Slow demise of top at­trac­tion

Ne­glect eats away at Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum, where im­por­tant halls are shut Sun­days

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY DIM­ITRIS RIGOPOU­LOS

There is no other word to de­scribe the state of the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum than degra­da­tion, and it ap­pears the sit­u­a­tion has been de­te­ri­o­rat­ing for some time, ac­cord­ing to Kathimerini read­ers.

Only eight of the 64 halls are open on Sun­days, the shop is shut and any main­te­nance that is car­ried out on the grounds is thanks to the good will of the As­so­ci­a­tion of the Friends of the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum.

Thou­sands of tourists line up at the ticket of­fice, obliv­i­ous to the fact they’re pay­ing full price to see a frac­tion of the dis­plays. When they even­tu­ally re­al­ize that they have been cheated, they are jus­ti­fi­ably en­raged.

Ac­cord­ing to one reader, Gior­gos Kyr­i­akopou­los, “what ought to be the ultimate ex­pe­ri­ence along with a visit to the Acrop­o­lis, is, in fact, a de­jected ex­change of looks be­tween dis­ap­pointed stu­dents from all four corners of the earth and hun­dreds of vis­i­tors from around Greece and abroad who didn’t get to see the kouros, the ste­lae, the Marathon Boy or the An­tikythera Ephebe, didn’t see the Cy­cladic fig­urines or the Bronze Col­lec­tion, and missed the won­der­ful Hel­lenis­tic and Ro­man sculp­tures, the Stathatos Col­lec­tion and the im­pres­sive Egyp­tian Col­lec­tion.”

The di­rec­tor of the in­sti­tu­tion, Niko­laos Kalt­sas, ex­plains that the mu­seum needs at least 130 guards in or­der to op­er­ate dou­ble shifts, but to­day it has just 30. The hir­ing of 115 ad­di­tional guards, he told Kathimerini, is all ready to go ahead but is await­ing fi­nal ap­proval from the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Tourism. “We ex­pect it any day now, any hour,” he said, adding, how­ever, that the nor­mal­ity will only last un­til the end of Oc­to­ber when the con­tracts for the ad­di­tional staff ex­pire.

As for the mu­seum shop, its open­ing hours have been cut be­cause it came un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the now-de­funct Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­mo­tion of Greek Cul­ture (OPEP) and has now passed into the con­trol of the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­sources Fund (TAPA), which hired two em­ploy­ees (who used to work for for­mer sta­te­owned car­rier Olympic Air­ways), with­out, how­ever, in­clud­ing Sun­days and pub­lic hol­i­days in their con­tracts.

On a pos­i­tive note, the cafe is open, but only be­cause it is run by a pri­vate com­pany.

In short, deal­ing with the acute prob­lems of the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum must be­come a top pri­or­ity for the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Tourism, un­der whose ju­ris­dic­tion it falls squarely.

Visi­tor anger

Manos Eleft­he­riou was at the mu­seum on Satur­day and Sun­day last week. He was sur­prised to see some of the halls closed on the first day, but com­pletely shocked to see so many more shut the fol­low­ing day.

“Many for­eign vis­i­tors ar­gued and nearly came to blows with the em­ploy­ees of the mu­seum when they dis­cov­ered that only one-sixth of it was open. I was speech­less. How can we say that we care about about our cul­ture, our lan­guage, our tourists?”

Eleft­he­riou re­called the re­ac­tion of one Cana­dian tourist who found the hall ex­hibit­ing the famed An­tikythera Mech­a­nism closed. “We just thought, ‘Next time.’ But the Cana­dian tourist, and an­other five or six peo­ple star­ing at the door, could not say the same. I heard him shout at the guard, ‘It was my dream to see this an­cient me­chan­i­cal com­puter; it was my dream.’ As he walked away, he mut­tered in a trem­bling voice: ‘F... Greece! F... you, Greeks!’ We just shook our heads be­cause there was noth­ing we could say to this in­fu­ri­ated tourist.”

In an­other scene de­scribed by Eleft­he­riou, “two or three el­derly tourists, af­ter walk­ing up the stairs be­cause the el­e­va­tor was out of or­der, tried to clear a peek hole into the dark­ened win­dows of the vase col­lec­tion by breath­ing on them and rub­bing them with their palms. When they saw us, they stared at us with a ques­tion in their eyes and we just ran, like dogs that had been beaten, try­ing to hide some­where.”

Gior­gos Kyr­i­akopou­los had a sim­i­larly mor­ti­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence when he took some guests from abroad to visit the mu­seum.

“One can jus­tify this ridicu­lous sit­u­a­tion in a hun­dred dif­fer­ent ways. But if tourist ar­rivals this year are the only hope we have in this bank­rupt coun­try, then maybe this sit­u­a­tion is more se­ri­ous than ridicu­lous.

“My sug­ges­tion to the min­istry is that it im­me­di­ately shuts down all state museums and pri­vate museums that de­pend on state fund­ing, such as those of Pi­raeus, Vravrona and even the Acrop­o­lis, and trans­fer all of their guards to the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum.

“Pol­i­tics,” the reader added, “is also about pri­or­i­tiz­ing. The debt may be one side of the coin, but ineptitude is the other, and the dam­age from this is ir­repara­ble at such a time.”

No time for new foes

What kind of mes­sage are we send­ing in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors when we con­demn our fore­most mu­seum to this sorry state?

The prob­lem, more­over, is not re­stricted to the closed halls and mu­seum shop, but ex­tends all around the mu­seum, to the degra­da­tion of the en­tire area from Omo­nia and Vic­to­ria sta­tions, which serve as the two main ar­rival points for vis­i­tors to the mu­seum.

If vis­i­tors are us­ing the trol­ley bus to get there, they have to get off at the Tositsa Street stop on Patis­sion Street, which is one of the city’s most dan­ger­ous thor­ough­fares even dur­ing the day, as it is fre­quented by hun­dreds of drug deal­ers and users.

The direc­tors of the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum and of the Epi­graph­i­cal Mu­seum (whose en­trance is on Tositsa Street) have made re­peated ap­peals to suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments to do some­thing about the sit­u­a­tion, though no one seems will­ing to take on the re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The least they ought to be do­ing is halv­ing the price of ad­mis­sion for as long as the halls re­main closed. As a good­will ges­ture, they could even make ad­mis­sion free or at least in­clude ad­mis­sion to other museums in the full-price ticket.

Tourists can ap­pre­ci­ate that the coun­try is in the mid­dle of a fi­nan­cial cri­sis and that much about it will be op­er­at­ing be­low par, but they will not ap­pre­ci­ate be­ing cheated. The least we can do as a coun­try is to not make them feel tricked. The last thing Greece needs right now is more en­e­mies.

It has taken years for the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum and the sur­round­ing area to reach this state of de­crepi­tude, be­cause no one re­ally be­lieved that Greece’s museums are its flag­ship and may just pro­vide the ticket for its sal­va­tion. Yet in ev­ery na­tional elec­tion cam­paign, can­di­dates would talk about ex­pand­ing the mu­seum, call­ing it a “top pri­or­ity,” be­cause ev­ery­one was aware of the shame­ful truth of the base­ment rooms packed to the ceil­ing with trea­sures and the cramped con­fines of the restora­tion work­shops and dis­play ar­eas. This is why this sit­u­a­tion is so shame­ful: Be­cause ev­ery­one knows the truth and no one seems to re­ally care, be­yond ev­ery once in a while mak­ing empty prom­ises for the re­vamp of the so-called his­toric tri­an­gle that is formed by the Acropol The­ater, Athens Polytech­nic and the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum. The prom­ise had been made by a suc­ces­sion of cul­ture min­is­ters, in­clud­ing Evan­ge­los Venize­los, An­to­nis Sa­ma­ras and Pav­los Ger­oulanos most re­cently.

The sit­u­a­tion at the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum re­flects the big­gest prob­lem of the coun­try’s over­all cul­tural and tourism pol­icy: set­ting and pri­or­i­tiz­ing ob­jec­tives. It would be funny if it weren’t so pa­thetic to think – against the back­drop of the sorry state of the mu­seum – about all the won­der­ful things that have been said about Greece’s prospects as a prime hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion or that the open­ing hours of the Acrop­o­lis have been ex­tended to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., be­cause ba­si­cally all they raise is ques­tions about how they will ever be put into prac­tice. It is not enough that the mu­seum is held hostage by drug deal­ers do­ing busi­ness right out­side, or that the jour­ney to the mas­ter­pieces of an­cient Greek art leads through the most ne­glected sec­tion of the cap­i­tal. We also have to deal with the hypocrisy of half­baked cul­tural poli­cies. The mu­seum, on the last rung of the lad­der be­fore com­plete de­crepi­tude, which fills Greeks with an un­de­served sense of shame, needs to be freed from the shack­les of an in- But no one made good on that prom­ise. A spe­cially as­signed com­mit­tee at the Min­istry of Cul­ture ex­plored the pro­ject and drew up de­signs for the un­der­ground ex­ten­sion of the mu­seum with a new space of 24,000 square me­ters. In 2008, the min­istry also boasted about a grand new en­trance hall, which, it said, would be a “chal­lenge to the de­sign­ers.” But noth­ing hap­pened. Then there was talk about an in­ter­na­tional competition for the mu­seum’s re­vamp and a lit­tle later ques­tions about why we need an in­ter­na­tional competition af­ter all. Even­tu­ally ev­ery­thing came to a stand­still and start­ing go­ing down the drain. The fact is that some­thing could have been done if some­one wanted it. It is also a fact that the coun­try’s most im­por­tant mu­seum is not the ex­cep­tion but the rule when it comes to Greece. In­sti­tu­tions out­side the cap­i­tal are suf­fer­ing much worse, while even the ex­alted Acrop­o­lis Mu­seum is with­out a board of direc­tors and with­out a slot in the na­tional bud­get. ept state and to be­come an in­de­pen­dent en­tity with its own rev­enue-gen­er­at­ing mech­a­nism. Un­til that day, how­ever, it should not be left to wal­low in its cur­rent state. The Cul­ture Min­istry can rally the coun­try’s vol­un­teers, the ones that made us all so proud dur­ing the Athens Olympics in 2004, and en­list the help of stu­dents to keep the mu­seum shop open on week­ends. Let the mu­seum’s doors be opened up to young men and women in their 20s, with smiles on their faces, wear­ing T-shirts pro­claim­ing their pride to be vol­un­teers. This is not a so­lu­tion, but it may be a tem­po­rary way to bring the spirit of com­mu­nity into the mu­seum, which in any other “nor­mal” coun­try would be an ob­ject of wealth, pride and dig­nity. Some­how we have even man­aged this in Greece: We have ren­dered the ark of the world’s high­est civ­i­liza­tion, of which we are the heirs, into the rea­son for our con­tem­po­rary cul­ture to be re­viled. The Greek peo­ple can no longer al­low this to hap­pen.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Greece

© PressReader. All rights reserved.