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Greek museums cash in on summer rise in visitors

Acropolis Museum exhibits

Another good year for historic sites across Greece as visitors queue up to view monuments and museum exhibits.

It has been another good year for Greek museums, archaeological sites and ancient monuments with visitor numbers up by more than 20% between January and June compared to the same period last year.

Greek tourism officials have been pushing the value of museums and historic sites with a number of tourist-friendly initiatives and the moves certainly seem to be paying off.

Revenues from cash paying visits in the first six months are also up 17% on last year with June hitting a high when museums netted a rise of 30% on last year, according to latest figures from the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT).

Greeks went into overdrive on the culture front this year after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, a former Culture Minister himself, announced a major initiative to get museums to open their doors for longer.

The 33 biggest museums and historic sites in Greece threw open doors to the public from 8am to 8pm while major clean-up operations were begun on the country's historic attractions and monuments.

In announcing the initiative, the Greek Prime Minister said it was 'something that should have been done decades ago'. It's true that holiday visitors to Greece have often been frustrated at the local attitude to opening hours at even the most important historic sites.

Despite Greece being touted worldwide as a country of culture, many holiday visitors would find museums closed by lunchtime and few open at weekends. Even sites like Delphi, one of the jewels in the crown of historic sites, stayed firmly closed to visitors at weekends.

The Greek Ministry of Culture then extended the opening hours of 33 major museums and archaeological sites from April until late October in an attempt to attract more visitors.

Among the museums and archaeological sites were the Acropolis of Athens, Ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese, Knossos in Crete, the royal tombs of Vergina in northern Greece, Delos and Spinalonga islands, Akrotiri in Santorini and the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.

In 2013, 17.8 million tourists visited Greece and about 12 million of them took a trip to one or more of the many Greek museums and archaeological sites found across Greece and the Greek Islands.

Record tourist arrivals are forecast for this year and travel agents have been urging the Greek authorities for years to extend opening hours of the top tourist sites.

One benefit of the extended hours should be a lengthening of the tourist season as tourists take advantage of the good weather in Greece during the spring and autumn to visit some of the top sites.

Given the sheer volume and quality of historical and cultural gems it is a wonder that so little has been done before now to cash in on the country's great treasures.

It wasn't so long ago that visitors would walk away disappointed at litter strewn historic sites hemmed in by rusty barbed wire fencing and resolutely closed by lunchtime on weekdays and never open a weekends.

It was a similar story in public museums when visitors often had to guess when the museums might be open and often arrived to find them closed even during official opening hours.

Earlier this month the government announced a new partnership between the ministries of culture and tourism aimed at boosting cultural tourism including more public-private sector cooperation, an increased role for local communities in tourism development as well as the promotion of events, creative industries and contemporary culture and history.

As Samaras said on launching the initiate: It has to do with common sense, which says that Greece must show its culture to the world.'

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