While Australia has been at the forefront of not only identifying and protecting its archaeological and cultural heritage sites, our communities are also actively aware of their historical and social significance. This process is not the same across the world.
Its worth taking the time to ponder how cities such as Athens or Rome get any infrastructure projects or developments completed, with the amount of archaeological sites under their feet – not only important to the citizens of Athens and Greece, Rome and Italy, but to the world. The anecdote runs that Rome has the most expensive subway system in the world – but only has handful of stops. And how does private enterprise approach the idea of retaining archaeological and cultural heritage items on potentially prime real-estate?
Cyprus is included in this nexus. While a small part of the Paphos coastline has been designated an ‘archaeological park’ and protected by the United Nations as a site of global significance, the very hotel that we stay in is built smack in the middle of it; constructed relatively recently (and subsequently acquired by the Dept. of Antiquities). And the development continues. Just up the road is a new housing development, complete with Roman tombs in the backyard – some simply cleared by backhoe. There is genuine anguish expressed by fellow team members that have been coming to the Paphos excavation for the last 15 years and have witnessed the explosion in economic activity and progressive developments, not only within the UN protected archaeological park, but at other sites not protected. Similar stories are held by locals when talking about the economic development elsewhere on the island. While the current legislation to redress the balance between development and heritage doesn’t seem to be in place, its perhaps best to hope that the current pressures will highlight the issue – as a recent article in the local newspaper pointed out.
All is not lost, however. Paphos seems to have an active historical and archaeological society, and the local civic institutions seem to be genuinely interested in the preservation of the archaeological and cultural heritage sites, even if a large part of that interest is focused around economic (tourism) benefits. With the majority of the islands economic benefits tied to tourism (Paphos probably the prime destination), that in itself is a delicate balance. Where is the line between exploitation for tourism, and the preservation of a cultural relic – is there one? And would these sites be protected at all, or go unnoticed, if were not for the interests and pressures of tourism?