Spanish National Archaeological Museum threatens closure

by Lorraine Williamson
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MADRID – “We have been abandoned!”, say the employees of the National Archaeological Museum (MAN) in Madrid. They have to close almost half of the halls due to staff shortages. “The problems have been going on for years and nobody is doing anything”. 

Despite the anger of the staff, the workforce continues to shrink. “Nobody wants to stay”. National Archaeological Museum employees assure they cannot continue like this after decades of undermining the workforce “little by little”. 

Staff are not being replace

“It doesn’t matter which government we have. It is not a question of colours or ministers, no one has done anything to improve the situation. No! Sick staff are not replaced and we lose all our days off because we have to come because of staff shortages,” a guard told La Razón newspaper, a week before the closure of new halls was confirmed due to a lack of guards. 

See also: Madrid becomes the capital of ancient Egypt with two large exhibitions 

There is the Greek Hall, a hall where the beginnings of the Egyptian heritage are shown, and halls where goddesses, gods, heroes and heroines recall those sacred prehistoric times when mortals and immortals lived together and shared their fate. There is a burial chamber, where visitors will find a recreation made with original artefacts from the XXI and XXII dynasties. Sarcophagi, canopic vessels, ushabtis or funerary figures, toiletries, necklaces… Sculptures, pieces and coins bearing the names of some pharaohs, sandals, jewellery, household utensils and weapons. The objects tell what the daily life of these people looked like and how they must have developed. Special fabrics and beautiful examples of alabaster and ceramics, especially those made in Nubia, are shown. All these fascinating items will soon be out of sight as there are no more people to guard them. 

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were still six employees per zone in the museum. That sounds like a long-gone utopia today. Now employees feel privileged when two people are in the same zone. 

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“temporarily closed” 

The part of the numismatics (“The coin, something more than money”) is “temporarily closed”, so informs a text on the door without further explanation. “Just painted”, reads another text on the stairs, where there is no sign of any kind of renovation. The halls of the Middle Ages and Modern times are also closed. “And the replica of Altamira can no longer be visited,” the staff notes. 

Complaints from visitors 

The fact that these “favourites” are closed leads to complaints from visitors who end up at the MAN. They pay admission and don’t get to see half of it. The cafeteria is also closed. Visitors can’t even go to a vending machine for at least a bottle of water. 

“One-off situation” 

La Razón asks the Ministry of Culture for an explanation and whether there will be a solution. The answer: “This is a one-time situation while the selection processes are being finalised, which will allow staff to be hired”. When asked if there is a deadline as the existing staff are overworked and are afraid to close more rooms, only silence follows. 

The Ministry of Culture manages the 16 state museums. “The staff shortage is a constant in all these museums,” the unions confirm: “People leave because there is no one who stays in a state museum and those who stay are doomed. And that while we have two shifts in the Archaeological Center, in most centres that is not the case.” 

The MAN is just a representative example of the standard in all cultural centres that depend on the Ministry of Culture. The twenty museum guards who have left their posts this week (looking for another, more “comfortable” position within the government administration) are another drop in the ocean. 

The ministry has placed a new call with which it expects about 90 employees. Pending the reactions to this, the reality is that halls have to be closed due to an extreme shortage of hall attendants. 

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