ATHENS – The government of Greece has halted the construction of two large hotels near the city’s iconic Acropolis after local residents protested strongly that the building projects were going to obstruct the views of the emblematic hill, officials said on Monday.
Giorgos Stathakis, the Minister of Environment and Energy, issued an order to temporarily suspend all building work in the southern area of the Acropolis whose height was likely to exceed 17.5 meters (57.5 feet) in response to the protest.
“The construction offends the Parthenon and the Acropolis,” the protesters had said through the Avaaz online platform.
The Acropolis is an ancient citadel located on a rocky outcrop that rises above the city and contains some exquisite archaeological remains of its golden age when local statesman Pericles propelled Athens to prominence in the Mediterranean region. Foremost among them is the world-renowned Parthenon, once a temple.
The word acropolis is from the Greek words Akron, “highest point” and polis, “city.”
The two hotels in question, one of 10 stories and the other of nine, had been given approval by the Athens City Council and had been expected to reach a height of 37 and 31.7 meters, respectively.
Up until 2010, all construction in the vicinity of the historic Acropolis had been limited to a maximum height of 21 meters precisely so as to allow an unobstructed view from all angles, but then the government of George Papandreou raised the limit to 31 meters.
The plans to build the two new hotels unleashed protests that generated 24,000 signatures in just one week and this prompted Greece’s Central Archaeological Council to say that it would investigate the case.
The citizens’ petition warned that if tall hotels were to be built, a wall of such constructions was likely to form around the Acropolis.
Both hotels had obtained approval not only from the City Council, but also from the Archaeological Council, despite its proximity to the historic site.
Protesters had in their petition to halt the work stressing that the Acropolis was not just a monument of importance to all Athenians, but also an archaeological jewel that is a World Heritage Site.
The protest argued that the city’s urban environment should be respected, that residents should not have to suffer the negative impact of mass tourism and it also called for sustainable urban development.
The neighborhood to the south of the Acropolis was in 2016 declared one of the 16 best tourist destinations in the world, something that triggered an increased interest by real estate developers and investors.