In Ruins


Extracts from The Guardian of December 3rd

The temple of Poseidon at Sounion is one of Greece's most romantic ruins. Immortalised by Byron, who carved his name into one of its columns, it is among the country's greatest crowd-pullers, drawing more visitors than any other site in the Attica area surrounding Athens after the Acropolis.

But the 5th-century BC treasure is also a picture of neglect, its sandstone fortifications, once the glory of ancient Greece, a jumble of stones reinforced by metallic supports.

For three years, a study painstakingly outlining the walls' renovation has lain on the desk of Dimostheni Ziro, the architect in charge of the department overseeing restoration of ancient monuments. Yet it has done little more than collect dust.

"Monuments don't vote," he says ruefully. "And this is a country with a disproportionate number of them. Even at the best of times we are hard pressed to preserve our cultural heritage but the economic crisis has clearly made things worse because now it is people who need help first."

(...)

Across Greece, temples, towers, castles and ancient theatres have fallen victim to the ravages of time and neglect with some so severely damaged by earthquakes that they face collapse. Cuts in government spending have seen more museums close, nationwide, than at any other time.

But private initiative is making a mark, with individuals stepping in. "More and more people in Greece understand that in the absence of [official support] they have to play a role if they wish to safeguard the future of monuments in their localities," said Costas Carras, who runs Elliniki Etairia, a conservation society that has been likened to Britain's National Trust. "We raised 65,000 euro for the 4th century BC tower on Kea which only a few years ago had been standing to its full height – the money has been vital in saving a monument that literally faced collpase."

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