d.m. Sir Kenneth Dover

Word comes via the Classicist list that the eminent Sir Kenneth Dover has passed away … I’ll post obituaries as they become available, but until then, folks may want to peruse the Wikipedia bio of this giant of Hellenic studies … See also the growing list of personal reminiscences:

Update … we’re collecting obituaries under a separate entry

What Is Going On At Sites in Greece?

Italy (see below) is not the only place within our purview where strange goings-on are going on at archaeological sites. You’ve no doubt heard by now how Greece’s fiscal crisis is affecting archaeological sites — my inbox has been filling with the stories, but in case you were paying more attention to the Olympics or something, here’s the incipit of a piece from the Guardian which will give you an idea:

It was the world’s first university, where Plato taught, Aristotle studied and philosophy was born. But today as buses hurtle down the boulevard that bisects the park, past grey highrises, it is hard to believe this is one of the Greek capital’s ancient treasures; Plato’s Academy is so overlooked it is not even signposted.

“We haven’t managed to save the €7,000 [£4,500] such a sign would require,” says Nikoletta Divari Vilakou, the archaeologist in charge. “And that’s because of the economic problems.”

The crisis that has gripped Greece, rocked markets and rattled Europe’s single currency is now enveloping the country’s cultural heritage. The seat of learning, founded on property the philosopher inherited in 387BC, is not alone. This year, antiquities beneath the Acropolis stood under tangled weeds, testimony to the overstretched culture ministry’s inability to clean and prune.

Nationwide, some of Greece’s greatest glories – museums, castles and antiquities – have been closed to the public, from Kastellorizo in the east to Pella, Alexander’s birthplace, in the north. Like the desolate tourist shops alongside them, the ancient sites are devoid of holidaymakers, symbolic of the recession engulfing the nation.

“Where will the ministry find the money to complete rescue works on the monuments and sites that are in danger?” asked the authoritative Sunday Vima newspaper. The scale of the crisis has not been lost on the governing socialists elected to run Europe’s weakest economy after five years of scandal-plagued conservative rule. Unlike his predecessors, the new culture minister, Pavlos Geroulanos, a friend of the prime minister George Papandreou, readily acknowledges that although by far the nation’s most significant resource, the sector remains painfully under-funded.

“Culture and tourism represent over 20% of GDP, a huge chunk of the economy,” he told the Guardian. “We are the first to admit that for far too long culture has been marginalised, that not enough money has been dedicated to it, that we keep our ancient monuments away from the public and close them down.”

Few areas embody the fiscal mismanagement that has blighted Greece in recent years as much as those of culture and tourism. With the exception of the New Acropolis Museum, the capital’s biggest cultural success, the domain has all too often been treated as the fiefdom of politicians dispensing favours.

Highlighting the tawdry tales of corruption and incompetence at the culture ministry, a senior official in charge of finances and close friend of the former prime minister Costas Karamanlis, leapt from his home’s balcony after being linked to wrongdoing.

“We have found funds going to the wrong places in terms of financing new creativity, sports teams, promotion and communication projects,” said Geroulanos. “You hear of a shadow organisation that suddenly got €200,000 and has done nothing to show for it … or permits given out for bribes.”

The minister, who studied public administration at Harvard and is seen as an architect of the wide-ranging “revolution” the socialists would like to bring to Greece, estimates that at least 60% of his time is now spent “clearing the air of the toxic waste of corruption and bad practice. What we are doing is combating waste and corruption and funnelling saved funds in the direction of necessary healthy projects which are an investment for the future.”

But the task is far from easy. This year, as the cash-strapped government struggles under EU orders to pare the €300bn public debt and deficit, Geroulanos’ €710m budget has been cut by 10%. Worse still, the sector has lost out on EU funds, crucial for restoring and renovating monuments. “Greek culture has lost out because the previous government didn’t bother to design an [EU-funded] culture programme,” he said. “We are now trying to redirect funds from other ministries.”

Morale is also a problem. In the Plaka district below the Acropolis, custodians of wonders dating back to classical times – including many renowned archaeologists and conservationists – labour in graffiti-covered buildings under conditions that in any other EU capital would be considered intolerable.

“There is simply no money,” said an archaeologist with more than 30 years’ experience. “The lamp in my office blew the other day and I know that unless I pay to mend it, it will never be fixed.


Meanwhile, various members of the European Community weren’t exactly happy with the idea of having to support one of their less-than-responsible members and a pair of German parliamentarians had some suggestions which were widely covered in the English press (we’ll confine our mention to the coverage in the Christian Science Monitor):

As Prime Minister George Papandreou heads to Germany tomorrow to ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel for help in the Greek debt crisis, two members of her coalition have some advice: sell off your islands to pay off your debt.

The comments, by two members of the German parliament, were published in the German newspaper Bild under the provocative headline: “Sell your islands, you bankrupt Greeks! And sell the Acropolis too!” One parliamentarian, Frank Schaeffler, told the newspaper, “the Greek government has to take radical steps to sell its property – for example its uninhabited islands.”

Elsewhere, the CSM has a slideshow of the top ten items Greece could sell to pay for its debt … maybe they could just go for ‘naming rights’ a la North American football stadia … imagine, the “Pepsi Parthenon”  …  or maybe now’s the time for the British Museum to take advantage and tell Greece they’ll give them a few million for the Marbles as long as they shut up about it from this point on …

Hellenistic Coin Hoard from Syria

Interesting item from the Global Arab Network:

Global Arab Network photo

A collection of Hellenistic coins dating back to the era of Alexander the Great were found near Najm Castle in the Manbej area in Aleppo governorate (northern Syria ).

The coins were found by a local man as he was preparing his land for construction, uncovering a bronze box that contained around 250 coins. He promptly delivered the coins to the authorities who in turn delivered them to Aleppo Department of Archaeology and Museum.

Director of archaeological excavations at Aleppo Department of Archaeology and Museum Yousef Kanjo said the box contained two groups of silver Hellenistic coins: 137 tetra drachma (four drachmas) coins and 115 drachma coins.

One side of the tetra drachma coins depicts Alexander the Great, while the other side depicts the Greek god Zeus sitting on a throne with an eagle on his outstretched right arm. 34 of these coins bear the inscription “King Alexander” in Greek, while 81 coins bear the inscription “Alexander” and 22 coins bear “King Phillip.”

The drachma coins bear the same images as the tetra drachma, with “Alexander” inscribed on 100 of them and “Philip” on 15 of them.

The story was picked up by the AP service and received quite a bit of coverage elsewhere; the Washington Post item has additional photos:

What is Going On At Italian Sites???

Okay … for the past while I’ve been trying to understand a number of Italian newspaper articles about changes going on at the  Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali  . It seemed that there were things going on ‘at the top’, but it took an item in English from the March edition of the Art Newspaper for them to actually make sense to me:

It is all change in Italy’s state administration of what it calls its “cultural assets”, the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, or MIBAC for short. Not only are nine high-ranking superintendents retiring [superintendents are the officials responsible for the state museums such as the Uffizi, for buildings such as the Coliseum, for archaeology and archives and conservation institutes, not to mention the much abused Italian landscape], but its top civil servant, Giuseppe Proietti, is also leaving. In a country where cultural life is deeply politicised, where career moves in the civil service depend on government whim to an extent that is unimaginable in the UK or US, the new secretary general is a Florentine, Roberto Cecchi (b. 1949).

The reaction nonetheless has been that the right man has been appointed. Cecchi trained as a conservation architect and entered the superintendency for architecture in 1980. From 1997 to 2001 he had responsibility for the “environmental and architectural assets” of Venice, a diplomatically challenging job that he discharged with energy, subtlety and pragmatism. Thereafter he returned to the ministry in Rome to head one of its directorate-generals.


His priority now will be to provide new leadership for the superintendency network, currently suffering from depleted manpower, absurdly restrictive regulations, inadequate funding and a government that has repeatedly shown little respect for the cadre. He will also have to prove that he can collaborate with Mario Resca, the government’s specially appointed director-general for “valorizzazione” of the artistic treasures of Italy, a term that should mean “making the most of”, but which some Italian politicians today think means “squeeze for the maximum profit possible”.

Apparently the job is going to be tough … in the past week, it seems, there have been a couple of major embarassing incidents.  According to La Repubblica, employees at the Pantheon interrupted a concert therein because it was ‘closing time’ (i.e. 6.00 p.m.; the concert was scheduled to end at 6.15). There’s a Youtube video of the incident (go to around the five minute mark for the employee’s entrance; enjoy the concert up to that point):

cf: Pantheon, concerto interrotto Le scuse del ministro Bondi | La Repubblica

see now: Bum note as attendants end concert in the Roman Pantheon | Guardian

Then in StabiaNews (March 6) we read this incipit:

Avrebbero potuto fare di tutto, magari staccare un mosaico e portarselo a casa. Di certo sono saliti su pezzi di colonne e capitelli per farsi immortalare come antiche statue. Il monumento archeologico pi� conosciuto al mondo per due ore in bal�a dei turisti. Tutto perch� qualcuno ha �dimenticato� di chiudere i cancelli mentre era in corso – fino alle 10,30 – un’assemblea indetta dalla Cisl, Uil, Flp e Rdb. [etc. apologies for the characters there; not sure what’s going on with that]

… i.e., for two hours while a union meeting was going on, tourists basically had the run of Pompeii, because someone forgot to lock the gate.

Pompei: Scavi incustoditi, turisti si avventurano ovunque | Stabia News/Libero

… the next day, folks were downplaying the incident and noting the problems that have arisen since the site of Pompeii was connected to Naples’ jurisdiction (or something like that):

Pompei: Scavi incustoditi, ora � scontro tra i sindacati | Stabia News/Libero

And as long as we’re in the environs of Naples, we can mention the restoration (of sorts) of the stadium at Puteoli, although no one can visit it due to lack of staff:

L’antico stadio di antonino. Il restauro a metà

Clearly we are seeing situations worthy of any number of internet abbreviations … OMG, WTF, SMH, DMNDS (that’s an Ochocincoism, I think) … etc.

Big Restoration Plans for the Colosseum

The incipit of a piece in Il Messaggero detailing restoration plans for the Colosseum (which began last year), including a less conspicuous fence, changing the lighting, and assorted other things with the ultimate goal of making all levels accessible to the public (I think):

Il terremoto del 2009 ha fatto danni e già si sta provvedendo. Altri lavori, grandi lavori, interesseranno a breve il simbolo di Roma, il Colosseo. «Il restauro è un progetto che fa parte dell’Alto piano strategico di sviluppo – annuncia il sindaco Gianni Alemanno – e sarà fatto con sponsor privati, il costo è elevato, pari a 20 milioni di euro. I lavori partono quest’anno».

Già a primavera i primi cantieri di quella che sarà una ristrutturazione complessiva: la Soprintendenza archeologica di Stato ha elaborato un progetto generale di restauro di tutto l’Anfiteatro Flavio, dagli ipogei all’ultimo livello, sollecitata particolarmente dal sindaco (che in passato ha definito il Colosseo «la sua inquietudine quotidiana») e incentivata dai fondi messi a disposizione dai Beni culturali con l’arrivo del commissario straordinario per l’area archeologica Roberto Cecchi (incarico assegnato inizialmente al capo della Protezione civile Guido Bertolaso, che ha lasciato per seguire il terremoto in Abruzzo).

Un progetto importante: pulizia della parte esterna, restauro, recinzione disegnata ad hoc e meno vistosa (l’attuale cancellata in tubi innocenti verrà sostituita e arretrata quasi a creare un’area pedonale: sarà meno vistosa, molto alta, tipo quella del Foro, del colore della pietra pulita), illuminazione studiata da un architetto della luce, spostati più all’esterno anche i metal detector. Almeno un anno, la stima della durata dei lavori. Attico, settore Stern, terzo ordine e ipogei, per un costo di 1,8 milioni di euro: «in realtà i lavori sono già iniziati a luglio scorso – spiega il commissario straordinario Roberto Cecchi – tutta la parte legata ai pronti interventi, in particolare al piano alto che ha risentito del sisma del 2009, quando le criticità già esistenti nell’area più esposta sono diventate urgenze. Per la parte sottostante sono in corso tre perizie di spesa. L’obiettivo finale è rendere fruibili tutti i livelli, è un peccato che siano tali solo il basamento e il primo piano. Abbiamo approfittato, per andare ad analizzare meglio lo stato del Colosseo, di quanto recita l’ordinanza dell’11 giugno scorso, disposizioni urgenti della Protezione civile, che chiede di garantire allo stesso modo sicurezza e fruizione dei beni». Quest’anno si comincia, i cantieri sono previsti a primavera, anche se Cecchi precisa: «E’ un progetto che in termini finanziari va al di là delle risorse disponibili».

more …

via Colosseo, grande restauro a primavera | Il Messaggero.