"Pay to Play Archeology"
Updated: Aug 28
Back in April of 2018, I was living in Nafplio, Greece, as part of a five and a half month stay in the Greek Peloponnese, primarily to ride thousands of miles and collect videos and photographs. This media was to be used for the marketing/advertising of the non profit company I’m putting together that will generate donations through charity bike rides.
Greece, for anyone who even barely knows me, is integral to who I am and whenever I have the opportunity, I want to showcase the beauty of that country. I could have ridden anywhere to get social media content…but riding on mountain roads overlooking the unique blue of the aegean….or simply just riding along that same blue water, or being able to ride through Athens and catch beautiful views of the acropolis or other remnants of the ancient Greeks…..you can’t find that anywhere else.
I envisioned myself going on century rides all the time, seeking far off destinations to get incredible pictures. However, I quickly discovered that in many cases, those beautiful destinations weren’t very far away at all. These pictures here are about 10 or 15 minutes away from my grandmother’s apartment in Athens:
These two here are about 15 minutes away from the house in Nafplio. More specifically, these are from an ancient tomb of Tyrin, a civilization that first settled in the area 7,000 years ago. The hive shaped tomb is carved into the mountain, and hidden amongst an orange grove. I didn't see another person on the way there, or on my way out.
One of the things I wanted to do while I was in Greece was to visit some archeological sites and take some pictures of the bike there, specifically to be able to write in this blog about how some of these places are accessible by bike, as well to show them off to whoever may get a chance to see them. Advertising the country I love is like a pastime to me. One of the most well known such sites near Nafplio is the ancient theater of Epidavros. By car, it’s only about 35 minutes or so, which means it's not a long bike ride at all. In fact, it's more than easy enough. There’s really only one lengthy ascent through a mountain chain, and there’s a wide shoulder to ride on throughout the entire duration of that main road you’re on. Traffic is minimal, while the views along the way are expansive as you climb higher and higher, leaving little villages to shrink away in the distance you cover.
From what I remember, it took me about an hour and a half. The area just outside the parking lot is like a scene out of Gladiator where Russel Crowe is thinking of his home. There’s tall narrow evergreens lining a lengthy lot about the size of a professional soccer field, and the driveway leading up to it then circles all the way around.
I walked my bike up to the ticket counter and spoke with a woman who was working there, and told her I wanted to buy a ticket and come in to take some pictures on the archeological site with the bike in the background. I stressed I wouldn’t be riding the bike at all, and then explained that I was here as part of a charity ride I was putting together to raise money for Greek athletes competing in the 2020 Olympic games. Despite this, she said I wouldn’t be allowed to come in with the bike, and certainly wouldn’t be allowed to take any promotional photographs unless I had written permission from the local archeologist’s office. She provided me with contact information, including a phone number from which I recognized the area code as being Nafplio. I asked if the archeologists office was in fact in Nafplio, and she confirmed that it was, specifically in the archeological museum of Nafplio.
I thanked her and walked back the way I came, and saw a road that seemed to be going towards another part of the site, and I started riding and within a few minutes arrived at an area where the perimeter fence was not in tact. On the other side of the fence were some ruins, and I went through the area where the fence was raised and snapped this picture:
Afterwards I rode back in the direction I came to, stopping in the first town I found in order to grab some lunch from a local bakery and also to get some sunblock samples from the local pharmacy (bike tans are NOT a badge of honor…).
The next day, I walked over to the archeological museum (which is actually the building in the back left, in the main square of the old town of Nafplio)
and inquired about where the archeologist's office was. To my surprise, I only had wait a few minutes before seeing him. I introduced myself and let him know my roots were here in Nafplio, that I was in Greece as part of a project I was putting together to raise money for Greek Athletes competing for the 2020 Olympic games, and that I wanted permission to take some photographs of the bike with some of the archeological sites as backdrops. I told him that this was a non-profit project.
The archeologist appeared to be in his early 40’s, and seemed pretty liberal. He had a gnarly fu-man-chu beard,
and the way he dressed made me think he probably listened to a mix of jazz and hard rock. Despite his appearance, he would not oblige me the permission I was seeking. He proceeded to pull up what the law stated, informing me that first I’d have to submit a written application requesting permission to be able to take pictures of my bike on any of the archeological sites in the region. There are thee major ones: the palamidi fortress that overlooks the town of Nafplio:
the Acropolis of Tyrin, and ancient theater of Epidavros. I don’t remember what the cost was for entering just one of these places, but it was at the very least, 500 euro. If I wanted to visit all three, the price would range into the 1200 euro amount. He then went on to state that of the pictures I took, if I wanted to upload just one photo, another fee would be paid, and that I could upload up to ten photographs. Again, I forget what the amount would cost me, but I believe the total would have been somewhere in the 3,000 euro range.
He must have seen the disappointment and disbelief in my face as I just stared back at him, because he gave a slight pause and asked what I was thinking.
“Well, since you asked what I’m thinking, I’m going to reply first with a question that might seem hostile, but I assure you it’s only to prove a point, and that it is not hostile.”
“Go ahead,” he replied.
“Do you know who I am,” I asked him.
“No,” he replied, making the same face a cop would make if they were arresting some drunk college kid who was screaming about who he was, who his father was, and that the cop would be fired by morning because of the connections the kid had.
“I’m nobody,” I told him. “You don’t know me because I’m nobody important. I’m just trying to do something good here for people in Greece….and in the process I’m trying to showcase the history and the beauty of these places. And frankly, the idea that you, or anyone from an archeological office would want a nobody like me to go and pay the amount that you’re asking for, simply for me to take some pictures which I won’t make any money off of….is insulting. This is the kind of nonsense that foreigners hear about and want to have nothing to do with Greece because of it. I’d think anyone would be thrilled for the free promotion….I just don’t get it.”
He tried to explain that this wasn’t his personal policy, and that it was simply what the law stated. I didn’t bother going into my soliloquy about how laws are made by selfish men, and therefor had no bearing on my belief in them. I did get the sense though, that he wanted to help, but wouldn’t risk his job over this matter. He did make the following recommendation:
“We live in an area that is full of historic and significant landmarks, locations, buildings, and ruins. And while you may not be able to go into these places, many of them are visible from a road. My recommendation is that you visit these places and take pictures from outside."
I thanked him, shook his hand, and walked out thinking, “I’m going to have to write about this….what a load of crap.”
Stuff like this happens all the time in Greece, and not just to nobodies like me. Gucci’s request to use the Parthenon for a fashion show was rejected, even though the luxury brand offered to help fund the site’s restoration.
Similarly, the filming of Jason Bourne, was also barred from taking place in Athens, despite the fact that a major scene spanning over 20 minutes in length takes place in central Athens.
And why? Because there was no “tax-break structure” for films in Greece. If the filming had taken place, nearly 250 thousand euro would have been generated a day for a six week period. This would have yielded a total of over ten million euro.
All I can say is…..shame.