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Drilling Ideas for Greece’s Archaeological Attractions

The fact that the Greek state lacks at the moment the resources to support cultural actions could turn into an opportunity for more public engagement in heritage conservation and management.
Is it desired, is it feasible? Synergies between sponsors, grass root organizations, local authorities, specialists and individuals, always under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, are essential for the development of an integrated heritage approach and the revitalization of the sites.

  • Ancient Dodoni, one of the most important archaeological and cultural sites in Greece, Easter, 2017. Photo: TNH, File

For many Greeks, the sites are just ruins. For them the crucial, question is: beyond the Ministry of Culture, the tourist agencies, the hotels, and the restaurants, can the local communities benefit from the revitalization of the sites?

A plan is needed, which will create direct links between the local heritage and the region’s enterprises by designing cultural routes that connect archaeological sites with local producers, handicraft artists and sustainable tourism services. Cultural tourism initiatives can empower local communities and change people’s perceptions. They can reinforce their sense of belonging in a place, and their sense of self-worth. These cultural products have been created by their ancestors who lived in this very same place they live today. By opening them to visitors as preserved landmarks of their history adds value to both local and world community. There are ways to integrate the sites in the local cultural life, always with respect to their role and their preservation. Education, programs for schools and university students, and training have an inevitable role to play.

Yet, today many archaeological sites and museums remain closed to the public due to lack of staff. In the land of antiquity and archaeology, the number of employed archaeologists and museum staff is very low. Is there a way to make the reopening of the sites profitable? Yes, if we invest on their revitalization.

What does the revitalization of the sites may mean? Every summer during August’s full moon night, some ancient theaters get permission to open and organize concerts. Instead of once a year, wouldn’t it be more attractive and beneficial for both locals and visitors to open the theaters more often, even for day and evening activities and performances? Can we not design and offer experiences beyond the verbal guidance? If controlled participation in excavations sounds too innovative or dangerous, why couldn’t visitors and locals attend them as observers? Couldn’t local archeological Ephorates organize open to the public lectures and seminars on each year’s archaeological campaigns?

The National Archaeological Museum of Athens, among other collections, hosts the Mycenaean treasures, masterpieces of sculpture and vase painting from all eras of the antiquity and the impressive Theran frescoes. Yet the numbers of visitors who prefer to visit it hardly reach 3 percent of the number of visitors that prefer the New Acropolis Museum. The National Archaeological Museum of Athens is run like a government agency, while the New Acropolis Museum is run like private business. A Museum marketing policy would first try to answer the question what would attract a visitor.

Modern Museology provides an array of answers and ideas. The artifacts don’t talk and visitors often get bored to read labels. Facilitating interpretation is one answer. How? By the thematic organization of the museum exhibits and by the comprehensive and attractive labeling that fosters story telling: references to the world known Greek heroes and mythology, digital reconstructions, use of multi media, combination of visual and acoustic presentation may surprise the visitor and challenge his/her thoughts. Exhibiting the artifacts’ use in the daily life context of their time adds a value of familiarity to them and of connection with our lives. Labels restricted to a scientific description, chronology and date of construction are not very attractive to visitors. More attractive is to combine the artifacts’ uses with the purposes they served, the ideas people had, and the development of their society.

Enriching museum shops with a variety of gifts aimed at different target groups, children, well or less educated people and visitors who just want to carry something unique back home can not only be profitable for the museum. These souvenirs remain abroad, in the tourists’ living rooms, as a permanent advertisement of the museum.

Creating and improving museum cafes can repeatedly bring visitors to the museum. People like to sit and spend some time in the museum cafés. They are so different from the commercial cafes and so unique. Quiet places to talk, relax and reflect surrounded by precious works of art. Only recently the National Archaeological Museum created its own impressive museum café. In the neoclassical patio, colored by blooming flower strokes, we can enjoy our coffee and chat with marbleized Hercules, who is standing among statues of horses emerged from the Antikythera shipwreck and under the gaze of a mosaic Medusa head.

The National Herald

By Dimitra Pontoporou

Drilling Ideas for Greece’s Archaeological Attractions -The National Herald