No products in the cart.
Press Play to listen to this article
ATHENS – A restoration project on Greece’s most famous monument has caused an uproar and allegations that its caretakers are guilty of “abuse”.
While archaeological sites and museums were closed to the public during the lockdown, Acropolis chiefs oversaw work aimed at making the site more accessible to people with disabilities, including a new concrete walkway that has been the focus of much of the anger.
Now the old citadel is open to the public again and people can finally see the work up close. Gray reinforced concrete has been laid over the uneven stone path that has been worn away over hundreds of years – with sections left uncovered so visitors can see the ancient rock below.
Dozens of archaeologists and university professors have protested, calling the restoration “strange” and “suffocating”. Alexis Tsipras, former prime minister and leader of the left Syriza, called it an “abuse” of the Greek cultural heritage and accused the government of “authoritarianism”.
The restoration of the trail, which took place over the six months that archaeological sites were closed to the public due to the pandemic, is part of a wider renovation of the Acropolis – a UNESCO World Heritage site from the 5th building, the most famous of which is the Parthenon and which had around 3.5 million visitors in 2019. This includes modernizing an elevator as well as better drainage and lighting. Other improvements that are still ongoing include easier-to-read signs and better handrails, as well as an embankment on another part of the hill.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni defended the measures approved by the Greek Central Council for Archeology (KAS), among others.
“They were all approved by people whose credibility cannot be denied,” Mendoni said during a tour of the Parthenon earlier this month with Manolis Korres, the architect who led the restoration work.
“I’ve seen people in wheelchairs come up for the first time and feel happy. Making people happy is perhaps just as important as protecting our cultural assets, ”said Mendoni.
Korres said the new concrete path sits on a protective membrane, making the project “completely reversible”.
“If desired, all of this surface could be removed in a day because of the underlying membrane,” said the 73-year-old professor and head of the Acropolis Monuments Conservation Committee.
He added that until the 1970s when the last trail was laid, there were several cases of visitors slipping and falling. “In recent years, the wear and tear on the existing pavement has been so great that accidents like in the past have returned,” he said.
However, critics say the renovation is meant to serve mass tourism rather than save the monument from the ravages of time. They also argue that the gaps in the new path are dangerous for the elderly or people with disabilities.
In a letter to World Heritage Watch, a Berlin-based body established to ensure architectural and historical sites are not sacrificed to economic interests, Tasos Tanoulas said the interventions “dramatically” change the Acropolis and “do not affect it” internationally recognized and established “respond to principles for the preservation, preservation and preservation of antiquities.”
“On the contrary, they are synonymous with the devaluation, concealment and degradation of the greatest archaeological and artistic treasure left in modern Greece, to which humanity has entrusted its preservation,” added Tanoulas, a longtime member of the Acropolis Preservation Group.
Tanoulas also accuses the government of “keeping its activities secret” and using the lockdown “as a smoke screen to complete the first phase of work”.
Nearly 4,000 people wrote an open letter to the Avaaz online campaign community calling for the trail to be removed.
In addition, UNESCO was reportedly not notified prior to the redesign. Mendoni said it was not necessary as the work could be rolled back but asked UNESCO to be informed of the changes and a detailed description would be sent to them. UNESCO officials will attend a conference in Athens in November to discuss the changes.
The Greek branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), an international non-governmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the world’s monuments, has expressed dissatisfaction with both the outcome of the work and the fact that it was carried out without proper consultation were.
ICOMOS President Athanasios Nakasis said the changes were only intended to serve mass tourism.
That criticism is backed up by the fact that among the first people to use the new sidewalk were models for French fashion house Christian Dior, which created a famous photoshoot from the 1970s earlier this week.
As well as The Akropolis fashion house has been given access to several other archaeological monuments and the government has been criticized for not following the required permit procedures.