Today is a historic day: after two months of lockdown, Greek archaeological sites are open again. So, our virtual journey will take us to the Acropolis, on its first day after the lockdown.
In these two months, Greece managed to control transmission of covid-19 and the country has had very few deaths.
A historic day
So, the Ministry of Culture decided to open sites today, on International Museum Day.
As you may have understood, yours truly has a particular fondness for the Acropolis and will take every chance to see it, especially when it’s free of the usual crowds. There was no way I was going to miss such a historic day.
A select crowd
Needless to say, I was up at the crack of dawn and was there before the gates opened. To my great surprise, even though it was very early in the morning (8am), I was not the only one there; others, both Greeks and foreigners, had the same idea.
I stayed on the hill for about 2.5 hours, thrilled for three reasons: first, it was like seeing an old friend after nearly 2 months apart (I swear, I was beginning to have withdrawal symptoms), secondly, I wasn’t on duty, so I was free to roam as I pleased and, thirdly, the Rock was nearly empty of people.
A different Acropolis
It was strange to see the place without the usual crowds. Normally, by May the tourist season is in full swing and cruise ships should be sending people by the busload. Especially on Museum Days (and any other day when entrance is free) the Acropolis attracts crowds of people eager to skip the ticket. Obviously, this May 18th was unlike any other.
What hasn’t changed
As expected, some things haven’t changed at all: the restoration works continue, as usual, while the tortoises were busy courting each other in the more secluded spots.
What has changed
The Ministry of Culture has taken precautions to ensure that visitors to archaeological sites remain safe, whether they travel alone or in groups.
In front of the ticket booths and the entrances to the sites there are now yellow stickers reminding visitors to keep their distance. As before, having bought one’s ticket in advance saves one half the wait.
Visitors to all sites will enter one by one, and will see more guards than usual, equipped with masks and special transparent face plates. The guards’ job now is not simply watching over the monuments to prevent damage to them. They will have the extra duty of managing the flow of visitors. It is taken for granted that, for the sake of everyone’s safety, visitors will follow the guards’ instructions.
It is strongly recommended that visitors wear masks and avoid touching surfaces (such as handrails) as much as possible. When they do, it is recommended that they use sanitizers afterwards. Everyone should maintain a safe distance of at least 1.5 meters from other visitors.
The total number of visitors that can be on the Acropolis at any given time has been set to 2,200. The number to each site depends on the area available; in case more visitors wish to visit the site at any given time, they will have to wait until some go, before they too can enter. For the time being, no great amount of visitors is expected, so no time slots or other such measures have been announced (which may change any time).
In order to avoid people crowding together on the hill’s paths, the routes around the monuments allow passage in one direction only. Visitors may still visit all the monuments, but they have to follow the proscribed route to do so.
Learning the rules and protocols was -naturally- a must for me. It is my job to act as a facilitator for my guests, so that they may devote their time to enjoying the sights, instead of being bogged down with practicalities. Those of you, who wish to go to the Acropolis (or any other sight) on your own, please, take a minute to familiarize yourselves with the new rules.
A new reality
I left the Acropolis shortly before the Greek President visited, accompanied by the Minister of Culture.
I imagine that they also saw a different Acropolis to the one we were accustomed to. The experience of visiting the site will probably never be the same as before. Given that the number of visitors on the Acropolis is now limited, this is probably for the best.
What I want to keep from today’s visit is the image of a family of four, who were among the first to enter the site. Another was that of a couple, who came with their dog (in a special backpack) and had been travelling around Europe for the past 4 months.
The fact that they all came to see the Acropolis, as soon as it opened, makes me a bit optimistic about the new reality ahead of us.
The Acropolis and all the other sites of Greece are open again and waiting for us to explore them. I hope to see you in one of them.
Until then, stay safe.