According to news from Heraklion MP Dr. Nikos Egoumenidou and Greece’s Minister of Culture Dr. Lina Mendoni, Crete’s Minoan centers and the legacy they represent may finally be on the way to achieving UNESCO status. Sixteen years after the process began, and Greek officials may finally list Crete’s most precious palatial centers among irreplaceable world heritage sites.
Earlier this month, Heraklion’s parliamentary representative Dr. Nikos Egoumenidou put before parliament and Minister of Culture Dr. Lina Mendoni questions on the status of a bid for UNESCO status for the famous Minoan Palace at Knossos. This week Dr. Mendoni responded to the PM’s inquiry into the latest status on this important bid effort. The video below in Greek shows the Q & A in between MP EGoumenidou and Culture Minister Mendoni.
What has been a disjointed and half-hearted (in my view) effort of sixteen years to get Knossos on the list, has now been reorganized into a serial bid effort to include not just Knossos, but Minoan centers at Phaistos, Malia, Zakros, Cydonia, Zominthos, and Spinalonga island as well. And, while my efforts to unravel the bureaucracy surrounding these important Greek heritage efforts has been circuitous and frustrating, at least the new administrators seem to be making headway.
The Minoan Palace at Knossos is one of the most visited cultural landmarks in the world. The palace and its sister sites across Crete were the centers of European culture since before 2800 B.C. But, as strange as it may seem, none of Crete’s Minoan treasures is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In a previous report for Greek Reporter, I attempted to convey the status, as well as the disjointedness of the previous efforts to get Crete’s Minoan legacy listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites. News today from the Greek Parliament is hopeful.
First, and foremost, Minister Mendoni confirmed for parliament confirmed that back in 2017, under the previous administration, the necessary steps to compile the application file for UNESCO was initiated. Furthermore, the minister advised of a necessary contract between the Culture Ministry and Crete Region, signed back in April of this year. Dr. Mendoni also mentioned the funding of survey projects necessary to bring the sites and the dossier into compliance.
Nikos Egoumenidou questioned the culture minister about past delays and the current schedule for these monuments to achieve UNESCO status. Dr. Mendoni replied saying the Archaeological Service cannot complete the necessary file for another 18 months, at least.
Finally, Dr. Egoumenidou pledged to monitor the case closely so that Crete’s precious cultural monuments can be protected for future generations. So, while the MP’s questions about previous delays were not fully addressed, the ministry is clearly making strides faster than previous endeavors. I gleaned this during my most recent inquiries to various officials who were formerly in the chain of responsibility for the UNESCO bids.
While I do not believe citizens are being properly appraised of this UNESCO situation, it’s clear that the archaeologists and a few other key decision-makers are doing everything in their power to get the best possible situation for Crete’s Minoan sites. Dr. Vasiliki Szthiakaki, who’s the Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Heraklion, was forthcoming in explaining the new structure of the UNESCO bid, as well as updating our readers on the conservation aspects and the aspects of the file her constituents can provide. I was not aware, until Dr. Szthiakaki told me, that the jurisdiction of the whole Minoan Centers project had changed.
“The UNESCO project for the Minoan Palaces is under the jurisdiction of the Directorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. As far as we know, they are working on it and we are collecting historical data for the file to help them.”
Previously, I was in contact with the head of this directorate, Dr. Konstantina Benissi about the whole process and the stages of completion of the Knossos/UNESCO process. This was before the new government took office. Dr. Benissi had gone out of her way to explain a complex UNESCO inclusion process then, but repeated attempts to reach her about a status update failed. The archaeologist filled me in on what is really a four-stage bid process. I was, at that time, very surprised that Knossos was not even past state one at that moment in time.
As it turns out, one of the main reasons the UNESCO effort is not farther along is because of a degree of mismanagement of the project in the past, compounded by utter miscommunication between various stakeholders. It’s not productive to get into this aspect here. What seems most important now is the fact that the ministry is preparing the Minoan centers dossier, is intent on hiring new personnel to take the pressure off overloaded departments, and that parliament and Crete Region are monitoring progress.
According to Dr. Szthiakaki, she believes her department will have a decisive role in developing and carrying out the management plan. She also tells me that the ephorate has all the documentation concerning the palace, its history, excavation details, conservation campaigns and environmental research that has already been prepared. This makes me hopeful that these amazing monuments may soon be among UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites like the Sydney Opera House, the Ancient City of Nessebar in Bulgaria, the Historic Site of Lyon, and any of the 43 cultural sites of Germany, to name a very few.
I will try my best to keep you updated on progress.