ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Visits to the Acropolis of Athens, Greece’s most popular archaeological site, will be capped starting next month at a maximum of 20,000 per day and subject to hourly entry limits variables, the Greek government announced on Wednesday.
Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said the checks were necessary to avoid traffic jams and overcrowding at the UNESCO World Heritage site. Up to 23,000 people throng the monument complex each day, mostly large groups visiting before noon.
“It’s a huge number,” Mendoni said in an interview with Real FM radio station. “Obviously, tourism is desirable for the country, for all of us. But care must be taken that excessive tourism does not harm the monument.”
The new entry limits will be implemented on a trial basis from September 4 and will come into effect permanently from April 1, 2024, the minister said. There will be no limit on the length of visits, although Mendoni said people who come with organized tours or cruise ships, which account for around 50% of daily visitor numbers, spend an average of 45 minutes on the site.
Different numbers of visitors will be allowed every hour during the site’s opening hours from 8am to 8pm. Half of the Acropolis’s pedestrian traffic currently arrives between 8 a.m. and noon, Mendoni said. Under the new system, 3,000 people will have access from 8am, 2,000 for the next hour and the numbers will fluctuate throughout the rest of the day.
“The measure will respond to the need to protect the monument, which is essential for us, as well as to (improve) the experience of visitors to the site,” she added.
Similar caps will be imposed for other popular archaeological sites, Mendoni said. The decision on the Acropolis follows consultations with tour operators and cruise lines and was delayed due to the June 25 Greek general election, she added.
More than 3 million people visited the site last year, according to the Greek Statistical Authority.
Greek authorities closed access to the Acropolis and other ancient sites at midday last month, at the height of a heat wave that also sparked massive forest fires across the country. They also installed awnings to shade people queuing to see the Acropolis temples dating back to the 5th century BC from the sun. Mendoni said those steps would be repeated if necessary.