Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A date with antiquity

Athens had a glory once. It hasn't had it for a long, long time. Apart from the Acropolis and the ruins contained therein and about, there's nothing much of value to see. It's not cute and quaint.The big shops are the same as anywhere. Most of the smaller ones are so kitchy. Greece is in the grip of the financial crisis and it shows. I estimated a minimum of 25% of the buildings we passed by in the outlying suburbs were empty or abandoned. The most flourishing enterprises seemed to be garden centres. The Greeks like their gardens even if they don't have much money

However, we devoted a day to Athens and started with a guided tour of the ruins. It was SO hot again, over 40 degrees Celsius. We tried to stick to the shade of trees where we could but the site doesn't lend itself well to that, of course The acropolis is a 156m high limestone rock that crowns the city. It was first inhabited in neolithic times 6,000 years ago. The first stone temples were built int he middle of the 6th century BC.

After a bit of a walk we could view the Herod Atticus Theatre which has a seating capacity these days of 5,000 people. It was used for musical and drama performances as well as contests and is the main theatre of the current Athens Festival performances. The theatre was built by Herodus Atticus as a memorial to his wife Pegilla.

                                                                               Moving up the hill we spied the first of the key buildings of the Acropolis, the Temple of Athena Nike, also known as the temple of the 'wingless victory', built in the 5th century BC to commemorate Greek victories over the Persians. Apparently it has friezes but I didn't see any and you can't walk around it these days. Note the white 'repairs' to the buildings.

The white stuff is modern material, the cream blocks are original. While it's always interesting to see things stuck back together I was surprised at how little is really standing of its own accord now. There are a lot of well chiselled and decorated blocks just lying around on the ground, though the best ones are roped off.

The Erechtheio temple displays the Caryatids, the young priestesses who hold up the temple's roof with their heads. It's of Ionic design and was built around 420BC. There would have been statues dedicated to the Gods and various small sanctuaries there in earlier times. The Athenians were told that this is the place where Athena and Poseidon contested for the protection of Athens. Athena won by producing an Olive Tree from the earth.

The Parthenon is one of the main reasons for visiting this site but I felt a little disappointed. There's very little of it and when we visited it was covered in scaffolding. Of course they've got to do their conservation activities sometime. Various wars have all but destroyed this building. It's criminal that combatants are prepared to lob cannonballs around places like this-they inevitably strike and destroy. The temple is built of marble in the Doric style and took 15 years to build.

After suffering the heat and intense light on this site we headed back down the hill and visited a museum. I don't recall which one it is but it's virtually a reconstruction of a major classical building. It annoyed me. The Americans have generously given the money but they've made a fake building. They haven't used the original materials and it totally lacks soul. It does, however, house some interesting collectables.

I was impressed by the child's potty. It's 2000 years old but immensely practical. Some things just don't date. Outside the museum there's a gallery containing ruined statues and a few busts

After finishing our visit to the Acropolis we had a late lunch and looked at the shops. Not very interesting. I dragged JC along in search of more artisanal shops in the touristy street. By chance I happened upon a Bouzouki shop.

 I love musical instruments but I knew I'd have to keep my hands in my pockets here, there's a limit to what I can fit in my new apartment. The man in the shop explained how they worked. There are various sizes and they sound a bit like banjos. He also had authentic Greek wind instruments/pipes, tambours and CDs. I bought a CD - bit of a lucky dip not having heard it. It's not too bad  but I think I'd have preferred one without the wailing singing. I'd go for instrumental next time.

I'll leave you with images of the pompom boys. JC and I took so many pics between us we could have strung them together as an animation. As we flicked quickly through them we just cracked up. I haven't seen the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace yet but I have seen the changing of the guard at the Elysee Palace.

This is different. You'll find this bizarre performance outside the Parliament buildings at Athens. We saw the 4pm performance.  
The pompom boys are in a class of their own. Even allowing for the shoes, they are very tall. I was a bit startled to see, at one point, one of the guys in fatigues go up to one of the pompom boys and start caressing his face. Yes, really, eyes, cheeks, mouth, forehead. It was a bit spooky.  The whole thing cracked me up though it must have been difficult for the guys in the heat.

 By now I felt I'd probably seen a good slice of Greece, it's ruins, its islands, lots of history, men in skirts. Armed with lots of photos and a few mementoes I was ready to go home to France.


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