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World Archaeologists, Critics Blast Tourist-Friendly Acropolis Scheme

Αssociated Press

Members of the Presidential Guard walk in front of the Parthenon temple atop of Acropolis Hill before the Greek flag raising ceremony in Athens, Thursday, March 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, Pool)

Perhaps the world's greatest architectural treasure – the famed Acropolis in Athens which holds the Parthenon – will be put at risk and its heritage devalued by plans to make it more accessible to tourists, a chorus of have critics said.

Archaeologists from around the world have joined with scholars, artists and lawyers condemning the plan for further renovations after a concrete walk was earlier added that let heavy rains lead to flooding on the site.

The group said the plans, which include overhauling a major entrance to the Propylaea, the site’s monumental gateway, would be “equivalent to the degradation, concealment, and devaluation of the greatest archaeological and artistic treasure that has been bequeathed to modern Greece, in which humanity has entrusted its preservation.”

That was reported by Art Newspaper which said the idea came from architectural restorer Manolis Korres, President of the Acropolis Monuments Conservation Committee, and approved by the Central Archaeological Council in February.

It would reconstruct the Roman marble staircase, the Acropolis’s western access point, erected in the 1st century AD to its original design. Its current condition, including rubble, makes it difficult for some to reach the top of the hill.

The report said that Korres' proposal aimed to the “monumentality” and “authenticity” of the structure, which would undo previous repairs and resolve “visitor traffic management issues,” for tourists.

A survey of the staircase is due to be cone in the autumn to design a construction plan but there's been little response to the complaints that came in an open letter imploring the government not to let the plans proceed.

The critics said the proposed changes will “create very serious technical and operational problems,” and even limit the site’s ability to handle large crowds of tourists, the opposite of the intended effect, and create mismatched aesthetics.

The plan stands “contrary to the internationally recognized and established principles concerning the preservation, conservation, and safeguarding of antiquities,” the signatories said, the report added.

The Greek Ministry of Culture did not respond an Artnet News request for comment but in March dismissed the criticism and said the intent was to restore the entrance to its “original ancient form” based on “exhaustive archaeological-architectural documentation.”

Meanwhile, the oldest sections of the architecture “will remain visible and accessible,” it said, the plan another flare up over how to preserve and protect the Acropolis and Parthenon while still letting hordes visit it.

In the autumn of 2020, the ministry upgraded old walkways with reinforced concrete to make the area easier for people with disabilities but the critics said in their letter it was really done to “accommodate even larger crowds of summer tourists” and bring in more money.

The Acropolis reopened March 21 after almost five months of being off limits during the still-lingering COVID-19 pandemic, with other archaeological sites opening to be ready for the return of tourists.

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Acropolis is one of the world's most visited attractions and a lure for visitors to Greece, the place packed with masses during the high season.

The signers said the changes to the Acropolis go far beyond “restoration,” and instead represent large-scale, historically inaccurate additions that defy international protocol for historic preservation, said Smithsonian magazine.

In a translation by Artnet News, they said the changes would be “equivalent to the degradation, concealment, and devaluation of the greatest archaeological and artistic treasure that has been bequeathed to modern Greece.”

The online news site Television Without Borders listed complaints about the concrete walkway that was built, including too-sleep slopes for wheelchair users, a lack of handrails and no easy-access parking spots for people with disabilities.

In a column for the newspaper Avgi, Yannis Hamilakis, an archaeologist at Brown University, said the reconstruction scheme is not historically accurate, but a “radical remodeling” based on romanticized 18th- and 19th-century notions of Greek antiquity, the report added.

“In reality, it is not the (Fifth) Century that is being rebuilt faithfully on the Acropolis, whose monuments … are the subject of wide discussion among experts,” he wrote. “If it were, all its buildings would have to be painted in different colors.”

The ancient Greeks famously incorporated bright, bold colors into their statues and temples, but this paint often wore off over the centuries, leaving only marble, the report also noted.

What is being reconstructed is an Acropolis of whiteness, of the Euro-centric, Western fantasy; an Acropolis as built by philologists, architects and archaeologists in the 18th and 19th centuries; an Acropolis of colonial-national modernity and romantic nationalism,” also said Hamilakis.