NEWS

New dilemma: Archaeological site or a park?

Neither exclusively archaeological sites nor purely city parks, these strange, often charming remnants live on in just about every Greek city. An archaeological fragment in the middle of a park, a small grave monument known collectively to generations of locals as «the antiquities,» or a plot of land with a permanently overgrown excavation site at the end of the next street. In Athens, you’re forever coming across antiquities – in the National Garden, on busy shopping streets, in hotel lobbies. What makes it different from other cities is that those large open spaces in the heart of the city, such as Philopappou (aka the Muses) Hill, the Pnyx and Plato’s Academy, retain a double identity as both park and archaeological site, which until recently had not given rise to any problems. Suddenly Athens is facing a serious new dilemma, prompted by the recent dispute between residents’ groups and archaeologists concerning Philopappou Hill. Issues of protecting archaeological sites that may not be as significant as the Acropolis but are generally considered to be in less-than-ideal condition come into conflict with the city’s pressing need for open spaces. Protection usually implies fences and prohibitions, which alarms neighbors who feel a vital element in their daily lives is under threat. The dispute Shortly before the 2004 Olympic Games, Athenians were barred from the popular, lush green area behind the Temple of Olympian Zeus. A few months ago, it was decided to turn Philopappou (and the neighboring Pnyx and Nymphs’ hills) into an organized archaeological site. That entails fences and closing a 70-hectare site at night. Heading the campaign against the Culture Ministry’s decisions is the Philopappou Coordinating Committee, the fruit of a meeting in November 2002, when fencing work began on the Unification of Archaeological Sites’ project. For local residents, the fencing off marks a symbolic end to the three hills as they had known them, as a unified, open green space in the heart of the city. So they set about dismantling a considerable part of the fence, and established a permanent source of disagreement with the Culture Ministry’s First Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. At the same time, they appealed to the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court, to quash the ministry’s decision on «an organized archaeological site.» On their part, archaeologists at the First Ephorate felt they had been part of an undeclared war during the past few months. «We can’t do anything without having someone on top of us, taking photographs and making videos,» said one. Archaeologist Olga Vogiatzoglou, who is jointly in charge of the three hills for the Ephorate, along with Kalliopi Lazaridou, told Kathimerini there was no meeting point now between the two sides. She believes the tension is being maintained for no real reason. «It’s not the first time Philopappou has been fenced,» she pointed out. «What we did was to update it and extend it so as to better define the archaeological site. This is what’s happening: recovering the borders of the archaeological site, aesthetic and functional improvements – it’s tidying it up.» The locals insist on their blog (filopappou.wordpress) that the fencing is probably a precursor of an entrance fee, which Vogiatzoglou adamantly denies. «That has never even been discussed. The site will be open and accessible to all throughout the day,» she said. «There is no substantial change from the previous situation. There will simply be monitoring to ensure there is no deterioration as there was over the past few decades. And it will be closed at night.» This has also met with strenuous opposition from local residents. But making the hills part of an organized archaeological site also means implementing certain regulations. You can’t take your dog for a walk in an organized archaeological site; you can’t cycle, you can’t have a picnic and neither children nor adults can play games. Once again, Vogiatzoglou is reassuring, explaining that the hills won’t be made sterile. «But you know, we have demands from cyclists who want to cycle on the hills and we can’t allow that. Besides, we want the cooperation of the people who come here. We ask people who bring their dogs here to be a bit more careful.»