OPINION

Cultural heritage

An advertising campaign that was launched by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) to promote Greece abroad a few years ago used a slogan that won international praise for its dynamism, its connotations and its real meaning: «Greece: Chosen by the Gods.» The slogan was no overstatement: Not just because the beauties of the Greek landscape conjure up divine and mythical images, but also because our country is fortunate to host a wide range of spectacular relics of the holy places where these gods – the gods who «chose» our country – were worshiped by some very inspired people. Greece is exceptionally fortunate to have been able to preserve a broader archeological legacy that bears the mark of the first culture to deify man and his Promethean dimension. Even a makeshift list of these places can hardly be kept short: The Acropolis, Sounion, Aphaia on Aegina, Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, Delos, Vergina, Dion, Pella, Knossos, Phaestus, Zakros, Kameiros, Samothrace. A report in Sunday’s Kathimerini confirmed what we all know from firsthand experience – that all those esteemed and magical sites, which bring the visitor into inspired contact with the cradle of Western civilization, are largely neglected, choked with weeds and abandoned building materials. Even when the sites are neatly kept, one cannot help but notice the near-total lack of information available for the traveler who arrives and wanders around these mythical spots blindly. It would not take much effort to offer something to allow them to dip deeper into their magic, to make the traveler seek something more, and to purchase (we should not snub the commercial side, as revenues are crucial for keeping our archeological sites and museums alive) related books, graven images, replicas and copies of votive offerings. Vergina and the recently upgraded installations at Mycenae have led the way. A few years ago, when Greece announced a plan to build a big tourist center on Mt Olympus, thousands of intellectuals from Western Europe signed a petition calling on Athens not to «disturb» the gods. Their move was a sign of the power of the Greek myth, as well as a sign of the potential prospects that could be created from a combination of vacation visits with cultural and archeological tours. Karamanlis chose to take on the Culture Ministry portfolio following his election win in March. He has every reason to encourage the promotion of our cultural heritage and our archeological sites. Doing so would not just be for the revenues that it would generate. It would also buff the shine and the allure that they could so easily lend to the promotion of modern Greece.