Graffiti hits Athens monuments

The authorities call it a Greek tragedy, but the graffiti artists who have increasingly left their mark on this ancient city and its monuments say they are simply responding to a different sort of muse. Churches and archaeological sites in Greece used to enjoy a certain immunity from graffiti and the stylized signatures known as tagging, but are now increasingly part of the action as the phenomenon takes off in Athens. «There is an inability to distinguish what is a monument, and what is not,» said Zetta Antonopoulou, an architect who has conducted extensive research on Athens statues, many of which are routinely marked with spray paint. The «art form» has come a long way since 1810. It was then that a young tourist in Greece carved his name into the ancient Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, south of Athens. The traveler was 22-year-old George Gordon – better known as Lord Byron, the maverick English poet who died fighting alongside the Greeks in their war of liberation against the Ottoman Empire. Two centuries later, Greek archaeologists are proud of young Byron’s handiwork – but contemporary graffiti artists are not as welcome. «The mark left by Byron is an historical document… youths today write slogans, it’s not the same thing,» says Miranda Karatza, an archaeologist who heads the Greek Culture Ministry’s sites and monuments office. While other forms of graffiti related to sports or politics have been around for a long time in Greece, many Athenians remain unaccustomed to the latest phenomenon of street art and wall tagging by young «crews» marking territory. «Graffiti is vandalism, it’s an element of conflict, and sometimes things that are nice are also ruined,» said Fotis, a 28-year-old street artist. While full-fledged street art in Athens mostly keeps to the suburbs and alleys around the center, quick-fix tagging on the city’s main squares and public monuments is the clearest indication of the trend. «A certain level of tagging is unavoidable in any city but in Athens it has been allowed to run riot,» a reader recently commented in local English language weekly Athens Plus. (AFP)