CULTURE

The Acropolis’s Olympics deadline

Greek archaeologists are working overtime to finish the restoration of the Athens Acropolis before the 2004 Olympics, but warn that not all the scaffolding may have been dismantled by August next year, when the Games kick off. «We are undertaking an immense effort to make the Acropolis as beautiful as possible for the Olympics, but I can’t guarantee that will happen – the deadlines are very tight,» Maria Ioannidou, restoration director for the renowned ancient temple complex overlooking downtown Athens, told AFP. Archaeologists have been facelifting the Acropolis, Greece’s most visited archaeological site, since 1975. Workers are currently reconstructing the Athena Nike temple. A huge crane is on standby to reinstate eight dismantled columns at the north wing of the Parthenon temple, the Acropolis’s hallmark. Also, the marble roof of the Acropolis’s Propylaea gates is being restored. In October, Greece’s Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos had promised the world that the Acropolis would be in its «most beautiful appearance» for the Games. But the embellishment works, mostly aimed at undoing the damage inflicted on Greece’s so-called «sacred rock» in earlier restoration efforts using rusting metal clips to hold marble blocks together, have hit on unexpected trouble. «There were delays because unforeseen problems came up,» noted Ioannidou. Some 200 pieces of the Propylaea had to be taken down for restoration, almost twice as many as initially planned. The columns taken down from the Parthenon were more seriously damaged than thought. The reconstruction of the Athena Nike temple was scheduled to begin in January, but now it is set for September, said Demosthenes Giraud, the Greek architect in charge of the project. «It took us a hell of a time just to clean the marbles from cement additions we didn’t even know existed,» he said. More than 300 pieces of the temple presently lie on the ground. Work crews have been doubled, holidays were canceled and overtime shifts stretch into the night to make sure Athena Nike is rebuilt in time for the Olympics. «At least a large part of the monument will be ready,» Giraud assured. «As far as the scaffolding is concerned, we could temporarily dismantle it, if necessary.» «We’re not ashamed of scaffolds and cranes. They bear witness to the enormous amount of the internationally acclaimed work done to save the monuments,» Ioannidou said. Archaeologists say the 2004 deadline is just «circumstantial.» «Our priority… is the quality of work done in the long term,» Ioannidou added. «I’m working for the 2,500 years to come, whereas the Games are a bit ephemerous. I’ve had a bit enough of this argument (the deadline) being ceaselessly brandished about,» Giraud said.