Greek Journal Part I

Greek Journal: 5/13/2005-6/8/2005

Summary: DenveràLondonàAthensàLeptokaryaàLitochoroàKalambaka (Meteora)àIguominitsaàCorfu TownàIguominitsaàZorganian Villages, Vikos Gorge and Mt. AstrakaàAthensàLondonàDenver

 

5/13/2005: Denver Colorado: Have decided to only read Greek language news papers while in Greece.  I read in the Denver Post today the illegal alien who shot and killed one Denver policeman and wounded another has probably fled to México.  Mexico won’t extradite to a country where the punishment for the crime might include life imprisonment or death.  17 Iraqi civilians were killed in a car bombing and two American soldiers were also killed.  The North Korean nuclear weapons program is moving along nicely and Iran is also making progress.  The presidents (Bush’s) Council on Bioethics decided that stem cell research could be done as long as you first let the viable embryo die and then rapidly extracted what ever living cells were left from the dead embryo.  It was determined to be unethical to use the living cells from the live embryo that was going to be allowed to die.  In Kashmir a grenade tossed into ta car missed the car and rolled into a group of parents and kids who were leaving a local school.  Several parents and a few kids died. 

I don’t have a clue how to read Greek.

 

5/14/2005: London, EnglandJust got back from a quick trip in to London.  Took the Pennington Express in to London and walked through the Hyde Park area to Kensington Park.  Kensington Park is where Princess Di has her memorial fountain.  My heal was still hurting too much from a little mishap a week ago so we didn’t make it all the way to Di’s Fountain, but did see some beautiful gardens, houses and fountains.

Princess Di’s Memorial Fountain somewhere behind this great little sculpted and under appreciated fountain.

 

Ate at a little café near Hyde Park and now back at Heathrow Airport awaiting our next installment of jet lag.

 

5/15/2005: Athens, GreeceArrived in Athens around 2 AM and after exploring the transportation options; (1) Metro train closed, (2) bus ride about 2 hours, (3) taxi 45 min, we took the taxi.  The travel guides had us so paranoid of the taxi drivers in Athens that we thought we were for being kidnapped and delivered to a band of gypsies until the driver parked in front of our hotel and told us to get out.  It was 4 AM on Odysseos Street in Athens and our hotel clerk was sitting at a table in front of the hotel sharing a drink with a friend.  The hotel was less heroic than the street name, but it was a bed and at least a temporary end to a long trip.

The hotel clerk took no ID or credit card and just told us to pay before we left.

Slept four hours, grabbed a light breakfast and headed for the Acropolis.  Our plan was to hop on the metro and head for Monastiraki near the Acropolis, but it was Sunday morning and we were out of Euros.  With the help of a little Greek girl who basically led us through the throngs of Athenians, we found a place that cashed travelers checks and we were in business. Hopped the metro at the Amonia Station and got off at Monastiraki.  It is worth while noting, that while Athens above ground is in general an unattractive concrete monument to the repatriation of the Christian Greeks from Turkey after the Balkan Wars, the Metro is a gleaming efficient monument to modern Greece and the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad.  

We walked from the Monastiraki and Plaka market area up to the Acropolis, which literally means “upper city”.  This was a steep, but very pleasant walk, up coble stoned paths lined with stores, street vendors, tavernas, people and no cars.  Most of the major Greece cities have some form of Acropolis, but the Athenian Acropolis is the largest, most famous, most ornate and best preserved of them all.  As you ascend the walk ways and steps up to the Acropolis you become aware that this was once a living place where people were creating art, advanced science and new political ideas.   It was kind of the Silicon Valley of the ancient world and people who lived at that time knew their significance. The history is everywhere.  A famous historian once wrote that “with every step you take in Athens you step on another piece of history”.  This was written by the famous Roman politician and historian Cicero around 70 BC.  

The preservation of the Acropolis did not come easy.  We are taught that Greece was the cradle of modern civilization,  that democracy was created in the city state of Athens (although woman, slaves and poor people couldn’t vote) and that the first great philosophers, such as Aristotle, Pluto and Socrates taught people how to think rationally and create societies based on fairness and inclusiveness rather than aristocratic power.  I imagined this productive phase of Greek history must have extended over many centuries in order to create this image, but the truth is that the Classic age of Greece lasted about 170 years (500-323 BC) and that the majority of the Acropolis and most of the great art, philosophy and science was created during the Golden Age of  Pedicles, which lasted less than 70 years.  For the 3,000 years before this enlightened period various groups had ruled Greece, some more barbaric than others.   During the “Classic Age” Athens and Sparta fought each other constantly, and then after the Classic age, in turn, Greece was conquered and/or ruled by Alexander the Great (Macedonia), the Romans, the Turks, the Brits, the Italians, the Germans, followed by civil war and finally during the late 20th century peace.  From my historical reading it seems the only country on the planet that had not invaded Greece was the United States, which could explain why the Greeks actually seemed to like Americans.

After the Acropolis was completed during the 5th century BC, then next two invaders, Alexander the Great and the Romans, respected Greek society and preserved their creations.  For about 1,000 years after the Roman empire fell Greece was over run by various Goths and Crusaders who had less respect for history and art, but it was the invasion and occupation by the Turks in the 5th Century that really put the hurt on the Athenian Acropolis.   As you walk up the marble steps toward the Parthenon you pass the beautiful Temple of Athena Nike (temple of victory).  In 1686 the Turks completely tore it down so that they could mount a canon on its foundation.  It was subsequently rebuilt, torn down, and rebuilt again during the 1800’s.  The center piece of the Acropolis is the Parthenon.  Its foundation, columns and ornate sculpted roof supports and friezes still stand.  The Turks had first dismantled part of it in order to build a mosque in side of the Parthenon.  When this crumbled they used the Parthenon as an ammunition dump and when the munition dump exploded 1687 it took the marble roof off the Parthenon. 

 

 

 

 

 

A section of the Parthenon minus the roof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The British Ambassador, Thomas Bruce the Earl of Elgin, came to the rescue in 1801, sort of.  The Turks were using some of the antiquities as building materials, so the Earl convinced the Turks to sell him a few items including the finest friezes from the Parthenon and one of the statues of the maidens of Caryatids (see below). The Earl in turn shipped it off to England for safe keeping.  The problem is that Thomas sold these valuable works of art to the British Museum in 1816 and the “Elgin Marble”, as it would become known, has never been returned.  The Greeks have even built a modern day museum intended to house the Elgin Marble and negotiations to secure its return continue to this day.  This was just one of the many points of friction that seem to exist between the British and the Greeks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On going efforts to restore the Parthenon after 2,000+ years of abuse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In spite of this less romantic history the Acropolis still fascinates and brings history alive like no museum can.  One of the greatest fictional protests of all time, and one that might bring world peace today, occurred in the Acropolis.  Twenty one years in to the Peloponnesian Wars, Aristophanes, the great Athenian comedic play write, wrote Lysistrata.  In this play the woman of Athens became so angered over their men going off to fight the Spartans that they barricaded themselves in the Acropolis and denied the men sex, food and house cleaning until they stopped fighting.

The Teatro Dionysiou or Theater of Dionysis also brought some my education closer to life.  Oedipus the King by Sophocles is one of the very few stories I remember reading in high school.  It seemed like we must have studied that story for months.  I think I had a teacher that really felt it was important that we learn about irony and fate.  Any ways, it was in the Theater of Dionysis that the plays of Sochocles and Aristopanes, including Oedipus Rex, were first performed.  It was in this theater that Socrates and Aristotle spoke to the masses of their ideas and democracy was first debated and presented to the people.  Unfortunately, in the opinion of the Greek leadership at the time, Socrates spoke too much, and a sign points to the “Prison of Socrates” where the great philosopher was placed for corrupting the youth of Athens, and as legend has it was forced to drink hemlock in order to carry out his death sentence. 

One other site that I found fascinating, since it combined both history and myth, was the Temple of Erechtheion.  On the north side of the temple we stood in the shade of a single olive tree.  On this exact site the Goddess Athena and the god Poseidon competed to become the Patron of the city.  Poseidon went first and drove his trident in to the earth from which a crystal clear spring burst forth.  Athena then stepped forward and touched the ground with her spear and up from the ground grew the first olive tree.  Athena’s miracle won and the city was named after her.  Poseidon was given the small island (86 sq km) of Pyros in the Cyclades. The tree that now grows at this sight was planted in 1972, but it was still a little mystical touching the bark on a tree that was a living connection to the gods of ancient Greece.  As for the competition, given that the Acropolis is a decaying, all be it fascinating, ruin surrounded by a polluted unattractive city, and Pyros is a thriving resort island, I’m not sure who really won.

 

 

 

The porch of the maidens or Caryatids which are all reproductions.  Four of the original maidens have been placed in the Acropolis museum and are waiting to be reunited with a fifth maiden taken from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin and now standing in the British Museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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