Cutty Sark Reopens After Disastrous Fire

Cutty Sark
The famous tea clipper Cutty Sark will be once again open to the public this Thursday after years of restoration work to repair damage from a fire in 2007. The Queen will perform an official reopening ceremony on Wednesday.

Located in Greenwich, London, this beautiful ship has been a longtime favorite of Londoners. It went on its maiden voyage in 1870 and is the last surviving tea clipper in existence, a reminder of a time when sailing ships brought loads of tea to London from China. Steam-powered boats passing through the Suez Canal soon took over that route, though, and the Cutty Sark was transferred to the Australian wool route. It broke the speed record for that run and became one of the most famous ships on the high seas.

But as steam ships became increasingly common, the Cutty Sark became more and more outdated, being relegated to lesser runs for poorer shipping companies. The ship was saved from a sad end when it was bought by an admirer in 1922 and lovingly restored to its former glory. It opened to the public in 1957.

A fire broke out in 2007 while it was being refurbished. Its decks were burnt through but since much of the ship’s fittings and contents had been moved away while work was being done, these were saved. Now after a long restoration, you can stand on the deck of this remarkable vessel again and learn about daily life aboard her with a guided tour. The BBC has an interesting slideshow of the restoration work here.

[Photo courtesy Visit Greenwich]

Ancient Egyptian tombs to be reopened

Ancient Egyptian
A visit to the pyramids at Giza in Egypt has just become even more interesting with the imminent reopening of six ancient Egyptian tombs nearby.

The tombs have been closed for many years for restoration, including the removal of graffiti left by people who don’t deserve to travel. The tombs are part of the Western Cemetery reserved for minor royalty and high officials of the Fourth Dynasty (c.2613-2494 BC) who were important enough to be buried near the pharaohs they served in life.

One is the tomb of Seshem-Nefer, who had the august title of “overseer of the two seats of the House of Life and keeper of the king’s secrets.” His large is visible in the foreground of this photo courtesy Hannah Pethen.

Other tombs include those of a royal treasurer, high priests and other functionaries. Only one of the tombs is for a member of the royal family — Princess Mersankh, the granddaughter of King Khufu, whose pyramid is the largest in Egypt.

Several of the tombs have brightly painted scenes of daily life, such as hunting and spending time with family, making them a good way to gain insight into the world of ancient Egypt.

Delos: the birthplace of a Greek god

Delos
An ancient theater on the Greek island of Delos has received funding for a major renovation. The Greek government has earmarked 1.5 million euros ($2 million) to make the site more attractive for the thousands of tourists who visit it every year.

Delos was an important religious site in ancient Greece, being the purported birthplace of Apollo. Delos is one of the smallest of the Cyclades Islands, which are a favorite destination for many travelers for their historical importance and natural beauty.

The theater was finished in 250 B.C., and constructed entirely of marble. It could seat up to 6,500 people and it may be used as a theater again once the restoration is completed. Restoration work will include putting together the jigsaw puzzle of many broken pieces of marble, clearing away the plants that have grown on the site and providing drainage to minimize water damage.

The entire island of Delos is one of Greece’s seventeen UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is rich with archaeological remains. Archaeologists from the French School at Athens have been excavating at Delos since 1872 and are still making major finds. One of the most attractive is the Sacred Way leading to the sanctuary of Apollo. The road is flanked with carved lions, much the way sacred paths in Egypt were flanked with sphinxes. Besides Apollo’s sanctuary, there were also spaces set aside as sacred to Dionysus. Several giant phallic symbols sacred to the god of wine and partying have been found. You can see a couple in the photo gallery below.

Sumptuous mosaics have been discovered in many of the buildings as well as statues and richly painted pottery. Many of these finds are displayed in the local museum, one of the best in Greece.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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Sacred ship from ancient Egypt is undergoing restoration

ancient Egypt, solar boatA sacred boat that lay hidden in the sands of the Sahara for 4,500 years will be restored and put on display, Egyptian authorities say.

The boat is one of a pair discovered buried next to the pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu at Giza, also known as the Great Pyramid. They rested in long, stone-covered pits.

The first boat, shown here in this photo courtesy Berthold Werner, was excavated in 1954 and is already on display at the Solar Boat Museum at Giza. It’s considered one of the most remarkable finds from ancient Egypt and is similar in design to the feluccas that still ply the Nile today.

Japanese and Egyptian archaeologists are working together to gather samples of the second boat’s wood in order to understand how best to restore and preserve it. The current project to uncover and analyze the second boat has been going on since 1992. Last summer the painstaking task of excavating and removing the boat from its pit was completed.

According to tests, the boat is made of Lebanon cedar and is actually a little older than the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu, who ruled from 2551-2528 BC, according to the Japanese team. His name has been found inscribed on the boat.

It’s not certain that the two vessels were actually used, and may have only been symbolic boats to carry the pharaoh across the sky with the sun god Ra in the afterlife. Egyptians were often buried with little statues of servants, animals, soldiers, and even entire farms to serve them in the hereafter.

The Acropolis: Greece’s most famous monument weathers the crisis

The Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Visiting Greece and not visiting the Acropolis is unthinkable. Set atop a high rock overlooking Athens, the temples here were built primarily to honor the city’s patron goddess Athena in all her attributes. The buildings here are some of the best examples of Greek architecture and have had a profound effect on the architecture of all the Western world. While I have a preference for medieval sites like Acrocorinth, and I’ve visited the Acropolis before, I couldn’t help but go back.

The last time I was there was 1994, and a lot has changed. There has been a great deal of restoration and the world-class Acropolis Museum has opened up.

Here’s one attraction that the Greek government needs to preserve as it passes through its worst economic crisis since World War Two. People still flock here and it’s a major reason why Greece is an important tourist destination. Tourism accounts for 18 percent of the Greek GDP and tourist numbers went up last year. Several sources told me there were two reasons for this: budget-conscious Europeans are traveling closer to home and people are staying away from North African favorites like Tunisia and Egypt.

Even though sites like the Acropolis generate billions of euros a year in revenue, the Ministry of Culture survives on just 0.7 percent of the national budget, and that budget is shrinking faster than the supply of Greek olives I brought back from this trip. In the past year the ministry has seen its budget slashed by almost a third, with warnings of more cuts to come. Museums are already feeling the pinch and now ministers, archaeologists, and site directors are scrambling to find ways to maintain their their heritage. There are even plans to lease the Acropolis for film backdrops and photo shoots to help raise funds.

%Gallery-146241%This last bit is actually nothing new. Archaeological sites have always been available for rent, but costs were enormous and most projects were rejected out of hand. Now the Acropolis will go for the bargain-basement price of $1,300 a day for a photography session and about $2,000 a day for filming.

Despite Greece’s financial woes, restoration and conservation are continuing. Funds are still coming through from the government and from the European Union. The most visible is the restoration of the pronaos (front inner porch) of the Parthenon shown here in this image by flickr user dorena-wm, who obviously had better luck with the weather than I did. This image was taken last year and now there is considerably more scaffolding obscuring the front. The photo I took last Sunday is in the gallery.

At the Erechtheion, where Poseidon and Athena competed for possession of Athens, the interior of the famous south porch with its caryatid columns is screened off as the ceiling is cleaned with an innovative laser system developed specifically for this project. In ancient times it was believed that Poseidon, the sea god, struck at the ground here with his trident and a salty spring gushed forth. Athena created an olive tree, the first in the world. The Athenians judged that the olive tree was more useful and so dedicated their city to her. The city continued to honor the sea god, though, and the Erechtheion is devoted to his local aspect Erechtheus. Athens owed her power to her great navy, and so it was smart to honor the god who rules the waves, even if he did come in second place in the competition for the city.

No reconstruction was going on when I went, though. I took advantage of Sundays being free to revisit the Acropolis. It was low season and bitterly cold and overcast, but there were still large crowds exploring the ruins. One family from Crete entered at the same time I did and took the same route through the monuments. The father gave a long lecture about the place to his young son and daughter. It was heartening to see how much they enjoyed it. They asked questions, told him some things they’d learned in school, and were obviously having a good time. They took dozens of pictures and I offered to take one of them all together. That got us talking. The father’s English was limited, but his national pride was obvious even through the language barrier. As we talked, his kids went off to take more pictures.

The Acropolis Museum was opened in 2009 to much fanfare and became an instant success. Between between June 2010 and May 2011 more than one million and three hundred thousand Greek and foreign visitors passed through its doors. The museum explains the importance of the site from earliest times through the Classical era and beyond. It’s probably best to see this museum before you see the Acropolis as it will give you a much deeper understanding of that most historic of attractions.

To combat museum fatigue, take a break at the restaurant or café. Prices are remarkably reasonable and floor-to-ceiling windows give a splendid view of the Acropolis and two of its buildings-the Parthenon and the Sanctuary of Athena Nike.

The museum is not free on Sundays but that didn’t stop the crowds coming out in full force. The restaurant, café, and gift shop were all doing a brisk business. Most popular was the third floor, where a reconstruction of the Parthenon sculptures can be seen. As the labels make clear, most of these are plaster casts because between 1801 and 1805 Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire that then ruled Greece, got permission to remove about half of them. As you can see from the display at the Acropolis Museum, he took the best ones. Now they are in the British Museum in London, while several other sculptures were taken by other antiquarians and ended up in other museums.

The Greeks want their sculptures back. The British Museum says they took them with permission of the government that was then in power. Here is the official Greek position and here is the British Museum’s position.

The economic crisis has added a new dimension to the struggle to return the sculptures. While the plaster casts in the Acropolis Museum are very well done, seeing the real thing is always better. Getting them back would be a major coup for a country that has only had bad news for far too long, and it would help bring in much-needed tourism revenue. But with both sides dug in, it looks like the Greeks won’t be getting good news like that anytime soon.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Our Past in Peril, Greek tourism faces the economic crisis.

Coming up next: The Athens War Museum