Last-minute effort to restore Olympia’s vegetation by March

Following a two-month delay, work begins in the next few days to restore vegetation on 45 hectares of land at Ancient Olympia to be completed by the time of the Beijing Olympiad flame-lighting ceremony in March, according to the National Agricultural Research Foundation (ETHIAGE), whose staff have drawn up the plan. At a meeting Tuesday of the Central Archaeological Council (KAS), an emergency plan was approved to plant thousands of trees at the site in time for the March 24 ceremony that will be broadcast live around the world. Forests surrounding the 2,800-year-old site were destroyed in the massive wildfires that swept through large areas of Greece last summer. The total cost of the project is budgeted at 2,762,500 euros, to be funded by a donation from the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, to include projects to be completed by next September. According to Georgios Lyrintzis, head of the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems, a contract for the project with the Culture Ministry had been signed in December, and 26 bids were submitted. In the five months since the fires, new vegetation has begun to emerge on the Hill of Cronus after the winter rains, as well as shrubs on other slopes that have reached a height of 50 centimeters. Natural regrowth, however, has also included some undesirable species, such as reeds, according to ETHIAGE staff. The Hill of Cronus has also been subject to erosion on the southern side, and Aleppo pines have begun to grow back. Lyrintzis countered claims by some members of KAS who believe that natural vegetation should be allowed to grow back, saying that if nature were left to its own devices, there would only be Aleppo pines. «What we want is a mixed forest with an emphasis on wide-leafed species,» he said. Nevertheless, it is likely to be some years before Ancient Olympia is truly restored to its former state and it appears that time is something the television cameras cannot wait for.