Greece shuts Acropolis, schools as it braces for 43°C heatwave

Greece is one of the European countries most affected by the climate crisis.

A view of the Parthenon temple as the Acropolis hill archaeological site is closed to visitors due to a heatwave hitting Athens
The Acropolis has been closed to visitors because of the heatwave [File: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Greece has shut the site of the ancient Acropolis to tourists, closed schools and stationed medics across Athens as it faces the first heatwave of the summer.

Temperatures were expected to hit 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday and Thursday in parts of the Mediterranean country, driven by southerly winds bringing hot air and dust from North Africa.

The Acropolis hill, which includes the Parthenon temple and is one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, was closed from noon to 5pm (09:00-14:00 GMT) on Wednesday, and Red Cross staff handed out bottles of water to tourists.

Many primary schools and nurseries across the country have been told to close for two days.

Greece is one of the European countries most affected by the climate crisis.

Last year, rising temperatures fuelled deadly wildfires, and erratic rains caused some of the worst flooding on record, both of which damaged crops and livelihoods.

A view of the Parthenon temple as the Acropolis hill archaeological site is closed to visitors due to a heatwave hitting Athens
Drones with thermal cameras were being used in Athens to coordinate the public health response [Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters]

Similar conditions were seen last year across much of southern Europe, including Portugal, France, Spain and Italy where fires led to dozens of deaths. In Greece, fires began earlier than expected this year, including one in March.

Firefighters and police were patrolling forests from air and land on Wednesday, ahead of what is expected to be a windy end to the week, raising the risk of fires spreading.

Heatwaves surge in frequency and intensity

After last year’s destructive wildfires, including on the island of Rhodes, which prompted the biggest evacuation in peacetime, Greece has scaled up its preparations by hiring more staff and stepping up training.

Drones with thermal cameras were being used in Athens to coordinate the public health response, officials said.

According to experts, heat is among the deadliest of natural hazards; more than 61,000 people died during Europe’s record-breaking summer heatwave in 2022.

A combination of human-caused climate change and the arrival of the natural climate phenomenon El Nino, which contributes to higher temperatures in many parts of the world, was a factor in pushing temperatures to record levels last summer in parts of Europe.

But as El Nino fades, scientists have said climate change, primarily triggered by greenhouse gas emissions mainly from burning fossil fuels, will result in more frequent, severe and dangerous heatwaves.

“Climate change across the globe is increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of heatwaves,” Akshay Deoras, a research scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading, told Al Jazeera in 2023.

“It’s effectively making heatwaves into severe heatwaves.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies