Photo by Robert McCabe from the exhibition ‘Chronography’ at the Archaeological Society of Athens.
The Greek Culture Ministry is putting together an interdisciplinary committee of experts who will be responsible for drawing up a national action plan to tackle the impact of climate change on the country’s archaeological sites and historic monuments.
Climate change is fast emerging as a significant threat to the country’s historical and cultural heritage and one that has not been sufficiently addressed, according to Culture Minister Lina Mendoni.
“It can have an adverse effect on monuments and archaeological sites, but also on museum exhibits if the proper measures are not taken. You cannot say that any are in imminent danger in Greece right now, but we really need to take measures to prevent this from happening,” Mendoni told Kathimerini.
Athens University professor Constantinos Cartalis, who is the director of the university’s Laboratory of Meteorology, will head the committee, which will be made up of experts from different fields of specialization and officials from the ministry’s Central Archaeological Service.
Some of the groundwork has already been done for the archaeological sites of Olympia, Delphi, Delos, Epidaurus, Mystras, the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae, Philippi and the Heraion of Samos by a team from the universities of Thessaly and Athens and the National Hellenic Research Foundation, backed by European funding. The management plans that this team will be drawing up for the eight sites will also address the dangers of climate change, according to Mendoni.
Climate change damage may be something that hasn’t become apparent at Greece’s archaeological sites yet, but air pollution has certainly taken a toll on monuments inside big cities, particularly during the 1980s and 1990s. The Parthenon in Athens has suffered more than most from erosion caused by pollution and other forms of damage.
“Experts agree that the situation regarding air quality has improved significantly so we need to keep doing what we’re doing: systematic research, monitoring, conservation and reparation,” says Mendoni.
Phenomena such as rising sea levels are a very real danger for places like Delos, but their intensity varies. Another effect of climate change – with a global impact – is on intangible cultural heritage.
“When nomadic shepherds, for example, can no longer take their animals to the same grazing grounds because they have been hit by floods or drought, it is not just their livelihood that is being impacted, but their entire way of life,” says Mendoni.
The culture minister is also concerned about the effects of extreme weather on the surroundings of archaeological sites and monuments, such as forests, which face a higher risk of fires during very hot and dry periods. At the same time, she says, such phenomena also pose a risk to staff and visitors.
“For example, we are interested in the state of the forest surrounding Ancient Olympia, and not just of the archaeological site itself,” she says. “As far as visitors and staff are concerned, climate change demands a different approach and measures to protect them from high temperatures or heavy downpours and flash floods.”