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Small green wonders in Athens, the ‘white city' (16 images)

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Green certainly isn’t the word which best describes Athens. Known as the ‘white city’, at nightfall the Greek capital is simultaneously concrete grey, pink and orange. As for the blue which I thought I could bathe my eyes in at the port of Piraeus, there isn’t any! French photographer Benedicte Salzes hunts down organic producers, vegetarian restaurants and green educational initiatives in Plato’s home town

This article is part of’s 2010-2012 feature focus on Green Europe

In the electric mist

Athens is surrounded by hills, including Mount Lycabettus, one of the Athenian’s favourite places to go in the late afternoon. At a height of 277 metres, it is easily reached by foot: the perfect way to find serenity in a small 15-minute walk (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Thanassis Skourlas

According to this journalist for the web magazine Econews, politics won’t change anything. He even admits that voting for the ecologists would be meaningless. Educating young people and raising awareness through the media are the first step (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)


Descending from the Acropolis, the narrow streets in the Plaka neighbourhood offer a pastoral interlude before returning to the city centre (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

There for the taking

In certain streets in Athens, oregano is within easy reach. In Greece the weeds, nothing other than oregano, thyme or rosemary, emerge from between the cracks and the pavement. You can even bend down and pick them (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Michael, street vendor selling fruit and vegetables

While stocking up in Athens’ central market, Michael claims that organic farming is of no interest to him. He goes so far as to say that without fertiliser and pesticide there would be no beautiful tomatoes and no juicy peaches (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Poor Greece

A few shops and grocery stores offer good quality local produce between two fast food chains. Cereals, whole grains and oilseeds are the staples of the Mediterranean diet and yet they are shunned by Athenians in favour of quick meals on the go (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Maria Palase, a small grocery store in Plaka

While her husband mans the butchery section selling local meat behind his tiny stall, Maria manages the rest of the shop. As well as local products (olive oil, packets of pasta, spices), the shelves are stocked with the processed and industrial goods which are winning over the daily food markets in Athens (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Journey to depths of hell

From Athens the sea, though so close, seems like an unattainable luxury. It is 40°C when the tram drops us at a car park. Looking to cool down a bit, the only way to get to the sea is with a ticket for one of the numerous bars and clubs which line the beach. Fake blondes dancing around topless, young men on the pull, techno music and alcoholic cocktails - we choose not to go behind the scenes of this – too artificial – sea. End of the line: Piraeus (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Underneath the cobblestones, the concrete

The beaches of Attica are a paradox of concrete in the midst of the beautiful blue. They are crowded, and for the most part you have to pay to get in. Lounging around in the sun is now part of an economy of mass consumption and of mindless tourism (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

A break

One of the waitresses at the vegetarian and vegan restaurant Avocado near Syntagma Square. The atmosphere here is relaxed, perfect for a serene, delicious lunch or coffee break (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Bowl of fresh air

The restaurant Avocado offers dishes made from organic products in a relaxing atmosphere. For shops and restaurants like this, which have become increasingly popular in Athens over the last ten years, organic farming is a real alternative to a society of mass production and consumption. An organic label also assures customers that that they are buying a quality product, guaranteed to be without pesticide and therefore good for your health. Organic farming is part of a virtuous circle, which is open to other markets, like the cosmetics industry. Many shops in Athens already offer up-market beauty products developed exclusively from Greek products and distributed across Europe (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Sofia, biology teacher

Sofia teaches in a secondary school in northern Greece. The beginning of the academic year offers an opportunity to take pupils to see flora and fauna in the wild while out walking, before examining them up close under the microscope. For most pupils this is their first contact with nature. ‘This environmental class is an opportunity to make the young people aware of their environment,’ she says. For Sofia this also happens through the separating of rubbish and recycling. ‘Greece still has a long way to go’ (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Far from the agora

The ascent to the Acropolis, and then to the Filopapau hill, is one of the walks in Athens where you can get away from everything and just let go (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Athens, a city of concrete, where water can no longer penetrate the ground

The two rivers which used to cross the Attica plan have dried up as a result of quick and badly planned building works which have made the ground impermeable. However, according to Vassilis Zotos, an architect and city planner who worked on the development of the banks of the Thames in London, the banks of the river Kifissos  merely have to be redeveloped to revive the river and to give the Athenians a haven of greenery and a more temperate city (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Hatto Fischer

Athens-based poet Hatto Fischer discusses Greek philosophy which is based on the notion of urbanity. ‘While nature is a place for reflection it also represents a risk for man,’ says the German professor. In this sense, a house made of concrete is better than a house made of stone. As the head of the association Poiein Kai Prattein, Fischer organises seminars and workshops which bring artists, scientists and the public together with the aim of creation, reflection and research into new prospects for the environment (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Athens, future kaleidoscope?

At nightfall, the city is adorned with thousands of colours, suggesting that today’s small green initiatives will one day succeed in making Athens a city at one with its environment (Image: © Bénédicte Salzes)

Translated from Écologie: le paradoxe d'Athènes