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Backlash for Wheelchair-Friendly Paths at Acropolis

Concrete Acropolis Paths Pave the Way for Wheelchairs and Criticism

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The ancient Greeks built vast public temple complexes, but it has taken up to the 21st century for the nation to begin meeting modern disabled accessibility standards. For the first time in its long history the ancient Greek buildings that represent Athens’s Acropolis will be made completely accessible to disabled locals and tourists. But not everyone is happy about the changes.

Comprising uneven cobblestone streets and broken curbs, the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports announced in November 2020 they would “improve the visiting conditions of the monuments at the Acropolis.” While other nations have viewed access to historic and public sites for the disabled as a civil right for decades, as evidenced by the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 in the United States of America or EU accessibility standards implemented throughout Europe, for the first time in history the ancient site will be “completely accessible not only to the disabled, but also to citizens with mobility or other health problems.”

For the first time in its long history disabled accessibility has become a priority at the Athenian Acropolis in Greece and it will be made completely accessible for disabled locals and tourists. ( European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) )

Changes Met with Criticism, Anger, and Dismay

But the new concrete pathways put in place in December in the name of facilitating access for people with disabilities covers much of the hill’s open space and have incited anger, criticism, and dismay. Opposition leader Alexis Tsipras has been particularly vocal, saying that the concrete pathways are an “abuse” of Greece's valued archaeological site. Architect Tasos Tanoulas, a former member of the Acropolis restoration team, also criticizes the paths, stating that they are “foreign” and “stifling.”

Tsipras and Tanoulas are not alone in their criticisms. According to The Guardian , to date more than 3,500 people have signed an open letter on Avaaz asking for the pathways to be removed and future renovation plans to extend the walkways west and south be cancelled. France 24 reports that critics are claiming that the renovations were “done without the care needed to safeguard a monument that is for many emblematic of Greece.”

Critics have called the concrete pathways an “abuse,” “foreign,” and “stifling.” ( News.in-24)

In response, the Greek government has said that they took “all necessary precautions” and that these criticisms “are politically motivated,” according to France 24. And last month Culture Minister Lina Mendoni called the Acropolis restorers “experts of global renown,” saying that they have completed more than 40 years of award-winning work at the site and “Nobody has questioned their work. We have entrusted them with the restoration of the Acropolis monuments. How can we doubt them over a (concrete) laying project?”

Mendoni also insists that the changes are “minor,” “fully reversible” and necessary so heavy machinery can move slabs of masonry about in the ongoing restoration work. The Ministry said that there’s a protective membrane under the concrete so that it can be removed, if need be.

Finally, the Culture Ministry says that they will continue work to improve the site for disabled visitors, including the addition of signs with easier-to-read fonts and Braille on them, handrails, slope warnings, and models of the monuments.

Disabled Weight Is Not “Freight”

Before these changes were implemented, disabled folk visiting the Acropolis had to dangerously traverse uneven pathways. Until now disabled visitors also faced the embarrassing ordeal of having to use a freight elevator to get to the top. But now, a state-of-the-art slope lift, which can carry two wheelchairs at a time, offers disabled people the same view over the monuments as was enjoyed by the ancient Greeks.

This too has received criticism, being called “a modernist eyesore.”

Now the beauty of Greece’s most iconic ancient site can be enjoyed by all. Credit: 9parusnikov / Adobe Stock

Now the beauty of Greece’s most iconic ancient site can be enjoyed by all. But there is heavy criticism surrounding the renovations. Credit: 9parusnikov / Adobe Stock

The Disabled Had Best Bring a Big Friend

The Parthenon temple on top of the Athenian Acropolis is one of the most recognizable buildings remaining from the ancient Greek world. A special elevator was installed back in 2004 ahead of the Athens Olympics to assist disabled visitors wanting to ascend to the site. However, even with this disabled access, the often steep pathways made this a hazard-loaded location for disabled people. So much so that Trip Advisor advised any disabled visitors to bring with them “a strong person to push them.”

An article on Greece.Com openly states that “ Greece was not designed for people in wheelchairs.” Furthermore, visitors suffering from “invisible disabilities” are advised to “carry documents attesting their disability status.” However, this situation extends far beyond any ideas you might have about ancient Greek builders lacking in compassion for the disabled. Long before the uneven streets and steps were created at the Acropolis, the natural topography of Greece was exceptionally mountainous and rocky.

The Acropolis stands high on a hill overlooking Athens, making it very hard for people with mobility issues to reach it. Credit: milosk50 / Adobe Stock

The Acropolis stands high on a hill overlooking Athens, making it very hard for people with mobility issues to reach it. Credit: milosk50 / Adobe Stock

Never Build a House, or City, on Sand

We’ve all heard the proverb about “never building a house on sand.” This advice holds true specifically because sand can’t be compacted and, as such, will never become a solid platform upon which to build a stable foundation. But the same also goes for the crumbling mountainous terrain of Greece.

Over the centuries, miles of crooked sidewalks have been covered with more buckled paths, then attacked by the weight of hotels and “too many” cars, no matter what that number is. With no wheelchair access ramps and elevators that are too narrow for wheelchair access, even Greece.Com admits that Greece makes for “a miserable holiday for anyone who is dependent upon a wheelchair.”

Disabled Nightmares in Greece

Greece was the traditional home of the Olympics, geometry, medicine, philosophy and even the alarm clock, but nevertheless it seems to take an age for change to occur in modern Greece. Step by step, and thanks to new construction and restoration technologies that have become available, Athens is finally addressing the needs of the handicapped and the importance of disabled accessibility to its historic sites.

Cynics might say the Greek government was perhaps motivated to take these new measures after a constant stream of activism from the handicapped community in Greece in the wake of a brutal BBC report published in 2014 that claimed that “disabled children in Greece are being locked up in cages at a state-run care home.” At that time, Efi Bekou, the General Secretary in charge of welfare at the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, blamed this situation on the rest of the world, saying, “the economic crisis caused the Greek state to become bound to rules set by its lenders in the EU and IMF.”

Notwithstanding this shameful neglect of public responsibility and brazen show of ignoring advice not to bite the hand that feeds you, Greek ministers seem to have changed their tune towards the disabled. Well, at least towards those disabled people who can afford the entry fees to the tourist sites of ancient Greece and the importance of disabled accessibility to historic tourist destinations.

Notwithstanding this shameful neglect of public responsibility and brazen show of ignoring advice not to bite the hand that feeds you, Greek ministers seem to have changed their tune towards the disabled. Well, at least towards those disabled people who can afford the entry fees to the tourist sites of ancient Greece and the importance of disabled accessibility to historic tourist destinations.

Top image: Accessibility paths at Greek Acropolis are facing criticism. Source: GL News

By Ashley Cowie

Updated on June 10, 2021.

Comments

Crasslee's picture

So three of us comment in support of disabled access, and we're a 'militant legion of millennials'? At 55 i actually find it hilarious that this triggers you so much, snowflake. Maybe loose your legs in the military, and you'll be singing a different tune, fool.

Crasslee

“give people living with disabilities...”.  And there ya have it in a nutshell:  gimme, gimme, gimme.  I deserve, I want. How Millennial

Crasslee's picture

The fact that the people saying that these improvements are foreign, just shows how much more work is needed to give people living with disabilities equal access to the society we all live in. As a disabled person myself, I think these improvements are long overdue.

P.S. We don't use the word 'handicapped' anymore. It's outdated, and just a bit offensive.

Crasslee

Cue the violins.  I have a dream of shipwreck diving but cannot because of health problems.  Should I demand the Alvin be made available for me?

Aruvqan Myers1's picture

My opinion is screw you, naysayers. I am wheelchair bound, and I have always wanted to visit Greece, but refrained because all I would be able to do woud be to sit on the balcony of my room and look out over the city. Now I can at least get to the Acropolis, perhaps not many other sites, but it would fulfil a dream of a 60 year lifetime. 

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