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More visitors go to museums

- by Jeremy Guest

More Greek holiday visitors go to museums.

Holiday visitors to Greece and the Greek islands have pushed up visitor numbers to Greek museums and archaeological sites. Latest figures report a 17% rise in numbers of Greece holiday visitors to monuments and museums across the country with receipts from sales up around 5%.

The boost in numbers comes despite months of street protests in Greece mainland cities, strikes that have affected flights and ferry services and walkouts that have temporarily closed many museums and historic sites.

Street protests have been blamed on a drop in visitor numbers, against the national trend, at Greece's two major museums, the National Archaeological Museum and the New Acropolis Museum.

Both are within walking distance from Syntagma Square in Athens, the scene of several violent street protests against government austerity measures.

Visitor number at these two major museums dropped by more than 12% and 7%, respectively as tour companies and cruise organisers steered holiday tourists away from the centre of Athens.

Surprisingly, the Acropolis, which is also close the streets where several riots took place this year saw visitor numbers rise by more than 30%.

Meanwhile, Greek archaeologists have urged Europe to help save the nation's cultural heritage as budget cuts threaten to affect historic sites.

Budgets handed out by the Culture and Tourism Ministry's archaeological service were axed by 35% to €12 million euros in 2011 and further cuts are expected this year.

The cuts are part of the Greek government austerity measures to secure a second €130 billion-euro aid package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

The ministry currently employs about 7,000 people, including 950 archaeologists and 2,000 guards at the 19,250 archaeological sites and monuments, 106 museums and several hundred excavation sites across Greece and the Greek Islands.

Funding for Greek museum security is expected to be cut 20% this year. This comes despite two major big robberies in January and February, one at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games and the other at the National Gallery in central Athens. Three paintings were stolen from the gallery, including works by Pablo Picasso and Piet Mondrian.