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Cyprus

Antiquities department working to minimise fire hazards at ancient sites

Choirokoitia

The antiquities department is in a race against time to minimize fire hazards in archaeological sites ahead of a busy summer season.

Speaking to CNA a day after the devastating fire at the iconic Parisian cathedral of Notre Dame, the director of the department of antiquities Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou said the biggest challenge for Cyprus’ archaeological sites was fire safety due to dense vegetation caused by the amount of rain, especially this winter.

“We do what we can in order to avoid any ugly incidents, mainly with regard to fire hazards” intensified by Cyprus’ high temperatures during the summer months, she said.

Solomidou-Ieronymidou mentioned a blast near the Neolithic settlement of Choirokoitia, in the summer of 2013, but the site was fortunately not damaged, she said.  A plan to manage risks and improve preparedness in dealing with potential dangers was drafted only after the incident, she added.
“We are ready to the degree possible. You see what happened with Notre Dame. I can’t believe that the services were not prepared to deal with such an incident. It happened nevertheless,” she added.

Following a particularly rainy winter season, Cyprus’ archaeological sites are preparing to welcome tourists, and the antiquities department is in a race against time to remove the vegetation from as many areas as possible. Solomidou-Ieronymidou said priority was given to most visited archaeological sites, including the Paphos Mosaics, Tombs of the Kings and Kourion.

Other sites are expected to follow soon, though she mentioned the various restrictions due to understaffing. “We need more people to act more swiftly. We try to do what we can with the means available to us,” she said. “A lot is being done but there is still more to do.”

Takis Hadjidemetriou, the Greek Cypriot Head of the bicommunal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, expressed grief over the destruction of Notre Dame and referred to the global mobilisation to secure funds for the reconstruction of the burnt-out cathedral.

Hadjidemetriou, who co-heads a bicommunal team active in restoring cultural heritage monuments in Cyprus, told CNA that rebuilding monuments should be a national priority “mobilising everybody”.

It is a shame to lose monuments due to lack of funds, he said, adding that the mobilisation to raise money for the reconstruction of Notre Dame highlights people’s struggle to save monuments from extinction.

The difference with Notre Dame is that in Cyprus, monuments are left to deteriorate because of the conflict, he added.

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