual connection to the Acropolis hill. Surrounding the Lighthouse is an open-air space, sheltered by the canopy of the building. The Lighthouse apart from a wonderful place to hang out, has also become a place where several cultural activities take place, such as music concerts and book readings.

SNFCC Athens

SNFCC is an impressive building complex, a real gem for the city of Athens. This takes advantage of 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, and for recreation. It is also a placefor food and coffee (in one of the restaurants, cafes and kiosks that exist here). At the same time it is a place of direct contact with culture.

The library building & the Opera

The Library building is a freely accessible area where, in addition to the library exhibits, there are living rooms, computers and free spaces. Here everyone regardless of age can 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 such are opera, music, dance, musical, etc. are at very affordable prices. It has transformed into a place of art, beloved by all and not only by fans of classical opera.

SNFCC Athens

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. It is 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 in Agora – the area of the complex which is located between the Library and the Opera. The Cup also travels around the world, where it is present at various events.

SNFCC Inside

Summer Nostos Festival

The most important event that celebrate at SNFCC is the Summer Nostos Festival (now called SNF Nostos). The festival takes place every June.The Stavros Niarchos Foundation organizes and finances this event, with the Greek word “nostos”. Nostos in Greek means “return home, repatriation” It symbolizes 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 and dance,. There are also performances, entertainment and sports for visitors of all ages. The Festival is a composition of a program with favorite Greek and international artists. There are also conferences 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.

If yo would like to know more about art or culture, look at our blog.

Author: Antonis Tsapepas

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