Archaeologists protest Placido Domingo concert at Chichen Itza

The following article is from this link on the front cover of this newspaper. With big regrets, we can expect more problems with Maya ruins preservation in 2012 and tourist desecration of cultural monuments in Mexico.

View of the Kukulcan Temple in Chichen Itza, which will host a Placido Domingo concert Saturday. Archeologists are protesting the performance, saying the ruins already suffer from a flood of tourists.

Placido Domingo’s concert at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on Saturday night has been billed as “the world’s greatest tenor at one of the seven wonders of the modern world,” a claim few lovers of opera or history would dispute.

But some Mexicans are questioning whether the show should go on at all.

Archeologists are pressing for criminal charges against the organizers, reviving a debate over how to use treasured ancient sites.

It’s a balancing act many countries face as they try to promote and protect their cultural heritage.

As artists seek to perform in stunning places from the Great Wall of China to India’s Taj Majal and ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian structures, many worry not only about damage but also about cultural propriety.

Domingo sought to reassure his critics Thursday, saying, “I know there has been some discomfort in Mexico because I was going to perform at this site, but we have taken care of every detail to carry out this event.”
Ruins already swamped with tourists

Mexico’s federal government turns down almost all requests to hold concerts at ancient temples, but it is increasingly under pressure from state governors to promote ruins already swamped with tourists.

Domingo’s concert inside Chichen Itza violates a law that requires the ruins to be preserved to educate Mexicans about ancient cultures, said Cuauhtemoc Velasco, a leader of the archeologists’ union.

“These monuments are not there so that rich people can hold events at them,” said Velasco, noting the tickets cost between $45 and $900 US in a country with a minimum wage of about $4.50 a day.

For present-day Mayas like Amadeo Cool May, who hosts a Mayan-language radio program, the concert “is an event for foreigners who come here on vacation.

“It is something completely alien to the Mayas, because of the ticket prices and the type of music.”

Jorge Esma, who is organizing the concert for the Yucatan state government, counters that non-ticket holders can watch it free on local television and says the Mayan temples will be well-protected.

The government has required light stage structures, forbidden anything from being anchored into ancient stones and will have experts on hand to evaluate the impact on the 1,200-year-old temples.

But a researcher at the government archeology institute filed a criminal complaint with federal prosecutors, seeking to punish the organizers for “degrading” Chichen Itza by using it as a “simple backdrop.”
‘[It’s] an event for foreigners who come here on vacation. It is something completely alien to the Mayas, because of the ticket prices and the type of music.’ —Radio host Amadeo Cool May

The concert is expected to draw 4,000 people, the number set by the government as a maximum after organizers asked for permission to hold a much larger event.

Esma said more than half a dozen concerts at Chichen Itza since Luciano Pavarotti sang here in 1997 prove such events can be held without damaging the temples.

The site, voted one of the seven modern wonders of the world in a global 2007 poll, is visited by as many as 12,000 people a day, leading to concerns of overcrowding and wear and tear.

But Esma said “we haven’t had a single complaint” about damage, and notes that other countries use their ancient sites for concerts.

“There are questions to be asked about this globalized trend, but what we can’t do is try to stop it.”

Domingo, a Spanish tenor who began his career in Mexico, noted that “it is painful to see other sites, like Petra, Jordan, where the tourists climb up on the structures and rocks. The archeological heritage has to be cared for and preserved.” Other famed sites ban, restrict concerts

Some countries have learned to say no.

India’s Supreme Court banned large-scale events at the Taj Majal after complaints that floodlights and sound vibrations from a 1996 concert by Greek-American musician Yanni damaged the palace.

Summer opera was curtailed at Rome’s Baths of Carcalla for the same reason. And Venetians have been less hospitable to rock concerts since litterers and vandals joined 200,000 Pink Floyd fans in St. Mark’s Square.

Egypt imposed some limits on regular concerts at its famed Giza Pyramids in the years after the Grateful Dead played near the Sphinx in 1978.

Verdi’s Aida rang in the year 2000; Sting played the pyramids in 2001; and Shakira drew thousands of fans to the site last year. The concerts were held at least 500 metres away from the pyramids to prevent damage.

Because of the tourism benefits, Egypt’s government has overruled objections by the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Zahi Hawass, who says the ground shook and stones vibrated during the Sting and Grateful Dead concerts.

He still blames the Dead’s concert in part for a chunk of the Sphinx’s shoulder falling off 10 years later.

Lebanon also hosts annual summer concerts at the ancient Roman ruins of Baalbek in the eastern Bekaa Valley, and performances by Sting and Lebanon’s top diva Fairouz generated few complaints from archeologists there.

China recently opened its Great Wall for a fashion show by Fendi and a concert by Alicia Keys, Cyndi Lauper and Boyz II Men. And Domingo performed at the Forbidden City as one of the Three Tenors in 2001, amid only a few complaints.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History is resisting the trend, turning down a dozen concert requests a year.

“We get calls from filmmakers who want to shoot movies at archeological sites, and they always say, ‘We will make your site famous,”‘ spokesman Benito Taibo said.

“We answer, ‘Thanks, but it already is famous. Don’t do us any favours.'”

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