The remit of the Ephorate of Cycladic Antiquities may be the group of islands in the Aegean Sea, but its administrative offices are located in one of the most charming parts of old Athens. The entrance faces the Ancient Agora in Plaka. Ephorate director Dimitris Athanasoulis has a view of the Acropolis from his office.
One of the Ephorate’s biggest ongoing projects at the moment is the restoration of the Episkopi, a 3rd century Roman burial memorial on Sikinos. It was turned into a church in the 7th century. At the same time, the Ephorate has overhauls of more recent structures to worry about.
“The Cyclades is one of the most interesting archaeological regions in the world, but the fact that it comprises islands presents its own complexities,” says Athanasoulis. “All 27 of its inhabited islands are individual regional units, each with smaller districts therein. Beyond those you have the even smaller islets that have ancient artifacts but are uninhabited. Between the inhabited and uninhabited islands with artifacts, you can understand why the Cyclades have the largest network of archaeological museums and collections in Greece. A number of the buildings used for these are in dire need of modernization as many were built in the 1960s,” he says. “Then there are a few islands, such as Kythnos, which don’t have a museum,” he adds.
The biggest such renovation project is currently under way in the Kastro district of Naxos town. “Besides the fact that the archaeological museum draws far more visitors than it was originally designed for, the collection has grown too,” Athanasoulis explains. The exciting plans foresee the creation of a museum village: Three medieval buildings are undergoing renovation and will house artifacts spanning the prehistoric to the Byzantine period. The current archaeological museum building will feature ancient and Classical era items. The Glezos Tower will showcase medieval and Byzantine artifacts and the Prompona mansion will be transformed into a museum of Cycladic culture.
The Ephorate’s chief also draws attention to the in situ character of the island museums. “In Athens, for example, we see figurines which have been taken out of the environment where they were discovered. On Naxos, though, the exhibits are part of an excavation trying to produce a more complete picture of the way people in the Aegean region lived during various parts of history.”
Delos is a priority for the Ephorate because the city and sanctuary had been neglected for years. The museum is also in need of a radical facelift. Athanasoulis says that funding from the National Strategic Reference Framework (ESPA) is insufficient to covers the costs. Consequently, the Ephorate has reached out to municipal authorities on the neighboring island of Myconos, enabling them to get started on some reconstruction work. Another problem is staffing as the state is not willing to provide contracts including the winter months. Efforts are being made to find private sponsors, following the example of the Paul and Alexandra Canellopoulos Foundation, which funded the restoration of the Stoa of Philip V. There are also collaborations with the French School and the Special Superintendency for the Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii.
Santorini, explains Athanasoulis, is the prime destination for archaeological tourism in the Cyclades. Its Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri draws more than half a million visitors per year. Delos, on the other hand, attracts 120,000 visitors. Santorini has received financial backing from Russian billionaire Eugene Kaspersky, who donated funds for the upkeep and care of frescoes at Akrotiri. It also appears he wants to see finds from Akrotiri exhibited at museums around the world.