Greece: COVID-19 and the economic impact on heritage

Chart © David Gill, 2021; Data from the Hellenic Statistical Service

The latest figures from the Hellenic Statistical Service have revealed the major impact on visitor numbers to museums and archaeological sites in Greece to the end of November 2020. I have already comments on the dramatic fall of visitors (museums; archaeological sites) and the picture continues to be bleak: 3.7 million visitors (to the end of November 2020) compared to 19.5 million visitors in 2019. However, the telling figure comes from ticket receipts: 21.1 million Euros (to the end of November 2020) compared to 130.9 million Euros in 2019. This is a significant loss of budget for the protection and conservation of heritage in Greece.

Museum Visitors and Greece: 2020

© 2021

The Hellenic Statistical Service released the latest visitor numbers for museums in Greece today (31 March 2021). Although the numbers are only available up to the end of September 2020, they show a drop of 79.5% due to the pandemic. The Archaeological Museum in Herakleion showed a drop of over 90 per cent. The January-September comparison between 2019 and 2020 shows the impact: a fall from 4.7 million visitors to 976,805. (In 2019 there were 5.8 million visitors to museums in Greece.) This is reflected in a decrease of ticket sales of 82 per cent: from 19.2 million Euros in 2019 to 3.4 million Euros in 2020.

Museums in London: Visitors in 2020

The Great Court at the British Museum © David Gill

The publication of the ALVA visitor figures for museums in London demonstrates the impact of COVID restrictions. A selection of 11 museums in London received over 36.6 million visitors in 2019, reduced to 8.2 million in 2020. This represents lost income that will need to be addressed by the sector.

© David Gill, 2021

Heritage Tourism in 2020: Oxford University Museums

© David Gill, 2021

The release of ALVA visitor figures have shown the impact of the pandemic on visitors to Oxford University Museums. The 3.3 million visitors in 2019 dropped to 887,516 in 2020. (This is still more than the number of visitors to University of Cambridge Museums.)

Heritage Tourism in 2020: University of Cambridge Museums

© David Gill, 2021

The ALVA figures for 2020 have shown the impact of the pandemic on museum visitors through the figures for the University of Cambridge Museums. The total number of visitors has dropped from 1.3 million in 2019 to 471,408 in 2020. However if you remove the Cambridge University Botanic Garden from the figures this leaves 277,918 visitors to all the other locations.

The Parthenon marbles: paving “the path for modern democracy”

The Parthenon frieze © David Gill

As part of the bicentenary of the Greek War of Independence draws near, two US members of Congress have passed a resolution calling on the UK Government to return the architectural sculptures from the Parthenon to Greece (“Hellenic Caucus Co-Chairs Maloney & Bilirakis Reintroduce Resolution Calling on the U.K. to Return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece“, 18 March 2021).

Congressman Gus Bilirakis said:

“The Parthenon Marbles were made by the citizens of Athens under the direction of renowned artist Phidias to celebrate the pride and majesty of the City of Athens. To not house and view these citizen contributions in the city they were originally intended does a disservice not only to the people of Athens, but also to the civilization that paved the path for modern democracy and freedom.”

The appeal to the original intention of the sculptor is a strong one. These sculptures were an integral part of a building, incidentally now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Athenian Akropolis.

Is now the time for these sculptures to be returned to Athens so that they can be displayed in line of sight of the Parthenon?

Renewed debate over cultural property

Architectural sculpture from the Parthenon currently in the British Museum © David Gill

The British Prime Minister has stepped into the debate about cultural property currently held in the British Museum by making a statement about what he considers to be the legal status of the Parthenon architectural sculptures (“Greek culture minister challenges British PM’s claims on Parthenon sculptures“, ekatherimini.com 12 March 2021). These sculptures were once an integral part of the Parthenon, part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Athenian Acropolis. The proposal is to display them in line of sight with the Parthenon.

Some of the issues relating to cultural property are explored in my Context Matters: Collating the Past (20202) [see here].

The New Acropolis Museum and the Theatre of Dionysos from the Athenian Acropolis © David Gill

Reconstructing buildings: the Stoa of Attalos

The Agora and the Stoa of Attalos © David Gill

Reconstructing archaeological remains can be problematic. How do they influence the visitor’s interpretation of an archaeological site? Do they enhance the visit?

The Athenian Agora © David Gill

One of the most successful reconstructions is the two-storeyed Stoa of Attalos that forms the eastern side of the Athenian agora. It is some 116 metres in length. It was given to the city of Athens by Attalos II (159–138 BCE) of Pergamon. The reconstruction was undertaken by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from 1953 to 1956. Its colonnade not only provides welcome shade to visitors to the site, but the rooms to the rear of the colonnade house the archaeological finds made during the excavations.

Stoa of Attalos © David Gill
Stoa of Attalos © David Gill

The fragmentary dedicatory inscription that was originally placed on the architrave above the lower set of columns is displayed in front of the Stoa. It identified the donors as ‘King Attalos, son of King Attalos, and Queen Apollonis’. The text was not incorporated on the reconstruction in case new fragments required an adjustment.

Dedicatory inscription from the architrave of the Stoa of Attalos © David Gill
Fragmentary inscription from the Stoa of Attalos mentioning Queen Apollonis © David Gill

A large base made of Hymettian marble was found in front of the stoa. This may be the statue mentioned in the dedicatory inscription on the stoa. Cuttings suggest that it supported a bronze chariot, similar to that placed at the western approach to the Athenian acropolis. It was later rededicated to the emperor Tiberius.

Dedicatory base in front of the Stoa of Attalos © David Gill

Greece: Museum visitors

National Archaeological Museum, Athens © David Gill

In 2019 there were 5.89 million visits to museums in Greece, worth over 23 million Euros in receipts. The two museums with the highest number of visitors are the New Akropolis Museum (with 1.7 million visitors in 2019) and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (with 608,000 visitors in 2019). These two museums account for 40 per cent of all public museum visits in the country. Museums in Attiki account for 2.7 million visits, 47 per cent of all public museums visits in the country.

Other areas with high museums visits include Thessaloniki with 591,000 visits (10 per cent of visits), the Dodecanese (including Rhodes) with 381,000 visits (6 per cent of visits), and Crete with 845,000 visits (14 per cent of visits); the site museums of Delphi had 275,000 visits, and Olympia 159,000 visits (together 7 per cent of visits).

© David Gill. Data: Hellenic Statistical Service.

Pergamon: the sanctuary of Athena

The sanctuary of Athena, Pergamon © David Gill

The sanctuary of Athena is located on a terrace immediately above the theatre on the acropolis at Pergamon. The temple of Athena, built in Doric order, was placed on the western edge for dramatic affect.

The propylon of the sanctuary of Athena Nikephoros, Pergamon (now in Berlin) © David Gill

The entrance to the sanctuary was through a two-storeyed propylon, now reconstructed in Berlin. The inscription shows that it was constructed by King Eumenes II to Athena Nikephoros (who had brought victories over the Galatians, among others). Trophies from the victories are shown in relief on the propylon.

The propylon of the sanctuary of Athena Nikephoros, Pergamon (now in Berlin) © David Gill
The Dying Gaul, Museo Capitolino, Rome © David Gill

The temenos displayed a number of sculptures celebrating these victories. Among them was probably the original of the ‘trumpeter’ (better known as The Dying Gaul) now in Rome.

The full effect of the sanctuary has been lost on site but it can be reconstructed in our imagination through the architectural reconstructions in Berlin as well as the copies of some of victory monuments from the sanctuary itself.