Greek wildfires threaten Unesco World Heritage site of Olympia - Museums Association

Greek wildfires threaten Unesco World Heritage site of Olympia

Historic sites at risk of damage in dangerous Mediterranean heatwave following IPCC climate warning
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Eleanor Mills
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The Archaeological Site of Olympia in Greece, now under threat from approaching wildfires
The Archaeological Site of Olympia in Greece, now under threat from approaching wildfires

As the world digests the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s (IPCC) alarming report on the impact of a global 1.5°C rise in temperature, heritage sites in Greece are continuing to deal with widespread destruction from ongoing wildfires caused by a devastating heatwave.

Within the last few days, fires have sparked just one kilometre away from the Unesco World Heritage site of the Acropolis, which has reportedly been closing from 12 midday because it is too dangerous for its staff to work outside, and for the public to breathe in the fumes that now hover over Athens. The ancient site is usually open in the summer from 8am to 8pm.

To the north of Athens, thousands of people have been evacuated from the island of Evia, where the Monastery of Saint David is at risk of burning down.

And in the south west of mainland Greece, the ancient site of Olympia remains under threat from fires in the region of Ilia.

Yesterday, Unesco released the following statement about the ongoing threat to Olympia: “Unesco and its World Heritage Centre have observed with concern the large number of fires that have struck Greece and other countries in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean in recent weeks.

“According to information provided by experts and press reports, firefighters continue to battle major fires in Greece, including one that could impact the World Heritage site of the Archaeological Site of Olympia. The site has reportedly already been evacuated as firefighters were deployed near the village to protect the ancient site.

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“The Archaeological Site of Olympia, located in a valley in the Peloponnesus, is home to the remains of sports structures erected for the Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia every four years beginning in 776BC. Olympia has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces from the ancient Greek world. In 1989, the site was inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List.

“Unesco’s World Heritage Centre extends its sympathy and solidarity with the people of the affected areas and commends the efforts of the competent authorities to cope with the situation and stands ready to mobilise technical support.

“Disasters such as the devastating fires that are currently raging across several countries in Southern Europe, including Albania, Croatia, Greece, Italy, North Macedonia, and Turkey, are among the many climate change-related events threatening the world’s most treasured cultural and natural heritage sites. Unesco is working closely with the authorities concerned to monitor the situation.”

The global temperature has risen by 1.1°C since the industrial revolution, the IPCC has stated. Its “Code Red” warning states that humans are “unequivocally” causing the climate to heat, and that the 1.5°C barrier is likely to be reached within 20 years. Once reached, it is likely to cause a domino effect of climate and natural catastrophes.

The UN Climate Change Conference, Cop26, will be held in Glasgow, 31 October to 12 November.

Museums for Climate Action, a project created to coincide with Cop26, will be discussed at the Museums Association annual conference at the ACC Liverpool and online, 8-10 November.

This session will look at museums’ role in raising awareness, changing behaviour and championing change with communities, all crucial to effecting change from the bottom up and saving the world from catastrophic climate change.

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