Damaged pier highlights need for restoration

For those who were familiar with the chronic problem plaguing the seaside Venetian fortress in Iraklion, Crete, an occurrence last Thursday came as no surprise. Part of the pier, which was built in the 1950s on the old rocky ledge around the fort, broke away. The news spread quickly but was exaggerated so that some people thought part of the fort itself had collapsed. However, as sources told Kathimerini, it was no minor matter and it raises the issue of the monument’s static condition with some urgency. It may speed up restoration procedures by the Culture Ministry (YPPO). Above the sea For many years, the 13th Ephorate of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments has persistently asked YPPO for support (in the form of funds and coordination) to settle the matter once and for all. The Iraklion fortress, built in the 1530s to replace an earlier tower, can still be visited but no events have been held there for the past two years because of safety concerns. The reason is that the fortress (or Koules, as the Turks called it, or Rocca a Mare, as the Venetians called it), is built on stable ground only on its north side. The south side was built on embankments that were created from ballast that ships discarded into the sea. As time passed and the port was cleaned out, the embankments shifted. The static problems began and gradually worsened. Since 1980, the local upkeep service has been bringing pressure to bear on the ministry for some generous funding. Restoring the fort is a complex project due to its location, which entails underwater studies. Locals complain that the while the fort brings in revenues, in that YPPO collects money by charging visitors admission, it never gets anything in return. Some of them wonder why the money made by the fort cannot be kept and used for its restoration. The issue has broader resonance because the monument is closely linked to the city and its history, and has become a symbol of Iraklion. This symbolic aspect makes many locals believe that the monument deserves better treatment than some equally important monuments in the area. Local concern for the fort’s future led to some emotional reactions which, albeit exaggerated, did alert the media to the question of the fort’s restoration. Archaeologists have been concerned about the stability of Koules in the past. That is why a decision was made in the 1950s to build the pier as a passageway to the more vulnerable south side. The causeway is made of stones and simple concrete and has suffered the ravages of time. Boats and ships moor at the old port, where the south side of the fort lies, and waves also gradually erode the material. Five months ago, the Eastern Crete Development Organization and the Iraklion Port Authority began work on a study to make the fort more stable and considerable progress has already been made. They are working in collaboration with Liana Starida, who is the ephorate official responsible for the Old Town of Iraklion. YPPO teams have taken samples of the section that lies underwater and are currently working on a study to restore it.

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