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Work on Nemea sanctuary to be re-assessed by Central Archaeological Council

The country’s top archaeological body has ordered an inquiry into restoration work on an ancient sanctuary at Nemea, in the northeastern Peloponnese. The first time the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) raised objections to restoration work on the Temple of Zeus at Nemea was three years ago. Then, an investigation by the entire council at the archaeological site highlighted mistakes in restoration work that were linked to a series of errors, misunderstandings and lack of communication. The problems were sorted out and the pilot restoration of two columns was regarded as successful. Nevertheless, when KAS received the study on Tuesday on the restoration of four columns and a section of the entablature of the northeastern corner, members expressed reservations. Doubts Doubts were expressed, not so much over the program and the way it was being carried out, as over the absence of a master plan for work on the Temple of Zeus by the American School. KAS members also expressed doubts over future work on other sections of the sanctuary, and there were also disagreements over the use of new material. Iordanis Dimakopoulos, for one, insisted to the very end that «what was happening at Nemea was not restoration but a reconstruction.» This all led to the decision for an inquiry, because, as the general secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Lina Mendoni, said, past errors had induced caution. «We saw interventions whose quality was not the best possible.» The study, presented by architect and engineer Katerina Skliri, is the continuation of a 2001 study on the restoration of two columns on the second facade. It aims to restore four columns in the northeastern corner and the corresponding entablature, which will connect the two columns already restored with the extant column on the side. Essentially, this is the first phase of a larger program to restore the eastern side of the temple. To complete it, there remains the study on the two columns toward the south side, which has already begun. Currently, the temple remnants scattered over the site are subject to harsh weather conditions and have suffered more damage than the three upright columns. Restoration is necessary in order to protect the monument as well as to restore some of its former glory. The aim is to rebuild the northeastern corner, with its nine columns, and allow the visitor to grasp the grandeur and elegance of the building in its three-dimensional form. The restoration process, said Skliri, will be based on respect for the temple’s original form. The new material will tie in harmoniously with the whole and will be distinct from the ancient material. The intervention will be reversible. For new and supplementary pieces, a natural stone, poros from ancient Cleones, of which the temple was originally built, will be used. The nine columns will all be constructed out of poros stone. «The restoration of the temple piecemeal might make it more vulnerable to earthquakes,» said Dimothenis Ziro at the KAS meeting on Tuesday. Speaking on behalf of the researchers’ work group, Patras University Professor Nikos Makris gave details of a study on the temple’s seismic stability. He averred that the columns at Nemea and Greece more generally could resist temblors. But there were objections, both to the lack of a broader plan and a static study. The Corinth area is highly earthquake-prone. On the other hand, the American School was clearly eager to press ahead with the restoration of the entire temple. «When they get to the south side where there are not many authentic parts left, what will they do? Restore it with new material?» inquired Dimitrios Constantios, director of the Byzantine Museum. Most of the members were skeptical that the entire peristyle should be restored.