Thera and the Aegean World


The First International Symposium
"The Wall Paintings of Thera"


     Clossing Addresses

     -Robert Laffineur

     -Peter M. Nomikos










The First International Symposium "The Wall-paintings of Thera"
Closing Addresses
PETER M. NOMIKOS (Chairman of the Organising Committee)

Dear friends of Thera,
First of all, on behalf of the twin Thera Foundations and the Organising Committee of the Symposium, I would like to express our grateful thanks for the important contributions you have made to the study of the wall paintings of Thera. These contributions constitute one more important chapter in Theran studies.
As Chairman of the Organising Committee of the Symposium, I should like you to join me in expressing our thanks to the members of the Committee as well as Dr Susan Sherratt for the admirable structure of this Symposium and for all their dedicated work.
Special thanks go out to Lena Levidis and Agatha Karanika for the superb job they have done and to the able team of helpers they have assembled and who have all thus contributed to the smooth running of this Symposium.
I also want to extend special thanks to Gerasimos Constantatos for all the work, the support and the advice he has generously given us.
There is one man who deserves extra special thanks. You all know him very well by now. He is Nikos Valvis who manages somehow to be everywhere, attend to everything, all at the same time, always with a smile and always in a good natured way (
πανταχού παρών και τα πάντα πληρών
). His team, made up of Lazaros Livadaros, Thanasis Prekas and others, operate this centre in a most admirable way. I cannot thank them enough.
I want personally to reiterate the thanks expressed by Professor Peter Warren yesterday when he read the names in the long list of student helpers. They are the archaeologists of tomorrow and the likelihood is that some of them may be presenting papers at our next conference.
Finally, I want to thank my wife for the invaluable assistance she has so graciously offered to this Symposium. Dolla, thank you.

The wall paintings of Thera unearthed thirty years ago by Professor Spyridon Marinatos are, I believe, objects that should be classified as the oldest known European art of high artistic quality. These days we may be faced with the troublesome issue of what constitutes a work of art, as the boundaries between art, advertising, interior design and fashion photography may be blurred as never before, but I doubt whether there is anyone who has seen these paintings who would hesitate to clas-sify them as great works of art. Alecos Fassianos in his lecture has more than confirmed that.
Consequently these are objects of great value.
The question is often asked, What is value and how can it be defined?
In business, value tends to be viewed as being tangible. For instance, the monetary value of an enterprise or of an asset can be calculated from an expected stream of future earnings.
When it comes to evaluating works of art, music, cultural heritage, the environment, there are no formulas, no accepted standard tools for valuation, just concepts. Whenever great art is traded, it is traded on a willing seller/willing buyer basis, whether it be privately or at auction. Then the value and the price seem to converge temporarily in a monetary figure, but - to borrow from Oscar Wilde - some of these traders may "know the price of everything and the value of nothing".
It is not my intention to give here a dissertation on value, but I want to state and establish what I believe to be an incontestable fact: that the wall paintings of Thera represent an incalculable value in a multitude of meanings and ways. As part of the Greek heritage they have national and historical value; they have artistic value, decorative and cultural value; they are, as we have seen in this Symposium, a rich source of information for many disciplines.
Nor can the Greek state overlook the fact that it derives both tangible and intangible benefits from them. They contribute in many ways and handsomely to the Greek economy. Suffice it to say that the entrance fees of the archaeological site of Akrotiri alone earn more than $1 million a year. I have to point out that these receipts, which are paid into a state fund, are not allocated to the Akrotiri excav-ation.
Value is sometimes discovered, and more often it is created. But let us not forget that it can be very easily destroyed. So it has to be recognised, encouraged, protected and preserved. It should never be neglected, put at risk or allowed to erode, as this puts it on a path to destruction.
The wall paintings of Thera are an inherited asset. We, the Greeks of today, did not create them. They were handed to us by the visionary who discovered them. They have since been restored with loving care and have been preserved by skilled and dedicated craftsmen to the best of their abilities, and thus have become the inheritance of all the Greek people - indeed of the whole world. They are not renewable or replaceable.
And yet value can be destroyed in many subtle ways which often go unnoticed and undetected, and this destruction takes many forms. Commercialisation is one of them. Being invariably ill conceived it can take its toll in a pernicious way. The end result is that art and music are consistently prostituted by the commercial world, as great arias become
Τsignature tunesΥ and familiar songs are used to sell ice cream cornettos.
As far as Theran iconography is concerned, all you need to do is to walk around the village of Phira to get a first hand account of this. As the boundaries between art and advertising become blurred, art is irreverently exploited for the purpose of commercialisation. One striking example is the hijacking of the "Fisherman Boy" which has been turned into a poster to advertise "safe sex" for prevention of AIDS.
Nothing is sacred any more. This is a symptom of our times and no doubt it will get worse. How can we protect the Theran iconography and our natural heritage - or maybe I should say, "Is it possible to protect it from banalisation and devaluation, in view of the intensity of media interest and our popular and merchandise culture?"
There <
ι>is some legislation in place, designed to stop this form of destruction, but it is not at all realistic to rely on its implementation. No amount of "policing" by the state can help. The individual must learn to respect his inheritance.
No doubt there exists here some form of collective guilt which coexists with a dilution of respon-sibility, but it would help greatly if the state stopped showing, albeit unwillingly, neglect and an apparent disregard for the protection of our natural heritage.
All you have to do is to talk to the people who are at the front line, or read the newspaper reports that are constantly reporting the problems associated with our museums and our archaeological sites. The same complaints appear with sickening regularity: "Neglect by the State", "Political Inertia", "Inability of the State Mechanism to Function", "Inadequately Staffed Museums" etc., etc.. I have no doubt that these reports, which are invariably well documented, faithfully reflect the lack of consultation which leads to a sad state of affairs. The wheels of the Ministry of Culture, indeed of any government ministry, grind slowly. Bureaucracy means inertia. There are always excuses to be made, and the apologias to be heard. Lack of funds is always at the top of the list of excuses. It cannot be an excuse or a consolation to hear that Italy, for instance, has similar problems. And if it is true, no one should derive any relief by making a comparison with the worst. One should learn from the mistakes of others, not use them as excuses.
The state of affairs reminds me of the New Testament parable of the three servants and the talents that each received from their master, every one according to his ability.
As the parable goes: He who had received one talent went and digged in the earth and hid his lord"s money. He who had received two also gained another two. And he who had received five talents came and brought another five talents.
We Greeks, having received by far the most talents in the form of our national heritage, are more inclined to dig into the earth and to hide them. As museum basements and the storage space of excavation sites is filled to the brim, the comment is often heard from archaeologists that finds are better left in the ground. At least thus they will be best preserved. May some sites be so lucky as to have remained unexcavated, awaiting a better fate.

It is exactly eight years since the last International Congress on Thera and the Aegean World. In my closing remarks, I addressed two acute problems. First, the serious underfunding of the excavation of Akrotiri. And second, the problem of the museum that was built in 1974 in order to house the wall paintings, and which had never opened. Underfunding still plagues Akrotiri. As for the museum, it has by now remained closed for twenty-three years.
I understand work is currently proceeding to refurbish this same museum. Very little information is available as to how this will be achieved. It may be that the intention is to house the wall paintings there, but to the best of my knowledge the people from the excavations have not been properly consulted, and therefore the needs of the wall paintings have not been properly addressed.
You have heard during this Symposium about the importance of the architectural context. If the wall paintings of Thera are to be properly housed and exhibited, this will have to be one of the primary considerations. The refurbishment of the present museum might be an expedient and cost effective solution, but it should only be a temporary one.
As we have heard in this Symposium, on present estimate the new paintings under restoration and preservation have an area of two or three times the area of the present corpus of restored paintings. Further excavation will no doubt uncover more. Where will these be housed? Will these also have to wait another fifteen, twenty-three or maybe thirty years?
I have no doubt that I may speak on behalf of the great majority of present day Therans when I say that ALL the wall paintings of Thera should be returned to their rightful home, here on this island.

These national treasures deserve better than the experience of the past. They need to be exhibit-ed all together in a proper architectural setting, with room for expansion and under proper climatic control. To do this it is necessary to carry out a complete and thorough study of their needs in con-sultation with all interested parties and with expert advice from many sources.
What do the next thirty years have in store for Akrotiri? The future of Akrotiri, and indeed of any archaeological site, depends on carefully identifying and correcting the underlying problems that I have been alluding to. Every day that goes by, a multitude of values are being eroded and destroyed. The principal problem is the inability of the state to deal effectively with this and to properly safeguard our national heritage.
What are the reasons for this problem? And what is to be done to correct it?
I believe the reasons to be both inherent and structural. On the one hand, the public sector, by its bureaucratic nature, has an inherent difficulty in carefully identifying and solving the complex problems associated with the preservation and fostering of our national heritage. On the other hand, the responsibility is that of the state, at least in providing the proper framework within which the prob-lems can be solved.
What is to be done?
There are no panaceas. Nor can I offer any, but there are certain principles to be followed that could hopefully improve the state of affairs. The first need is to establish the right objectives and to make these objectives clear and well under-stood. Our objective is self evident, simple and clear: "SAVE, SAFEGUARD, PRESERVE OUR NATIONAL HERITAGE". Having established these objectives, the important question that always follows is, "How does a society mobilise itself to achieve its objectives?" The starting point is to establish the right legislative and institutional framework.
As we are about to enter the third millennium, the twenty-first century, there is every indication that we are entering it with the institutional and legal framework of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Since the creation of the modern Greek state in 1830, three major legislations have been implemented, the first in 1832, then in 1899 and finally in 1932. What may have worked at the beginning of the twentieth century does not necessarily work today. Circumstances keep changing and there has to be constant review with proper regard to an ever changing and developing world. Culture has changed faster than cultural institutions, and consequently they need to catch up.
The need to establish the appropriate institutional framework is urgent. It is essential to recognise that this framework must provide for effective and continuous consultation at the grassroots. And by that I mean the people who are at the front line. We need a framework that mobilises human efforts instead of impeding them.
I am pleased to learn from newspaper reports that the Greek Ministry of Culture is currently pro-cessing two important pieces of legislation concerning our national heritage to be soon submitted to Parliament. One is a piece of multiple legislation which also pertains to antiquities. The other one is directed more specifically to the protection of cultural goods. It is, I am told, a complete and modern approach to the subjects which are bound up with but not limited by it. It is intended to replace the outdated 1932 legislation, and to incorporate international conventions and European Union legislation. I know little more about this proposed major legislative reform. I can only pray and hope that it will appropriately address the needs of our cultural heritage.
Leaving aside legislation, I want to emphasise something that may be self evident but is often forgotten. Every Greek is a stakeholder in his or her national heritage , and as such he or she has a civic responsibility, each in his or her own way, however small or insignificant it may appear, to contribute to its preservation.
The faceless state cannot do everything. What it should do and can do, however, is to create the necessary encouragement and support for a partnership between the public and the private sector. When I say private sector, I mean the full spectrum from the private citizen to the foundations and the large enterprises. My message to the state would be to bring together from the grassroots independent, dedicated people from many disciplines to study and implement the necessary changes. Very often dedicated men and women with the right authority can achieve infinitely more than a parade of ministers.
The experience of the Thera Foundation has been in international, interdisciplinary co-operation, as expressed by this our Symposium that has just come to an end. It is only one example of the private sector operating alongside the public sector with excellent results. Theran studies have received great impetus from the international co-operation we have achieved in the conferences we have organised. As we have seen here over this past week, the highest ranking professionals from all over the world are willing to work and co-operate and offer their expertise to study this corner of the earth that contributed so much to civilisation.
We live in a world of technological change. We have seen from the papers presented how science and technology can have an impact on our own particular interest in Thera.
In the next thirty years technology will play an ever increasing role in the work and operation of an excavation like Akrotiri. Whether these be new tools and techniques for exploration, imaging, documentation or excavation, whether they be for diagnostics, analyses or preservation, one thing is certain: new methods will be available. Many of them may be the source of latent problems but, whatever the case may be, the modern archaeologist will have to evaluate them and put them to full advantage. This will undoubtedly necessitate a new type of highly technologically trained archaeologist.
Once again, the role of the state is essential in providing the proper educational framework and motivation for attracting properly trained people.
We need more than technocrats. We need people with vision, dedication and motivation, people with a sense of duty and a sense of responsibility who want to do things right and do them better. Will we be able to attract them? We must!
So the message to the state is "support", "facilitate" and "do not impede". We have all heard the text of the letter that the present Minister of Culture addressed to the delegates to our Symposium. It pledged the support of the Ministry of Culture, both now and in the future. I sincerely want to believe that the Minister means what he says and will implement it.
Indeed there is more than hope, because, in the person of Professor Christos Doumas, Akrotiri has had an able successor to Professor Marinatos. Christos is a man of great qualities. He has vision and he motivates his colleagues. He is democratic and gentle, and knows how to engage the co-operation that encourages and achieves the support of others. Over the years he has created an excellent team made up of thirty-five fully fledged able archaeologists, some of whom, as you know, have presented papers at this Symposium, together with another ten budding younger archaeologists. They are the future of Akrotiri.
Those who are in a hurry may sometimes not quite appreciate Christos"s methodical strategy. I for one am certain he has set the right course in a very difficult environment, has kept it and has not deviated
in spite of the great hurdles he has encountered. Through the application of proper management techniques, the appropriate technology and the support of the private sector and that the state is now promising, a happy scenario could see not only the wall paintings properly preserved and taking their rightful place in the history of art, but Akrotiri could even become an example to be followed by other sites in Greece and abroad.
Is it only a dream? I hope not!
Let me paraphrase a quote from a recently published book entitled Enemies of Hope : "Starting with hope, the worst you risk is disappointment. Starting with pessimism, you risk embitterment and despair whose consequence is inevitable failure".
I hereby declare this Symposium closed. Thank you.