(Image From artnet).
Beginning on September 4, Greece will be permitting a limited number of daily visitors to enter the historic monument of the Acropolis as local authorities try to contain mass tourism.
According to Lina Mendoni, the Culture Minister, 20,000 visits per day will be the new limit for those wanting to visit the Athens monument, with entry organised into specific time zones starting from 8 a.m until 8 p.m. This initiative is part of a larger programme being implemented by April 1, 2024, that will see all archaeological sites use electronic tickets for access.
This national plan for entry systems at Greek archaeological sites stems from the amount of tourism they have been receiving in recent years, with cases of 22,000 to 23,000 visitors recorded at the Acropolis in one single day (Schengenvisa, 2022). In 2022, annual tourism reached three million (Schengenvisa, 2022). Statistically, nearly half of these visitors spend time at the monument between 8 a.m and 12 p.m, especially for groups of more than ten people (Schengenvisa, 2023). This influx of visitors, which has increased by 80 percent from June and early July of 2019 to the same period in 2023, has sparked debate about the long-term preservation of the ancient citadel. Famous as the home of the Parthenon temple, dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patron saint of Athens, and allegorised as the personification of wisdom, the Acropolis has always been an immensely popular tourist destination, and the new measures introduced are to reduce any damage (such as bottlenecking) done by tourists visiting.
The Acropolis has been operating as an archaeological site since 1833, shortly after the establishment of the modern Greek State, and has been strongly protected under the provisions of Law No. 3028/2002 on the “Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in General” (UNESCO, 2020). Especially for the restoration, protection, and monitoring of the property, an advisory body, the Committee for the Restoration and Conservation of the Acropolis Monuments, was founded in 1975 and is responsible for planning, directing, and supervising the interventions (UNESCO, 2020). With this growing restorative project, the New Acropolis Museum was established in 2009, where most of the original cultural and architectural pieces of the monuments are conserved. The Greek government and academics within the field have been working to preserve the monument for nearly 200 years. This new cap on daily visitors is but the most recent conservation efforts to ensure the prosperity of this important historical monument.
Mendoni commented to the radio station Real FM: “That’s a huge number. Obviously, tourism is desirable for the country, for all of us. But we have to find a way of preventing overtourism from harming the monument” (artnet, 2023).
With this new proposed plan, visitor numbers will be limited by the house, although Mendoni has stated that visitors will not be limited on how much time they spend at the Acropolis, and future archaeological sites (artnet, 2023). Considering that organised groups usually visit the site for around 45 minutes, while individual visitors more often take longer, roughly around an hour and a half, this is a positive development to allow different types of tourists a satisfactory amount of time to appreciate the archaeology (artnet, 2023).
As Lysandros Tsilidis, the president of the Federation of Hellenic Associations of Tourist and Travel Agencies, explains, “These cruise ships […] are so big you’ve got the size of a small state on board and at least 30 percent of all of those passengers will have pre-purchased tickets to visit the Acropolis” (Greek Reporter, 2023). The new measures will allow 3,000 visitors to be admitted when the monument opens at 8 a.m., with an additional 2,000 slots at 9 a.m. and varied allotments throughout the day, before the Acropolis closes at 9 p.m.
This is not the only challenge in tourism that the Acropolis has been facing in recent years. Soaring summer temperatures and more frequent heatwaves due to climate change have affected the local area. In July 2023, temperatures rose to 118 degrees, forcing the government to close the site, along with other popular tourist attractions, for several hours during the hottest parts of the day. The Acropolis has since installed awnings to provide shade to protect visitors from the sun, along with accessibility for visitors with a disability.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, ensuring the Acropolis’ continued survival and conservation is crucial. It is the most complete ancient Greek monumental complex still existing today, and although its first fortification wall was built during the 13th century BC, it began to acquire a religious character in the 8th century BC with the establishment of the cult of Athena (UNESCO, 2020). In the 5th century BC, the Athenians, empowered by their victory over the Persians in the War, carried out an ambitious building programme under the great statesman Perikles, which has created the monument we see today. It is, therefore, no surprise that it is an incredibly popular tourist destination across the world, but these new preventive measures will ensure its continued prosperity in decades, even centuries, to come.
Edited by: Shahnawaz Chodhry
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