The ALVA figures for 2021 allow us to gain a glimpse of visit numbers across the heritage sector. Visitor numbers in London have not bounced back; indeed, they are marginally down on 2020. Is this due to the lack of visitors from outside the UK? Are members of the public concerned about visiting such venues where it is not possible to maintain social distancing?
Such a dramatic drop in numbers (from 36.6 million in 2019 to 7.7 million in 2021) will have an impact on income in terms of special exhibitions, retail outlets and catering. What is not clear is if this will be reflected in the numbers retaining membership of friends’ organisations.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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?
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].
Reconstructing archaeological remains can be problematic. How do they influence the visitor’s interpretation of an archaeological site? Do they enhance the visit?
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.
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.
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.