Acropolis forced to close amid unprecedented heatwave and wildfires in Greece

The birthplace of the Olympic Games is one of the many ancient sites at risk as record temperatures scorch country

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Fires rage in Greece threatening historic sites including Olympia (top) and the Monastery of Saint David on Evia island (bottom), while the Acropolis in Athens (centre) has been forced to close Acropolis: Francesca Noemi Marconi

Fires rage in Greece threatening historic sites including Olympia (top) and the Monastery of Saint David on Evia island (bottom), while the Acropolis in Athens (centre) has been forced to close Acropolis: Francesca Noemi Marconi

A heatwave in Greece and a score of wildfires across the country are threatening some of the country’s most important heritage sites, with the Acropolis in Athens forced to close every afternoon. The monumental complex, which is at least 3,300 years old, is currently inaccessible during the afternoon; meanwhile, Greek press reports state that the ancient site of Olympia has been saved from approaching flames.

According to our Greek sister paper, the Acropolis is currently open in the morning between 8am and 12pm and in the afternoon from 5pm to 8pm. “Due to the government’s decision, people who work outside, such as guards, must not work at noon during the heatwave so the Acropolis site closes between midday and 5pm,” says Theodora Malamou, the editor in chief of The Art Newspaper Greece. The ancient site is usually open in the summer from 8am to 8pm.

Earlier this week, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius in parts of Athens with wildfires breaking out across the country, endangering a monastery on the island of Evia as well as Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The journalist Yiannis Politis wrote on Twitter that the blaze was “just one kilometre from the archaeological site”.

According to Reuters, villages were evacuated on the Peloponnese peninsula yesterday as a blaze raged near Olympia but its treasures were out of danger, said local authorities. "Our forces fought an all-night battle... to keep the archaeological site and the town intact," the Citizens' Protection Minister Mihalis Chrisohoidis told local press. “The site has been saved for the time being,” the regional governor, Nektarios Farmakis, told state television.

Eleni Myrivili, the former deputy mayor of Athens, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that “it’s hard to breathe outdoors... the sky was grey and red, ash was falling on us. It was apocalyptic.” She said that the Acropolis was closed as “this is an issue of health. We don’t want people exposed to the sun and heat for long periods of time.”

Earlier this year, plans for a major renovation project to the western entrance of the Acropolis met with strong opposition from archaeologists in Greece and across the world.

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