Greece Will Limit Acropolis Visits as Europe Fights Tourist Crush

by Pelican Press
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Greece will start capping the number of visitors to the Acropolis, government officials said, an effort to curb overcrowding at its most popular archaeological site amid wider worries about the impact of tourists thronging European attractions.

The cap of 20,000 visitors a day will be tested beginning Sept. 4, and similar measures will be rolled out to other ancient sites across the country, according to Greece’s culture minister, Lina Mendoni. She said the restrictions were spurred by worries over potential damage to the site and the experiences of both staff members and visitors.

“Obviously tourism is desirable for the country, for all of us,” Ms. Mendoni said to Greek radio on Wednesday. “But we have to find a way of preventing overtourism from harming the monument.”

The restrictions on the ancient citadel above Athens come during a travel renaissance in the wake of the pandemic’s peak, with visitors converging on European destinations during the season’s zenith in July and August, undeterred by high airfares and hotel prices.

But that has brought back concerns about potential damage to culturally important monuments, and anger among local residents over noise and overcrowding. In response, officials in many places have stepped up policies to tackle fears that attractions — and more broadly, cities — could become irrevocably changed by overtourism.

“Destinations want to take more control over tourism and have tourism more on their terms,” said Ko Koens, a professor of new urban tourism at Inholland University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam who has researched overtourism.

The Louvre in Paris, which attracted nearly eight million visitors last year — many of them jostling to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa — has already limited admissions to 30,000 a day. About 80 percent of tourist activity is concentrated in 20 percent of France, according to the government, which wants to help steer visitors away from blockbuster destinations to lesser-known areas.

In Italy, some beaches in Sardinia have begun requiring people to reserve entry slots online, while officials in Venice said last year that they would introduce a reservation system and entry fee for visitors, part of an attempt to curb numbers in the fragile lagoon city. Some attractions, like the convent that houses da Vinci’s mural “The Last Supper,” have limited bookings.

In the Netherlands, Amsterdam has introduced a raft of measures aimed at deterring disruptive tourists to its red-light district and stopping cruise ships from docking near the city center.

Home to the Parthenon, the Acropolis had drawn up to 23,000 visitors each day, and visitor numbers nearly doubled in the first three months of this year from a year earlier. Beginning in September, entries will be split up into hourly time slots during the site’s opening times of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., reducing lines and bottlenecks during peak hours, Ms. Mendoni said. Limits will not be placed, however, on how long visitors spend at the Acropolis.

“In this way we will seek to protect the monument, which is our main concern, as well as the visitors’ experience,” she added.

“Tourist visitation on the whole just puts wear and tear on these places,” said Professor Koens. Other historic sites, including the Cambodian temple complex of Angkor Wat, have also imposed visitor limits out of fear of potential damage.

But Professor Koens pointed out that the Acropolis hilltop can hold large crowds of people, and the fact that officials were imposing a limit signaled the intensity of the visitor numbers. “We’ve now reached a stage where so many people are going now that even they are starting to be overrun.”

The Acropolis also had to consider the weather this summer. During the heat waves that seared Greece last month, officials limited visitor hours after some tourists fainted in the scorching afternoon heat, and workers at the site walked out over what they called dangerous working conditions.

The question, Mr. Koens said, that many popular destinations were now mulling: “How do we prevent the visitor experience from becoming so detrimental on the local experience that it stops having value?”

Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Marseille, France, and Elisabetta Povoledo from Rome.

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