Acropolis in Athens reopens after virus shutdown

Greece reopened the Acropolis in Athens and all open-air archaeological sites in the country to the public on Monday after a two-month closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A clutch of tourists and masked reporters gathered at the world-famous site, the most-visited monument in Greece.

"We have never seen so few people at the Acropolis," said a Russian visitor accompanied by her husband.

President Katerina Sakellaropoulou was among the first visitors to the ancient Greek complex that sits on a rocky outcrop overlooking the capital and had been closed ahead of the March 23 lockdown. She celebrated being able to "visit the site again in a traditional way" after virtual visits were made available online for those still keen to experience the monument under lockdown.

Culture Minister Lina Mendoni was also present for the opening with new anti-virus measures enforced. Separation screens have been put up and the sites have been disinfected, according to the culture ministry. 

Visitors will be encouraged to wear masks – which will be compulsory for guides at the site – and guests will be asked to stay 1.5 meters apart. "Security First" was touted as the country's new tourism slogan, a play on the pre-pandemic "Heritage First" phrase, Mendoni said Monday.

"Hand sanitizer and face masks are distributed at the entrance, and social distancing will be encouraged with markers on the ground," she said, adding that a maximum of 2,000 people will be able to visit the Acropolis at a time.

A panoramic view of Athens from Acropolis, Greece, January 24, 2020. /VCG

A panoramic view of Athens from Acropolis, Greece, January 24, 2020. /VCG

However, all museums will not be open until June 15 under the government's plan to gradually lift restrictions to halt the spread of COVID-19. Also, open-air cinemas will resume from June 1, while festivals and other cultural events are scheduled to be held from mid July.

Tourism is a major economic engine for Greece and has been hit hard by confinement measures in place to stem the spread of the virus. Athens expects the economy to contract nearly five percent this year, partly due to the loss of tourism income from key markets such as Germany, Britain and the United States.

With 163 deaths from the virus, Greece started easing the measures this month after a six-week lockdown with an eye to salvaging the vital tourism season. The country has suffered less from the pandemic than many other European nations and restaurants are due to resume trading from May 25, a week earlier than originally planned.

The Acropolis saw 2.9 million visitors last year, a 14.2-percent increase from the previous year.

(Cover: A visitor takes pictures next to the ancient Parthenon temple at the Acropolis hill of Athens, Greece, May 18, 2020. /AP)

Source(s): AFP