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The protection of cultural heritage became a State responsibility from very early on in the creation of the modern Greek State. Today, according to the Constitution, “the protection of the natural and cultural environment constitutes a duty of the State and a right of every person” (Constitution of Greece, Government Gazette, 85/A/18-4-2001, Art. 24).
The main legislation governing the protection of cultural heritage is Law 3028/2002, “On the Protection of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage in general” (Government Gazette 153/A/28-6-2002), which develops a comprehensive and detailed system of protection regarding movable and immovable monuments and artefacts and the intangible heritage. State ownership of monuments pre-dating 1453, or the classification of more recent monuments/artefacts considered to be important, are core principles and means of implementing this law.
Protection covers identification, investigation, recording, documentation/study, preservation, conservation and restoration, as well as prevention of illicit exporting and the facilitation of public access and public information regarding the cultural heritage; the law also encompasses enhancement and integration of the heritage in contemporary social life and education and aesthetic enjoyment and public awareness of the cultural heritage. Additional protection is achieved through a monitoring mechanism implemented before planning at each level, or before any activity takes place (e.g. crop farming, livestock farming, mining, building, demolition, excavation, etc.).
Preservation of the cultural heritage is, to a large extent, related to land use and residential growth policies, and in general the monitoring of building activity and construction of infrastructure works in “monument-sensitive” areas. The legislation provides that “the protection of monuments, archaeological sites and historical places shall be included among the goals at every level of land use, developmental, environmental and urban planning.” Furthermore, the law explicitly forbids any action affecting a movable or immovable monument “which could result, directly or indirectly, in the destruction, harm, pollution, or alteration of its form”.
With specific regard to the protection of archaeological sites and monuments, a procedure is applied for their classification (as protected sites) and designation, resulting in the imposition of conditions regarding allowed uses and activities within their boundaries. It is also possible to delimit special protection zones within archaeological sites, namely Zones A (totally protected, non-construction zones) and Zones B (with special constraints on building, land uses, and other activities).
The main state agency for the protection of cultural heritage is the Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs. The services of the ministry responsible for the management and protection of monuments are divided into:
- The Central Services, which supervise and monitor the work of the Regional Services and ensure the coordination of activities and a common approach when dealing with cultural heritage issues. The Central Services directly related to the protection of cultural heritage are:
- The Directorate General of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, which is responsible for the overall protection and management of cultural heritage.
- The Directorate General of Restoration, Museums and Technical Works, which, in cooperation with the competent services of the Directorate General of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage, is responsible for the study and implementation of protection, stabilisation, restoration and enhancement work on architectural monuments and monumental complexes.
- The Regional Services, namely the Ephorates of Antiquities, responsible for the protection of cultural heritage dating up to 1830, and the Modern Monuments services, responsible for the modern architectural heritage.
A key role in policy-making for cultural heritage protection and in the approval of major interventions at monuments, sites and state museums is played by the three collective bodies of the Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs:
- the Central Archaeological Council,
- the Central Council of Recent Monuments and
- the Council of Museums.
Less significant matters are dealt with by the Local Council of Monuments in each area.
The archaeological legislation includes a number of urban planning laws and regulations governing building activity near archaeological sites (General Building Regulation, Law 2508/1997 and New Building Regulation, Law 4067/2012). These come under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Reconstruction of Production, Environment and Energy. However, all private and public activities must comply with the archaeological law (3028/2002)
Greece has ratified the following Conventions:
- Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of Armed Conflict (1954) and the two Protocols thereto (1954 and 1999). Law 1114/81, Official Gazette 6/A/08.01.1981 and Law 3317/05, Official Gazette 45/A/23.02.2005
- Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (1970). Law 1103/80, Official Gazette 297/A/29.12.1980
- Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972). Law 1126/81, Official Gazette 32/A/10.12.1981
- Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003). Law 3521/2006, Official Gazette 275/A/22.12.2006
- Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005). Law 3520/06, Official Gazette 274/A/22.12.2006
- European Cultural Convention (1954). Law 4194/61, Official Gazette 166/A/19.09.1961
- Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe (1985). Law 2039/92, Official Gazette 61/A/13.04.1992
- European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (1969, and revised, 1992). Law 1127/81, Official Gazette 32/A/10.02.1981 and Law 3378/05, Official Gazette 203/A/19.08.2005
- European Landscape Convention (2000). Law 3827/10, Official Gazette 30/A/25.02.2010
- Convention on Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (1995). Law 3348/05, Official Gazette 144/A/23.06.2005