Collections Management in Greece

Friday, July 1, 2016

Collections management in Greece, or

What I did on my holiday!

Background: Patras is the third largest city in Greece, and it is joined to the north of Greece via a huge new multi-span bridge 2.25 km long. A motorway is being built to join Patras and the bridge with Athens, along the south (Peloponnese) side of the Gulf. The roadworks are immense, and the resulting traffic jam will probably last at least another 5 years! Don’t go that way!!

Even in ancient times, Nafpaktos (formerly called Lepanto) on the north side was an important port and defensive site. During the Ottoman Empire Nafpaktos, Antirriou and Rio were fortified, and changed hands between the Venetians and Ottomans several times. The Battle of Lepanto (1571), in which the writer Cervantes fought, saw the defeat of the Ottoman navy by a coalition of Catholic states. That battle prevented the further expansion of the Ottomans westward into the Mediterranean.

At Antirriou a ferry service, that has largely been superseded by the Bridge, still runs. Antirriou must have been very busy before the bridge opened; it still takes traffic but is now very peaceful. The fort at Rio on the south side has been converted into a prison. At Antirriou there is also a rather fine fort (or Castro) which is open to the public and used by the local branch of the Greek Archaeological service for collections storage. Yes—they have their equivalent of our Chapel!!

Castro Antirriou is an impressive place—it has thick casement walls that surround an overgrown and neglected bailey where sparrows hunt crickets and kestrels hide in the walls. It has a small harbour and sticks out into the Gulf. The Gulf has little marine traffic now, perhaps because the Canal at Corinth has never been widened (unlike the Canal at Panama) and is too narrow for modern cargo boats. But it was once sufficiently important that the Castro has a light house on its southern bastion.

When we arrived there, there was only the Custodian. It was sunny and very quiet. The guestbook showed that others had visited. The narrow entrance gateway leads to the bailey where an impressive display of ships’ anchors and buoys is displayed. We wandered around in the silence and sunshine impressed by the views.

When we got to the south end, we heard voices. Peeping into the rooms in the walls, what did we discover but a home-from-home!  It was just like the Chapel (but much warmer). They even had Dexion shelving with bagged ceramic fragments . They had spare Dexion racking outside too.

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The couple of staff we talked to were very friendly and spoke good English; one of them had two degrees (in Design and Architecture) and lamented the state of the Greek economy, but looking around I thought their situation seemed just like ours at the Museum. I thought what a wonderful place to work, but I guess they thought that their jobs were insecure and their pay was crap too! They were very interested to learn I worked in a museum back in England, but they were not sure they had heard of Cecil Rhodes (or Rhodesia). Naturally they wanted to know what we thought about the coming referendum.

We visited the castle at Nafpaktos too. The old town is built in three parts: the port at the foot, separated by a wall from the main part of the town up the hill a little, and then the castle itself at the top. If you are fit, you can climb up stairways through the old town to the Castle, but it is very steep. Alternatively a road with hairpin-bends allows you to drive to the Castle entrance the lazy way. The castle (entrance fee 2 euros) is heavily fortified, and the view from the top is impressive. In parts of the walls there are huge stones that are clearly of Classical origin. In the castle there was one Custodian who spoke excellent English. The castle has a church converted from  the pre-existing mosque (you can see the foundations of the mithrab—the niche giving direction to Mecca—and the minaret has become the church tower), which was converted, in turn, from an original church.  There is also an exhibition space—closed to the public (an exhibition on Byzantine Ceramics was advertised). I asked if we could go into the church or the exhibition building, but the Custodian said that since he was the only person on site he could not supervise us.

I asked him whether they recruited volunteers to help at these sites—I looked at the town (perhaps a similar size to Bishop’s Stortford) and thought there must be lots of people who would help. But it seems there is absolutely no culture of volunteering in this way in Greece. I guess that because unemployment is high, the feeling of the staff is that volunteers would ‘steal’ jobs and impact on wages.

I think the Greeks are missing a trick here. All I could think was: what a marvellous place to volunteer! So interesting, and beautiful. Perhaps we should organise an exchange next summer?

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top: the view from the castle walls over the Gulf towards the Patras Bridge and Antirriou in the west.

bottom : the Venetian port walls and the castle above.


Statue of Miguel Cervantes just within the port walls, with an admirer Mr James

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