NEWS

Philopappou Hill goes behind bars

Philopappou Hill, one of the last green spaces in Athens, was left to its fate for many years, but now a 3.4 million euro project to upgrade the area has begun. Unfortunately the project began by surrounding the hill with metal fencing. At many points trees have been felled to make way for the fence. The refurbishment includes the fence, an electrical supply grid and an outdoor sculpture exhibition. No provision has been made for care of the natural environment. When the Culture Ministry approved the preliminary study for fencing the hill, as part of the unification of archaeological sites, on July 17, 1998, the project’s main objective was to give the area a higher profile and protect the urban and archaeological site within it. Both individual organizations and local residents expressed some reservations at the time about a project which would hinder access to the hill, and the possibility that private entrepreneurs might be allowed to run the area as a tourist concern in view of the Olympic Games. Despite opposition, the refurbishment finally began in June, and is expected to be completed in early 2003. According to the company responsible for the unification of archaeological sites, which is implementing the ministry’s decision, the fence is necessary because the hill has been declared an archaeological site and so requires more protection than it currently has. So far, so good. But there are some problems which were not taken into consideration when the decision was made. Some derive from the peculiar ownership status of Philopappou, which is shared between the Culture Ministry and the City of Athens. This is why the hill is only partly and selectively watered. And there are other issues. In order to highlight the monuments and pave the earthen footpaths, many healthy trees are being felled for no other reason than that they block the work. The first protests took place on November 3, when local residents pulled down fencing, leading the authorities to discuss security measures. Residents fear that plans are afoot to open a business selling refreshments in the old quarry and that admission might be charged to what has always been a free area. Mr Yiannopoulos of the archaeological sites reunification company rules out any such changes. But now that the hill has been fenced off and declared an archaeological site, charging admission seems an obvious next step. It goes without saying that the hill and its monuments must be guarded, at least by night. But that can be done without completely blocking off access to the hill, needlessly felling trees, or making changes that are not in keeping with the history of the site. For instance, the historic Dora Stratou Theater, a Philopappou landmark, is being moved to another location.