We arrived in Athens, Greece around 9:30 pm on Tuesday, June 11th. A very long day of travelling from Bodrum, Turkey via Istanbul.
A little history and background of Greece. The country has a population of some 11 million and greater Athens 5 million. The history of Greece is very lengthy and diverse. From Wikipedia….
” • Neolithic Greece covering a period beginning with the establishment of agricultural societies in 7000 BC and ending in 3200/3100 BC,
• Helladic (Minoan or Bronze Age) chronology covering a period beginning with the transition to a metal-based economy in 3200/3100 BC to the rise and fall of the Mycenaean Greek palaces spanning roughly five centuries (1600–1100 BC),
• Ancient Greece covering a period from the fall of the Mycenaean civilization in 1100 BC to 146 BC spanning multiple sub-periods including the Greek Dark Ages (or Iron Age, Homeric Age), Archaic period, the Classical period and the Hellenistic period,
• Roman Greece covering a period from the Roman conquest of Greece in 146 BC to 324 AD,
• Byzantine Greece covering a period from the establishment of the capital city of Byzantium, Constantinople, in 324 AD until the fall of Constantinople in 1453 AD,
• Ottoman Greece covering a period from 1453 up until the Greek Revolution of 1821,
• Modern Greece covering a period from 1821 to the present.”
We are always amazed at time lines of other countries/civilizations when you think that Canada is so young, only 151 since we became a nation. My ancestors came to Canada in the late 1700’s.
During the Second World War the Germans occupied Athens from 1941-44. When they left they destroyed a lot of the infrastructure, including the railroads. It is said that while occupying they even slaughtered whole villages as revenge for resistance fighters.
The economy of Greece is still in crisis after its recession in 2008. By the end of 2009, the Greek economy faced the highest budget deficit and government debt in the EU. It was threatening to default on its foreign debt, which would put the Eurozone in jeopardy. Various European countries loaned more money and insisted on austerity measures on the Government’s part including its pension system, cutting spending an increasing taxes. Just think about it…..Mrs. Logan, we are immediately cutting your pension in half, you need to pay more taxes and all of the government services you use are increasing in price. As you can imagine the Greek people were not too happy about this and still aren’t. I know that this issue is much more complex than what I have written, but hopefully one gets the gist. Additionally he told us that the economic elite of Greece have supported the Government….so needless to say, the Government works in their favour!
The main economy of Greece is driven by agriculture, shipping and tourism.
On Wednesday, June 12th, we are met by our guide Niko. When we spoke about the economy he indicated that it is still very bad. He also mentioned that the government never should have opted to host the Olympic games in 2004. He said the country really couldn’t afford it. They spent millions of dollars in building new games infrastructure and even additional metro lines. They were so far behind in their schedules that they had to spend even additional money to hire additional tradespeople to finish everything on time. Yes, the Olympic Games did happen, but apparently all the infrastructure such as swimming pools, new arenas, etc have not been maintained and have been allowed to fall into disrepair.
He says it was hard to build the Metro for the games, as whenever they were digging, the companies had to be aware of any antiquities; although a lot of pottery was destroyed during the process to expedite the building of the metro. As Niko says, anywhere you dig you will find antiquities.
He also mentioned that the austerity measures have been very difficult. He gave us an example of his aunt receiving a pension for many years and all of a sudden that pension was cut in half. Unemployment rate of 18%; mainly among young men similar to other countries around the world. Niko mentions that a lot of the younger well educated people left Greece during the economic crises and went to other countries such as Europe, Australia, Canada and the U.S.
He tells us that back in time, Athens was made up of several towns and each town had its own calendar. But one thing they had in common was their measurement systems. Distance was always measured from the city of Marathon.
I asked the question about pollution. At one time Athens was known as being so polluted that a haze hung over the city. He indicated that with new technology in cars and better metro system, that the pollution is not as bad as it used to be. Having said this, both Faye and Robin coughed a lot while we were in Athens; and they both believe this was due to pollution.
We are headed toward the Acropolis, but along the way Niko points to various interesting sights. We pass by the main market, the Parliament buildings and two wonderful buildings; one housing the Prime Minister and the other for the President. The beautiful National Library, the University, the beautiful National Gardens and the Stadium of the first modern Olympic Games. This site was used for archery during the 2004 Olympics. Then we drive by the Academy of Athens which has statues of Athena and Apollo. This is now a research centre.
We are told that education is free in Greece for nationals, even free University.
We also passed a monument dedicated to the Unknown Soldier. Niko tells us that it is compulsory for all Greek men of 18 yrs of age, to serve in the armed forces. Today they must serve for 9 mths. It is not mandated for women.
We see lots of graffiti on all the buildings, doesn’t seem to matter what area of the city. Niko said that the graffiti bearing anti government messages got worse after the economic crisis. He calls is “aesthetic pollution”. I like that term.
We also pass some 12th century Byzantine churches. Niko tells us there used to be over one hundred, but now only 12 remain. The remainder were demolished by the Ottomans.
We finally make it to the foot of the Acropolis and start ascending the Acropolis Hill. It was built on this particular rocky outcropping site as three sides are very steep and access is only available on one side, therefore a strategic location and easy to defend. It was also 9 kms from the sea, therefore providing some safety. It was also self sufficient as they had plenty of water and good soil to grow their own agricultural products.
Wow…..talk about crowds! We were told it was best to visit early in the morning before the crowds from the cruise boats arrived. Think we waited too long to get here. Very hot in Athens. Whenever Niko stops to talk about a certain ruin/architectural site, we try to find some shade. Security personnel keep telling people to keep moving, especially in restricted areas as the “gate”.
There has been a reconstruction project of the Acropolis which began in 1975 but we are told that due to the current economic climate, the project has stalled. Having said this, we see a crane on the site and the grounds seems to have its own small quarry where marble/stone is stored. Most of the treasured artifacts are held at the Acropolis Museum which we will visit later in the day.
From Wikipedia: “The goal of the restoration was to reverse the decay of centuries of attrition, pollution, destruction stemming from military use, and misguided past restorations. The project included collection and identification of all stone fragments, even small ones, from the Acropolis and its slopes and the attempt was made to restore as much as possible using reassembled original materials, and new marble from Mount Penteli used sparingly. All restoration was made using titanium dowels and is designed to be completely reversible, in case future experts decide to change things. A combination of cutting-edge modern technology and extensive research and reinvention of ancient techniques were used.”
Never quite sure what really made up the Acropolis, but following is a description of the various buildings and partial ruins. Wikipedia once again:
“The entrance to the Acropolis was a monumental gateway termed the Propylaea. To the south of the entrance is the tiny Temple of Athena Nike. At the centre of the Acropolis is the Parthenon. East of the entrance and north of the Parthenon is the temple known as the Erechtheum. South of the platform that forms the top of the Acropolis there are also the remains of the ancient, though often remodelled, Theatre of Dionysus. A few hundred metres away, there is the now partially reconstructed Odeon of Herodes Atticus.”
Niko tells us that the Parthenon was just for priests and VIP’s. The altar was outside of the building itself. The main gate of the Parthenon faced East toward the sunrise. The Roman Odeon used to be covered. Odeon means “a place for singing”. All the monuments are made from local marble. It contains iron and therefore turns yellow. Niko says that Athens has low humidity so that is why these monuments look so clean. The white sections that you can see on the columns are new marble and have not yet weathered, but eventually they will turn yellow as well. Niko tells us that in the past, local people would come to the ruins and take pieces of the marble and other materials and repurpose them to build what they needed, that is why there are many missing pieces which have been filled with the newer marble as you can see in the picture below.
The Parthenon was built between 447 and 432 BC. He points out that there is a slight curvature in the pillars, which are doric, as well as being tapered. Horizontal pieces are also not straight. These features create an optical illusion and show off the elegance of the structure.
The Ancient Temple is built in the ionic style.
Niko tells us of a myth surrounding the control of Athens by the Gods.
” Athena and Poseidon vied for control of Athens and its surrounding territory, Attica. The contest took place on the Acropolis. Poseidon struck the rock with his trident and produced a salt spring or a horse. Athena brought forth an olive tree from the ground by the touch of her spear and she was proclaimed the victor. The olive was fundamental to Athenian economy and life. It provided oil, fuel, food and wood for construction. Angry at losing, Poseidon was appeased and continued to be worshiped in Athens. On the Acropolis, just across from the Parthenon, their is a hole in the roof of the building which marks the blow of his trident and a well below containing water and nearby is the olive tree that Athena had produced and continues to grow.”
Over its many centuries, the Acropolis was used for many purposes. A garrison, a sanctuary, a religious site and once held the treasury of Athens.
I love those stories and myth. Niko also tells us that Athenian pottery can be found throughout the world, so this confirms that the Greeks were a trading nation. The pottery would have contained olive oil and/or wine.
We make our way back down and our driver is waiting to take us to the Acropolis Museum. We make a stop for coffee at one of Niko favourite coffee shops near the Museum. He tells us that Greece has a very strong coffee culture and that you can order any type of coffee you want…..expresso, latte, cappuccino, cold coffee drinks and anything else you can think of. We have certainly noticed this, as there are coffee shops everywhere and usually many in a short distance.
Motorcycles also abound in Athens; this is of course due to the overabundance of vehicles on the streets, simply easier to get around on motorcycles. I asked Niko about helmets as you see some people without them. He says that by law you are supposed to wear a helmet when on a motorcycle, but the police simply do not have the time or will to enforce this law.
We visit the Acropolis museum, a must see if one visits here. Definitely world class. This is our last stop with Niko and once again we are grateful for such an informative guide.
What one sees at the Museum are the originals from the Acropolis site.
Only having one day in Athens just isn’t right, but for this time, that is all we had. An opportunity to come back and enjoy more of the City.
Robin and I do a bit of a walk around the neighbourhood before we left on Thursday, June 15th for our flight to Crete.