Slow demise of top attraction
Neglect eats away at Archaeological Museum, where important halls are shut Sundays
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.
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.