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Greek archaeological site reburied

The ancient site of Akrotiri, excavated for 40 years, remains closed to tourists and archaeologists. A collapsed roof that had protected the site remains unraised.

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Three year after part of a protective roof collapsed killing a British tourist, the ancient Minoan site of Akrotiri on Santorini remains closed. Excavations have halted and the reconstruction of its roof is stuck in the wheels of bureaucracy. Tourism businesses on the island say they are losing money and prestige as a result.

In September 2005, part of a new 1,000m2 roof designed to cover and protect the excavations collapsed without warning, killing Richard Bennion and injuring many others. The site was immediately closed for investigation but inexplicably has remained so for the last 34 months.

"I can't say I'm pleased," Professor Christos Doumas, director of excavations at Akrotiri, told this newspaper. Doumas, in his mid-70s, has dedicated the last 40 years of his life to working at Akrotiri and is frustrated that he might not be involved in its final reconstruction and opening.

"The top of the ancient walls which were touched by the collapse of the roof were damaged," he continued. "Also, I was assured that this new structure would last three hundred years; resist 10 Richter scale earthquakes and 60 inches (130cm) of snow. But it couldn't even support its own weight."

The investigation into the cause of the collapse is still being held by the Greek courts. Faulty building methods have long been suspected, although no one is willing to confirm this.

Tourists and archaeologists have been prevented from visiting and appreciating the ancient remains as workmen haven't even commenced the task of repairing and rectifying the covering. The only progress to have been made is that the original contractors J&P AVAX have subcontracted the project to a UK-based firm.

"I am annoyed. For the last three years I haven't been able to work on the site. I have not even been given full access to the site. The contractors have told me that I can enter at my own risk but they can't guarantee the structure's stability. Obviously, it would be irresponsible for me to take other archaeologists in there," Doumas says.

The site's closure, however, is posing particular problems for those who work in tourism on Santorini. Before 2005 it was visited by upwards of 250,000 people each year and gave a boost to the island's economy outside the peak summer season.

"I feel embarrassed," admits Yigthis Papalexis, manger of Kalimera Hotel located near Akrotiri. "It is one of the most important sites in the world - closed because of poor planning. I feel bad because it's as though we cannot handle a site of such importance. It's bad for business, yes, but it is also bad for the island in many other ways."

The roof covering the archaeological site of Akrotiri on Santorini collapsed in 2005 but work has not yet started to repair the flawed structure

Akrotiri, located in the southwest of the island, is a Bronze Age Minoan settlement which boasts well preserved buildings, frescoed walls and an array of other finds. Often labelled Greece's Pompeii, the town was protected by the ash and debris of a volcanic eruption nearly 4,000 years ago and was only rediscovered in 1967.

It is unlikely the site will reopen whilst no one is prepared to accept responsibility. J&P AVAX refused to comment on the specific situation at Akrotiri but admitted that contract work for the government was difficult at the best of times. They denied responsibility for the length of the site's closure, however.

A source close to the ministry of culture speaking on condition of anonymity was equally ambiguous. "Akrotiri was once a priority," the source said, "but now the ministry is powerless in the face of bureaucracy, not only internal but also external - the EU, Central Archaeological Council and government have the power to veto and

Filed under greece, eu, archaeology, history, art, Europe
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