samedi 1 septembre 2007

A cultural heritage at risk

Euboea in flames

Starting on Friday 24th of August 2007, blazes consumed Greece during more than seven days. In Euboea itself, the fires ravaged several regions that once belonged to the ancient territory of Eretria. Protected by the high mountains range of Voudochi, Olympos and Servouni, the vast plain of Eretria and Amarynthos was never threatened during the recent blazes, but one could see the flames behind the Voudochi devastating the stretch of land covered with forests from Mistros to Seta.

The plain of Eretria and Amarynthos covered by clouds of smoke (26th of August 2007)



Main fires in Euboea (2007)

Mistros area

The extent of the fires in the Mistros region, where five people lost their lives, was particularly tragic. This mountaineous area situated at the heart of Euboea is known for its dense forests of pine and fir. The northern slopes of the Olympos range have suffered considerable damage.

Fires in the Mistros region

Seta region

A large area extending from Kato Seta to the Manikia Gorge has been completely devastated. The flames were stopped at the first houses of Makrychori and Manikia. The cypresses surrounding the Byzantine church of Aghios Demetrios at Makrychori were burned, but the early 14th century frescoes were spared. No other antiquities are known in the area of Makrychori.

The once forested mountain slopes around Seta and Makrychori


Fires extended through the Manikia Gorge to the plain of Vrysi, ravaging the late Classical fortress which guarded the end of the defile. No damage was recorded on the masonry of the Classical walls. The top of the archaeological soil as well as stretches of the Byzantine and Venetian walls were however damaged due to the heavy temperatures.

The late Classical fortress at Vrysi

The «Kaki Skala»

The rocky stretch of coast extending from Amarynthos to Aliveri, known as «Kaki Skala», was completely razed by the blazes. The flames were stopped just before they reached Amarynthos, outside the Olympic Star Hotel.

The «Kaki Skala», between Amarynthos and Aliveri

From Mesochoria to Styra

This is the narrowest stretch of the island of Euboea, also known to have been densily occupied in Antiquity, as many archaeological sites were recorded in the area. Fires burned the land from the top of the Kliosi range down to the sea.
The rocky promontory of Tsakaioi, where ancient fortifications and buildings have been recorded, went up in flames. The same desolated landscape can be seen on the slopes of the Kliosi : the blaze devastated the well-known cipollino marble quarries of the Roman period and climbed up to the top of the mountain crowned by the Classical fortress and the Venitian Castle of Aghios Nikolaos. They stopped at a few dozen meters from the famous «Drakospitia» of Palli Lakka, the so-called Dragon Houses.

The archaeological site of Tsakaioi

The Roman marble quarries and the fortress of Aghios Nikolaos

Cultural heritage preservation

Most of archaeological sites in the Eretrian countryside are isolated and exposed to destructions. The wildfires of August 2007 revealed all the more clearly the frailty of this cultural heritage. Several archaeological sites and their surroundings were completely devastated by the blazes. It is yet difficult to assess the extent of the damage: massive walls survived the flames, but small structures collapsed and ancient levels were partially exposed. Severe damage is expected in the winter, when the first rainfalls might accelerate the erosion process. Illegal looting on the sites where archeaological soils have been exposed is also to be feared. The devastating consequences of 2007 wildfires are yet to come… Very little can be done to protect remote archaeological sites from wildfires. Ultimately, preservation of this heritage might depend on a better knowledge of the territory’s human occupation and an extensive reconnaissance of archaeological sites. Local museums as well as Byzantine churches isolated in the countryside constitute a more fragile heritage for which several measures could be enforced to prevent fires. During the 2007 blazes, a team of the SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation) came to Euboea to assess the damage and to suggest practical solutions (fire detection systems, high pressure water pipes, frequent weeding and cleaning of the surroundings of the monuments).