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Financial cuts shut museum

Helena Smith


Cutbacks blamed for staff shortages at National Archaelogical Museum in Athens


— PHOTO: AFP

A wooden sculpture of a woman grinding cereals from the Fifth dynasty (2416-2392 B.C) at Athens' Archaeological Museum.

Athens: The greatest repository of ancient Greek art — the National Archaeological Museum of Athens — has become the latest victim of the economic crisis engulfing Greece, with visitors getting only a peek at its renowned collections.

As the long-awaited tourist season begins, the debt-choked country's top attraction is in the news for all the wrong reasons: closed exhibition halls, neglect and exasperated holidaymakers.

Barbara Vimercati, an Italian tourist, was left standing outside the museum's monumental bronze doors because of a staff shortage. “It says it's open until 4 p.m. but it's not, and there isn't even a note explaining why,” she said, making do with a glimpse of cellophane-wrapped statues in an adjacent corridor.

“We don't understand.” Most Greeks, including the museum's keepers, are similarly at a loss. “We have 11,000 exhibits, five permanent collections and galleries over more than 8,000 square metres of space,” said Alexandra Christopoulou, a museum representative.

“The season begins in April. I really don't know why it has taken so long for the Culture Ministry to send extra personnel.”

With just 30 guards to supervise displays that require at least 130 on a daily basis, only eight of the museum's 64 exhibition halls were open to the public last Sunday, according to the Kathimerini newspaper.

Visitors have reportedly almost come to blows with staff when they discover that their €7 ticket gives them access to only a fraction of the displays.

“The Culture Ministry is in absolute chaos because of the IMF-dictated cutbacks,” said one archaeologist. “The glory of Greece is suffering.” On Friday, it was announced that 114 more guards are to be taken on, possibly as soon as this weekend.

But Yannis Mavrikopoulos, head of the union representing guards on archaeological sites, said the appointments would not solve the problem.

“There are 350 museums and sites in Greece and just 1,700 people to guard them,” he said. “For all of them to open we need approximately 5,000 staff.” Some Greeks are asking whether they deserve to be the custodians of such riches.

“In any ‘normal' country [the museum] would be an object of wealth, pride and dignity,” wrote Kathimerini's arts editor, Nikos Vatopoulos.

“Somehow ... we have rendered the ark of the world's highest civilisation, of which we are heirs, into the reason for our contemporary culture to be reviled.” — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

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