As the pandemic raged, Europe bulldozed historic buildings

While people were locked down, their heritage was knocked down

Jan 29, 2022

COVID-19 HAS been a mixed bag for Europe’s architectural treasures. During the pandemic’s first year, overnight stays by international tourists dropped by 68% across the continent. Fewer visitors means less wear and tear on monuments, but also less income to maintain them. Gargoyles are not falling off cathedrals yet. But while attention was distracted, authorities have carried out some dubious renovations.

Take the Acropolis. (Xerxes did.) During Greece’s second lockdown in October 2020, builders poured wide concrete pathways around its temples. Authorities say the paths improve accessibility. Critics say they are causing floods. One academic accused the site’s administration of using the lockdown as a “smokescreen”.

At least the lanes are designed as an improvement. Elsewhere, heritage sites have been razed. In May 2020, the Albanian government bulldozed the National Theater in Tirana to make way for commercial development. The theater was a humble modernist brick building built in 1939, but the audience loved it. Protests had stalled the demolition for years. Oslo’s y-Block was also taken down in 2020, a curvy concrete icon of 1960s minimalism, although its Picasso murals were removed first.

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