The project to renovate the Acropolis in Athens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is attracting a lot of criticism and Greek government Accused of damaging an invaluable historical heritage. The focus of the controversy is a new concrete walkway that opened in December, built in a wider renovation to receive millions of visitors each year, including people with reduced mobility.
Architect Tasos Tanolas, a former member of the Acropolis restoration team, described the new slope as “unsuitable” and “claustrophobic.” The main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is raising the “abuse” of Greece’s most famous archaeological site and one of the world’s most important.
The works were completed a little over a year ago and critics say they were carried out without due diligence to protect the monument, from the 5th century BC. The government responded that all precautions had been taken and that the criticism was fueled by the opposition.
This week, the Ministry of Culture announced new facilities on the Acropolis for visitors with disabilities — the result of talks with the main associations representing these people, he said. Braille signs for the blind will be installed, as well as handrails and signage for access to ramps. More than 3.5 million people visited the site in 2019, before the pandemic.
On the day AFP visited the Acropolis, a woman stumbled into a hole in the middle of the new walkway, in one of the many gaps purposely designed so that the ancient rock below could be seen. An employee that day was shoveling the land toward another pit after a group of visitors had passed.
“This is a rugged plateau. The edges are far from safe,” said tour guide Smaragda Tuluba, who visited the site recently with her elderly parents.
The renovation of the Acropolis, which cost about 1.5 billion euros and includes night lighting, an elevator for the disabled and improved sanitation, was funded by the Onassis Foundation. Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said the works, which are designed to encourage an influx of the public, were carried out by “world-renowned specialists” with four decades of experience.
But Smaragda Touloupa, author of articles on heritage management and the guide to the Acropolis since 1998, regrets that this large project was identified by a small circle, formed mostly by archaeologists. “It’s a completely technocratic approach,” he said.
Michtild Rossler, director of the World Heritage Center of the United Nations organization responsible for culture, told AFP that even UNESCO learned, through “third parties”, of “interventions” on the Acropolis in Athens. He added that Greece, as a signatory to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, must give notice “before any decision that is difficult to reverse is taken.”
Lina Mendoni ensures that there is no obligation to inform UNESCO of these “minor” and “completely reversible” changes. Officials said the renovation is necessary because the walkways around the Acropolis, designed 50 years ago and last renovated in 2012, cause hundreds of accidents each year.
Manolis Kouris, project manager, a respected architect who has been involved in the project since 1975, emphasized that the concrete rests on a protective membrane that can be removed quickly if necessary. Solid pavement was also necessary for heavy machinery to move multi-ton boards.
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