fast little loans
By Nicholas Paphitis
Athens - A major face-lifting project which kept ancient monuments on the Acropolis hill shrouded in scaffolding for years - to the dismay of camera-toting tourists - will be finished by the end of 2006, Greek culture ministry officials have said.
Work on the Parthenon and Athena Nike temples, as well as the massive Propylaea gate - all built in the mid-5th century BC at the height of ancient Athenian glory - is part of a massive restoration and conservation project first launched 30 years ago.
"These three works will be finished at the end of 2006," architect Haralambos Bouras, a senior project official, said on Wednesday. "All three were vitally necessary, and failure to carry them out could have resulted in severe damage to the monuments."
But more scaffolding could go up again at the Parthenon - the biggest crowd-puller of the trio - as projects on the Acropolis are expected to continue until 2020.
The complexity of the work and funding problems caused considerable delays in the past, with scaffolding embarrassing authorities during the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Deputy Culture Minister Petros Tatoulis, who inspected the site on Wednesday, said he was satisfied with the current pace of work. Most of the scaffolding will have gone by the end of next year, he said.
Work over the next 17 months will cost $14,5-million (about R96-million), mostly funded by the European Union. Between 1992 and 2004, about $36,2-million was spent.
The ancient marble structures have suffered extensive battering over the past 2 500 years. They survived wars, fires and earthquakes and were scarred by decades of exposure to modern Athens pollution. They also underwent botched restoration efforts in the 1930s, when iron clamps were used, rusting over the decades and causing the marble to crack and break.
In the case of the Athena Nike temple, an elegant Ionic structure at the entrance to the citadel, the whole building had to be taken down to the level of its foundations, in a restoration program that started in 1998.
According to Maria Ioannidou, who is supervising work on all three buildings, the ongoing effort is "the biggest restoration project currently under way in the world."
So far, nearly 1 000 blocks of stone have been removed from the three monuments while 1 100 parts have been assembled from ancient fragments. Restorers have used marble from Mount Pendeli, north of Athens, whose ancient quarries provided the original building material. More than 50 percent of the blocks have now been treated and put back.
"We treat each piece like an individual work of art," Bouras said.
The only one of the four major Acropolis monuments where restoration has been fully completed is the Erechtheion temple, finished in 1987 after eight years of work.
When the current projects are over, further repairs will be carried out to the Parthenon and the Propylaea, as well as the defensive wall surrounding the citadel. Work is expected to finish in 2020 at a cost of about $84,4-million according to current forecasts, after which the hilltop will be landscaped with hundreds of tons of earth. - Sapa-AP