As if the breathtaking views, ouzo and delicious feta cheese weren’t enough to woo you to Greece, now there’s yet another reason to visit the country. Area attractions like the Parthenon, Caryatids and Acropolis are the cleanest they’ve been in a long while — so clean that the ancient marble reveals details that have been hidden by pollution for years.

Increasing urban development in Athens poses a major problem for antiquities like the massive white-marble Acropolis. The city’s car exhaust fumes, industrial waste, acid rain and fires mush together to create a thick black film of pollution that settles on buildings and structures.

Luckily, scientists developed an innovative way to rid the sculptures of the icky industrial goop — a process that involves washing with lasers. We know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t lasers used to destroy massive objects, not improve them?” Well the answer is no; that only happens in Austin Powers films.

From a Reuters story:

“It is very serious,” said Maria Inoannidou, director of the Acropolis Restoration Service, of the pollution. “It destroys sculptural, structural and painting details. One of our aims is to regain these cultural details using new technology.”

For years the team tested 40 different methods, including mechanical and chemical processes, to find the safest solutions to restore the white of the marbles without losing detail.

The winner was the brainchild of Crete’s Foundation for Research and Technology, which created a system that uses two laser beams of infrared and ultraviolet rays simultaneously.

Not only is the process helping the Acropolis get back to its former gleaming-white self, it is revealing intricate details like colors, ornamentation and script.

Like any art restoration, scientists do have to be incredibly careful: Once you blast something away with a laser, it’s gone forever, so workers need to make sure to only rid the structure of its pollution, not its incredible details.

Used in surgery, ancient marvels, and high-tech games of tag — seems there isn’t much handy-dandy lasers can’t be used for these days.

Story by Sarah Parsons. This article originally appeared in Plenty in October 2008. The story was added to

Copyright Environ Press 2008

Laser-cleaning ruins
The Acropolis gets a makeover.