Limits to Tourism

The Bouleuterion (or Odeon) of Ephesus

Tourism can kill people. I almost saw it happen today in the bouleuterion of Ephesus. There was a large group of tourists in front of us, and when they left, a man and a woman remained sitting on one of the ancient seats. The man sat down, his head hanging down, while his arms, which were also hanging down, were making strange, uncontrolled gestures.

It was not a pretty sight, and I was glad that one of the people traveling with me is a doctor. He went to the man and gave him something, which seemed to help him pretty swiftly, so that he seemed a bit weak only when an ambulance arrived, just two or three minutes after we had made a call. The man tried to walk back to the exit but collapsed, and was carried away to the ambulance.

He did not suffer from a heat stroke or dehydration. It was early in the morning on a cool day. The cause of his collapse may have been Stendhal Syndrome, a fatigue about which many jokes are made, but which can be quite nasty. (I remember leaving Florence with someone who fell seriously ill once we were in Rome.) To this may be added the stress of a visit to a site full of people, thousands and thousands of them, addressed by guides who use amplifiers to make themselves heard. Ephesus is the capital of mass tourism.

On more than one occasion I have said that people ought to pass an exam before they visit an archaeological site. Of course that is a joke, but there is a serious aspect to it. It is ridiculous to hear a guide in, say, Delphi explain that “in those days, Sparta and Athens were the leading powers in Greece” – if you do not know that, it is better not to go to Delphi, because you are unable to appreciate the site and are a frustration to others.

I even think that it is dangerous if too many unprepared people visit a site. If our man had known what to expect and if there had been less people, his brain would have been able to deal with the information; now, Ephesus could easily exhaust him. Although it was good that the ambulance appeared on the scene almost immediately, it is – if you think about it – ridiculous that Ephesus needs to have an ambulance.

Finally, our man was lucky that there was a doctor. But he belonged to a group, and there were so many people that the guide had been unable to see what happened. The other people hadn’t noticed either. Ephesus is simply too spectacular to allow so many people to be there at the same time, even on a day with low temperatures. Tourism can kill people.

2 Responses to Limits to Tourism

  1. justinfromnewyork says:

    I guess if you’re gonna die someday anyway, that’s a good way to go.

  2. Yes and no. Several years ago, a friend of mine died; he had the softest of all deaths, talking and laughing on one moment, and gone in thirty seconds. On a holiday, after he had visited a church he wanted to see, in the company of friends. We all were sort of happy for him, but it was not easy to get his body back home. Lots of bureaucracy. Anyhow, we did it with some kind of inexplicable gladness.

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