Ancient theaters closing for repairs in August

Over the centuries, they have withstood the forces of wind, water and earthquakes. Today, Greece’s two main ancient theaters face new threats: high heels and chewing gum. Culture Ministry officials said their decision to close the outdoor Herod Atticus and Epidaurus theaters in August was forced by the need for urgent repairs, with the strain of nightly performances threatening to worsen damage. The 1,800-year-old Herod Atticus, at the foot of the Acropolis, has hosted a wide variety of concerts, from Elton John to the Bolshoi Ballet. «If emergency reconstruction isn’t conducted in August, there will be major structural damage over the next 50 years,» Michalis Lefantzis, an architect with the Culture Ministry, said yesterday. «This is part of a larger program to preserve the monument… Over the last 50 years, millions and millions of people have passed through the theater,» he said. During a pre-summer cleanup, workers removed 27 kilograms (60 pounds) of chewing gum left by spectators under the seats of the Athens theater. Lefantzis said gum, which remains a problem, will be dried and pried off during the first weeks of August. «The wet gum on the marble is hard to get off and it takes off small pieces of marble with it,» he said. The summer concert season has also been shortened to two months, down from the normal May-October run. The decision was not related to the restoration work, spokeswoman Yulie Papatheodorou said. «We wanted to have a more condensed and interesting program,» she said. Lefantzis said a major part of reconstruction at the Athens theater will focus on one of two side entrances, which has suffered the worse damage and poses a potential threat to the overall structure. Two-hundred seats will be also be added to the existing 6,000. Marble seating in the lower section has been damaged by high heels from the more than 250,000 visitors each year. In the upper section, stress from the weight has caused the marble to crack. Conservation work is also needed at Epidaurus, a 2,350-year-old theater, 175 kilometers (110 miles) southwest of Athens. Constantinos Boletis, an architect at the Culture Ministry who worked at the site for more than 10 years, said high heels and the sheer number of visitors had also taken their toll on the 12,000-seat marble amphitheater. «It’s closing for conservation and for future audiences,» he said. «When you give an ancient structure to people you should be sure they won’t hurt themselves.»