Restoration of Greece’s Acropolis causes uproar – POLITICO
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ATHENS — A restoration project at Greece’s most famous monument has caused uproar and led to accusations that its custodians are guilty of “abuse.”
While archeological sites and museums were closed to the public during lockdown, bosses at the Acropolis oversaw work aimed at making the site more accessible to people with disabilities, including a new concrete walkway that’s been the focus of much of the ire.
Now the ancient citadel is open to the public again, and people can finally see the work up close. Gray reinforced concrete has been placed over the uneven stone path worn down over hundreds of years — with sections left uncovered so visitors can see the ancient rock beneath.
Dozens of archeologists and university professors have protested, calling the restoration “foreign” and “stifling.” Alexis Tsipras, former prime minister and leader of the leftist Syriza, called it an “abuse” of Greece’s cultural heritage and accused the government of “authoritarianism.”
The restoration of the pathway, which took place during the six months that archeological sites remained closed to the public because of the pandemic, is part of a broader makeover of the Acropolis — a 5th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to a number of buildings, the most famous of which is the Parthenon and which received some 3.5 million visitors in 2019. It includes upgrading 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, which were approved on several levels, including by Greece’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS).
“They have all been approved by people whose credibility cannot be disputed,” Mendoni said during a tour of the Parthenon this month, alongside Manolis Korres, the architect who presided over the restoration work.
“I have seen people in wheelchairs who came up for the first time and felt happy. Giving joy to people is perhaps just as significant as the protection of our cultural goods,” Mendoni said.
Korres said that the new concrete path sits on top of a protective membrane, which makes the project “fully reversible.”
“If desired, all this surface could be removed in a day because of the membrane underneath,” said the 73-year-old professor and head of the Acropolis Monuments Conservation committee.
He added that there had been multiple incidents of visitors slipping and falling until the 1970s, when the last path was laid. “In recent years, the wear and tear of the existing pavement has been so great that accidents occurred again as in the old days,” he said.
Yet critics say that the renovation is designed 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 that architectural and historical sites are not sacrificed to economic interests, Tasos Tanoulas said the interventions change the Acropolis “dramatically” and “do not respond to the internationally recognized and established principles concerning the preservation, conservation and safeguarding of antiquities.”
“On the contrary, they equal the devaluation, concealment and degradation of the greatest archaeological and artistic treasure that has been bequeathed to modern Greece, in whom humanity entrusts its safeguarding,” added Tanoulas, a long-standing member of the Preservation of the Acropolis Monuments group.
Tanoulas also accuses the government of “covering its activities with secrecy” and using the lockdown “as a smokescreen for the completion of the first phase of the works.”
Nearly 4,000 people have called for the pathway to be removed in an open letter to the online campaigning community Avaaz.
In addition, UNESCO reportedly wasn’t notified prior to the makeover. Mendoni said that there was no need to do so since the work can be reversed but that UNESCO did ask to be informed about the changes and a detailed description was sent to them. UNESCO officials are due to attend a conference in Athens in November to discuss the changes.
The Greek branch of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a non-governmental international organization dedicated to the conservation of the world’s monuments, has expressed dissatisfaction both with the result of the work and that they were carried out without the appropriate consultation.
ICOMOS president Athanasios Nakasis said the changes are designed only to serve mass tourism.
That criticism has been given extra credence by the fact that among the first people to use the new walkway were models for French fashion house Christian Dior, which earlier this week created a famous photo shoot from the 1970s.
As well as the Acropolis, the fashion house has been given access to several other archaeological monuments, and the government has been criticized for not following the necessary approval procedures.