ATHENS – At risk of being overrun, the Acropolis will be protected in a crowd control system that will include time slots and electronic ticketing and plans will include more shade and water for those waiting in the heat in long lines.
The famed ancient site has seen a dramatic increase in visitors with the essential end of the COVID-19 pandemic and waves of tourists returning to the country that could surpass 30 million – more than three times the population.
Some 17,000 people a day are visiting the site to see the hill and the renowned Parthenon and the numbers are swelling ahead of an expected heat wave that could see temperatures of 104 degrees baking the rocks.
The rush to get there early and get near the head of the line has produced some unruliness as well with guards struggling to deal with the frustration of people, some of whom came halfway around the world to visit the site.
“Measures will be fully enforced by the end of the month,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni, a classical archaeologist, said. “Visits in June and early July alone increased by 80% compared to 2019,” she added, reported The Guardian.
There will also be fast-lane entry points for organized tour groups who will get priority and as officials said thousands of visitors are pouring off cruise ships docking in the nearby port of Piraeus and heading straight for the site.
The hope is that having a system instead of free-for-all to get in will ease congestion, much cause by the cruise ship traffic that’s return in full force with the pandemic waning into the rear view mirror.
“In the past these cruise ships had the capacity to carry a few thousand, the population of a large village,” Lysandros Tsilidis, President of the Federation of Hellenic Associations of Tourist and Travel Agencies told the newspaper.
He welcomed the measures. “Now the vessels are so big you’ve got the size of a small state on board and at least 30 percent of all of those passengers will have pre-purchased tickets to visit the Acropolis,” he said.
He said the country has skyrocketed in tourists from the 1970s and with warnings of overtourism and popular islands also unable to handle the numbers without adequate infrastructure. “No one could possibly have imagine it,” he said
“No one could possibly have imagined it,” he says. “Back then, Greece attracted 7 million tourists; now that number is more than 30 million, three times our population.”
The paper said that tour guides complained of people fainting in the summer heat in an area where protection can’t be set up because of the nature of the site that would require altering.
“I have given instructions to find a way to be able to erect shades in places that are (not considered) sensitive,” said Mendoni, reappointed with the newly-re-elected New Democracy government.
“And at discreet points we’ll make sure there is water outside the site,” said Mendoni, who went there to witness the scenes.
In her first term she had instructed that concrete pathways be put on the sacred site, drawing the wrath of fellow classical archaeologists who said it as sacrilegious but which she defended as necessary to handle the crowds and make it possible for those in wheelchairs to visit.
She note says that the problem of overcrowding may require altering the entryway which would likely put her in the firing line again of critics who said the government is interested only in money and not history.
“In antiquity there was more than one entrance,” she said. “The solution to … the bottleneck would be the expansion of the Propylaia (gateway.) We can’t demolish the Propylaia but we can widen it,” she added
Manolis Korres, the architect who heads the Committee for the Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments, told the Observer that he believed the works would take no longer than 10 months if a “well-prepared schedule” was adhered to.
“I have proposed the reinstatement of the Roman staircase in the area many times and never because I want to facilitate the number of visitors,” he said, his studies envisioning a larger entrance to match much of the original form.
said the professor, whose detailed studies would see the monumental entrance enlarged and overhauled to much of its original form.
The ascent up to the treasures – a grueling climb in the summer – would also be easier as the incline “would be eight times wider,” said Korres, who the paper said is seen as the Acropolis’s leading authority.
Mendoni said earlier changes were necessary, including a lift. “If we hadn’t made the corridors,” she said, referring to the concrete pathways “the Acropolis would today be an almost impossible monument to visit.”