Harnessing the tourist industry to help Mediterranean historical sites

The Getty's floating conference on the conservation of archaeological sites.



From time immemorial to Napoleon and beyond, plunder of Mediterranean sites has been rife. This century they have come under threat from mass tourism, population growth, pollution and economic development. Those aspirant good fairies of the art world, the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum organised a floating conference earlier this summer in the Mediterranean which brought together government officials, archaeologists, conservators and tour operators to discuss what can be done to limit damage. Sixty delegates from sixteen Mediterranean countries took part.

Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Miguel Angel Corzo, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute, said that visits during the six-day conference to Carthage in Tunisia, Piazza Armerina in Sicily, Ephesus in Turkey and Knossos in Crete made it clear that no one solution can apply to every site, but that a standardised approach might be applied. This should start with systematic analysis followed by a conservation plan. The Getty Conservation Institute is now considering organising workshops in three or four Mediterranean sites to bring together those on the spot to work on plans. These would start in 1996 but the sites have yet to be announced.

According to Mr Corzo, lack of management and of a clear plan as to how to direct tourists through a site is one of the most serious causes of damage. However, he noted, the tourism industry is now beginning to recognise the importance of archaeological sites as a source of revenue and the basis for future development, and that they need to be protected.

This was recognised at Carthage in 1992 when delegates to the Association of Independent Tour Operators conference visited the Carthaginian and Roman ruins in the Bay of Tunis. They found a World Heritage Site that was very poorly managed, with no government funds but 500,000 visitors a year. It was disfigured by litter and graffiti, mosaics were walked on, and there was nothing to explain the site. Paul Walshe, a landscape architect who acts as National Heritage Adviser to the UK Countryside Commission, was asked by Green Flag, an independent British body, to produce a report on how the situation could be improved, working closely with the Tunisian Agence National du Patrimoine. Costs of £20,000 were covered by the tour operators Panorama.

In return, Panorama will be acknowledged on the didactic material on site and in the new guidebooks that are currently being produced. The Tunisian government has put £120,000 into the implementation of the report.

Improvements include signing, using the entrance court as a display area, a model of the Baths of Antoninus Pius, and the planting of shrubs and trees.

Dick Sisman, President of Green Flag International, told The Art Newspaper that he hoped Carthage would be an example to the tourist industry of how to work with local communities. His company now has plans to become involved in southern Turkey.

Another UNESCO World Heritage site, the pyramids at Giza, recently had one threat removed when the President of Egypt published a decree this summer against opening the section of the Cairo ring road (see The Art Newspaper No.46, March 1995, p18) that runs through this historic area. The idea of an underpass has also been scrapped, but it is as yet unclear how the existing road will be rerouted. The Giza site is already encroached on by townships, with buildings up to 150 feet away from the pyramids. Zahi Hawass, director general of the Giza Pyramids and Saqqara for the Supreme Council of Archaeology in Egypt was a participant in the Getty conference.

The proceedings of the Getty international conference on conservation of archaeological sites in the Mediterranean region will be published in May