The Acropolis, a World Heritage site, has been in the news since last October due to the works being carried out on the sacred site, as well as plans for future construction. The first intervention was the laying of concrete pathways to make the monuments more accessible, and future plans include landscaping that will transform the entire ridge, and the reconstruction of the historic staircase to the western entrance.
Construction on the site has triggered reactions from scientists, artists, organizations and citizens concerned about the physical extent and esthetic effects of the paving, as well as the irreversibility of the work, the covering of the rock and any potential effects on the rainwater drainage system.
The Ministry of Culture, which is also the body responsible for the protection of the monument, responded to the criticism by deeming the work necessary to improve accessibility for the mobility impaired and facilitate the transport of larger marble blocks with bigger transport vehicles.
Monumenta, an organization that is also part of civil society, is anxiously following the work on the Acropolis. Members of the group have visited the site, which hosts the famed Parthenon among other unique monuments, accompanied by archaeologists and architects who specialize in the restoration and management of monuments, understand cost-benefit analyses and recognize the challenges stemming from the complexity of such works. Following their visit, they expressed deep concern about the cement paving, particularly on the eastern sides of the Propylaea and Parthenon. Their main issue was the lack of study and refinement in the final design and implementation of the pavement, which is out of harmony with the natural rock due to its rigid delineation. They added that the lack of attention to the “finishing touches” devalues the end product.
The layers of cement break the unity and harmony of the space, serving as an unpleasant distraction for visitors, and generally spoil the esthetic beauty of the ancient architecture and natural landscape that makes this site unique. The esthetic degradation is only intensified by the myriad of other equipment littering the site, including scaffolding, ropes, benches and water fountains. All in all, there is a clear mismatch between the planning such a symbolic site deserves and the inadequate attention it has received.
Regarding the plan to cover the entire surface of the ridge with cement paving and restore the staircase west of the Propylaea, even if the form this work takes is adequately planned, there is still no doubt it will contravene international conventions for the protection of monuments. The expansive new construction and dominance of new building material will degrade the site’s authenticity by fracturing the relationship between the buildings and their natural setting, as well as completely hiding authentic elements such as the rock surface. Such a major intervention is not justifiable by the need to protect the monument, or by any other practical issue arising from the use of the archaeological site.
It should also be noted that the growing number of visitors should not and cannot be accommodated by artificially expanding the visiting area. The solution should lie in regulating traffic and scheduling visits according to the site’s capacity, as is the case with countless large museums and other archaeological sites around the globe.
While the crucial restoration work, spanning over four decades, and the need to display the archaeological site should be recognized, the Ministry of Culture should also take into consideration the views of all those who, in good faith and with substantiated reason, oppose the current construction and have taken the initiative to try to correct the issues they’ve identified. Furthermore, it is of paramount importance that scientific meetings and public consultations with citizens are held to allow for an exchange of opinions before any drastic decisions affecting the design of significant sites, such as the Acropolis, are taken.
Archaeologist Irini Gratsia is coordinator of Monumenta.