The fires of summer 2007 that threatened Ancient Olympia sound the alarm underlying the need for a more effective protection of the world heritage monuments from natural disasters. The mobilisation of the State, international organisations as well as citizens, was immediate. The President of the “Foundation for the Child and the Family”, Mrs. Marianna V. Vardinoyannis, was among the first ones to respond.
With the initiative of Mrs. Vardinoyannis and under her sponsorship, an international workshop was held in Ancient Olympia in November 2008 aiming at exchanging views and discussing more precise and effective means for the management of the dangers that threaten the ancient monuments, as well as the formation of measures for their safeguarding.
The seminar was organised by the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO and the Greek Ministry of Culture, in collaboration with ICCROM.
During the meeting, experts and specialists in the field of the safekeeping of monuments, deposited their experience on the management of the archaeological sites that were threatened with partial or even total destruction in the past, and underlined: “Today, due to climate change, the pollution of environment, armed conflicts as well as other devastating factors, the dangers have been maximised; consequently, the measures taken as well as the vigilance for the protection of monuments should be increased and intensified”.
In the Press Conference that was organised in Athens after the workshop, the Director of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, Mr. Francesco Bandarin and the Director-General of the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM), Mr. Mounir Bouchenaki, announced their conclusions.
The Press Conference was opened with a speech of Mrs. Vardinoyannis, who stated:
“Last year, one of the sites included in the UNESCO world cultural heritage list, Ancient Olympia, as well as the first Greek monument that was included in this list, the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, were threaten by the devastating fires that affected the Western Peloponnese. This fact, which concerned not only the Greek population but the public opinion globally, sparked of the organisation of the workshop in Ancient Olympia. As I recall, I immediately communicated with the Director – General of UNESCO, Mr Koichiro Matsuura, and I was particularly moved by the profound sensitivity that he expressed as well as his prompt mobilisation. I feel the need to thank him once more for his great concern. Moreover, the Director of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, Mr. Francesco Bandarin and the Director-General of ICCROM, Mr. Mounir Bouchenaki, who are here with us today, also expressed their immediate interest and they lead the evaluation of concequences in the monuments, which, fortunately have now been restored. I would like to thank them deeply for their presence, their great effort and the fact that they gave Greece particular priority, which once more expresses on behalf of UNESCO the acknowledgement of the importance of the Greek Culture in the world cultural Pantheon ”. Concluding her speech, Mrs. Vardinoyannis pointed out: “The preservation of world heritage is an issue that should be faced interdisciplinary as well as collectively. Humanity should be united and society sensitised against this challenge”.
Then, the Director of the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO, Mr. Francesco Bandarin, spoke, supporting inter alia that the serious problem on the safekeeping of monuments is the constant increase of the risks that threaten them, mainly due to climate change. This fact demands the creation and promotion of a new strategy, a new plan, for the protection of the monuments. As he stated “This will of course, be a long process, a long action, that we will remember as the “Appeal of Olympia”, since the fires that threatened this historical site of great importance revealed the need for strict measures for the protection of monuments. The Ancient Olympia workshop, is just a milestone in the long path that we should all together cover in order to preserve our world cultural heritage”.
In his speech, the Director-General of ICCROM, Mr. Mounir Bouchenaki, also referred to the important lesson that we have all been taught by the threat in Ancient Olympia, and he especially stated: “It is our duty to raise the awareness of the international community of future catastrophes and emphasise the educational programmes for the prevention of the disasters, not only for the monuments but also for the sites surrounding them, because Ancient Olympia is not an archaeological site isolated from its environment, but it is rather bound with it. The time has come to move on from the analysis to action. The challenge for the future is action”.
In the Press Conference, the Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Petros Doukas, also participated and spoke, while greetings were addressed by the Secretary General of the Minister of Culture, Mr. Thodoris Dravillas – on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, and the General Secretary for International Economic Relations and Development Cooperation of the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Thodoris Skilakakis – on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. All of them congratulated the organisers of the workshop on their initiative and the workshop success and they referred to the decision of the Greek state to take all the essential measures for the safeguarding of the large number of monuments of enormous importance for humanity.