Still licking its wounds after last week’s airport attack, Istanbul will this month host the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee at the city’s Congress Center from July 10 to 20. Among the issues on the agenda of the 10-day meeting is Greece’s request for the archaeological site of Philippi, in northern Greece, to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
On the sidelines of the summit, the Greek Consulate is supporting a related photo exhibition at the Sismanoglio Megaro, in the same city. The exhibition, which will be launched on July 18 under the title “Philippi: A Century of Archaeological Discoveries,” is organized by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Kavala-Thasos and the French School of Archaeology in Athens. The exhibition, which first went on display in Thessaloniki two years ago, aims to showcase the multifaceted research on the site, the team behind the dig, the significance of the artifacts unearthed by archaeologists, and the importance of international collaborations.
The bid to include Philippi on the list of World Heritage monuments is backed by the Regional Authority of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, the Municipality of Kavala, the local archbishopric, and the local community. Meanwhile, the municipality is organizing a tourism campaign for the region.
There is nevertheless a feeling of dismay on the Greek side following the decision by Turkish authorities which allowed a daily reading from the Quran to be broadcast from Hagia Sophia during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
Greece has been a signatory to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage since 1981. A total 17 monuments from the prehistoric, Classical, Byzantine and post-Byzantine period have since been included on the list. Another 15 sites are on the tentative list. The first Greek entry was the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae. The Old Town of Corfu, one of the main attractions of the Ionian island, was the last Greek site to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.
“Officials at the Culture Ministry, with help from the Kavala Municipality, have carried out extremely important work. We have successfully completed a demanding evaluation process, we have a positive recommendation by the competent advisory body and we are looking forward to a positive result for the site as well as the country,” said Dr Eugenia Gerousi, head of the Directorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities at the ministry.
“The nomination of Philippi, already on Greece’s tentative list since 2003, is the first nomination in many years and, what is more, it complies with the new – and much stricter – operational guidelines imposed by the international organization,” Gerousi said.
What does it mean to be on UNESCO’s list?
“After a monument is included on the list, it gains international recognition,” says Stavroula Dadaki, head of the Ephorate of Antiquities in Kavala. This means more visitors and need for better infrastructure.
“There is an ongoing effort to include works that will upgrade the archaeological site (such as entrances, footpaths, guard booths, toilets and so on). Being on the list does not just mean glory and glamour; it also means extra obligations,” Dadaki said.
The archaeological site of Philippi is a magnet for visitors to northern Greece. The site is the location of the oldest Neolithic settlement in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, and one of the largest in the Balkans. Saint Paul founded the first Christian Church on European soil at Philippi in AD 49/50.
Dating back to 1957, the festival at the ancient theater of Philippi is Greece’s second oldest festival after that at Epidaurus. A “virtual trial” competition involving university students from eight institutions is held at the Forum every spring.