Tourists take photos outside the Acropolis ancient site in Athens, on June 28, 2024. Image Credit: Bloomberg

ATHENS: The Acropolis in Athens, one of the world’s most visited ancient monuments, has begun offering private visits for €5,000 ($5,400), setting off protests from the site’s guards.

According to the official website of the culture ministry unit that manages the hilltop site, these group visits will be held outside of normal opening hours and are limited to a maximum of five people each.

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Normal visits cost 20 euros or 30 euros for a combined ticket with other sites.

“The Acropolis Experience now offers visitors the exclusive opportunity to enjoy this perfect architectural expression of the Greek spirit in private,” says the Hellenic Heritage website.

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Up to four group visits can take place at a time, beginning at 7am or 8pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

According to Greek media, the first such private visit took place on Saturday with a Russian couple and their private guide.

On Tuesday, the site was offering unguided visits starting July 12 and with guides starting August 2. The site says tours can be conducted in English, French, German, Greek, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

The programme set off controversy when it was first announced last year, and the union that represents guards at archaeology sites said it opposes these private visits that by-pass the usual official guides.

Parthenon temple

The union had not been “given any information about how these visits are organised”, said the union’s president Georgia Kondyli.

“We can understand that there is a financial need behind this measure, but it could have been organised differently,” Kondyli added.

Ranked as a Unesco World Heritage Site and built in the fifth century BC, the Acropolis has attracted ever growing number of tourists, driven in part by cruise ship passengers.

The site includes the celebrated Parthenon temple, built to honour Athena, the Greek capital’s patron goddess.

It received a record four million visitors last year or an increase of 31 percent from the previous year, with up to 23,000 a day during the summer, forcing the organisation that manages the country’s historic sites to institute timed visits.

The rise in visitors came even as the Acropolis closed for several days during a severe July heatwave.

Greece’s centre-right government has been accused of trying to introduce more private management into the country’s museums and antique sites, which brought in more than 120 million euros to the state coffers in 2022.

In February 2023, parliament approved a law that facilitated sending precious antiquities for display in foreign museum expositions, a reform that many archaeologists opposed out of fear it would open the way to long-term exports of unique items.