Ugly Athens

Athens Travel Blog

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Our last morning in Dubrovnik and my love and I both woke up very ill. My dearest was able to go on a tour around the town, learning about the old buildings, while I stayed in bed. On our way to the airport my love showed me the sign carved into a building near us on Zlatariceva by a cranky priest who lived inside “If you play with a ball here you will die”. We then flew to Athens, were badly ripped off by a taxi driver, and holed up in our hotel. The next morning we were both feeling well enough to take an easy walk through the city.


The city itself was spectacularly ugly, decaying concrete blocks thrown up without any taste, but rising above the concrete was the towering Acropolis. Wandering towards it we entered the archaeological dig at its foot, wandered through semi-restored Greek theatres and temples (including the Theatre of Dionsysos, built in the 6th century BCE, and the location where Greek tragedies and comedies first developed), before we started the climb up to the Acropolis. The Acropolis has been used since Neolithic times, first as a fortress, then later as a holy site once temples had been built on top. It was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE, and rebuilt by Pericles. The new entrance was guarded by Beule Gate (built in the 3rd Centaury) to protect the Panathenaic Way (which begins in the city below at Keramikos, and ended at the Erechtheion on top of the Acropolis).


The most obvious building on the Acropolis is the Parthenon, the largest Doric temple, built over an earlier temple in 438 BCE. The Parthenon originally contained a statue of Athena and the city treasury, but was later converted to a Church, and when the Ottomans took over, a Mosque. It was badly damaged in 1687 when the Venetians attacked the Turks in Athens, causing the gunpowder stored inside to explode, and some of the finest statues were taken by Lord Elgen during the British occupation. The best original statues were all in the Acropolis museum next to the Parthenon, which was delightful to wander through. While the Parthenon is the largest, the most holy temple on the top was the Erechtheion. This temple marked the end of the Panathenaic Procession, and the site where Poseidon and Athena fought for the city, Poseidon striking the ground to produce a fountain, Athena trumping him by producing the first olive tree. The temple was built in 420 BCE, and the most striking feature is the six maidens (Caryatids, modelled on women from Karyai) that support the portico in place of columns.


A final view from the top showed us that the part of Athens we had walked through in the morning was representative, and the city was strikingly ugly as far as it stretches, barring a very few parks with ancient Greek temples, and the odd Greek Orthodox church sticking out of the concrete. At the base of the Acropolis we walked through the ancient Agora, which was once the centre of civic life, where Socrates taught and Greek democracy flourished. The Agora was built in the 6th century BCE, but has been rebuilt many times, after being destroyed by the Persians in 480 BCE and the Goths in 267 CE, with the new centre later moving to the Roman Agora. The only building really intact in the Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, built to the God of Metallurgy in 449 BCE. It is a beautiful Doric temple, with the classical column formation, and survived only because it was converted into a Church (travelling through Egypt, the Middle East and now Greece I wonder if the early Christians actually built anything themselves, or just converted every nice building they saw). After the Temple of Hephaestus we visited Keramikos, the classical necropolis, in almost complete ruins, except for a number of remarkably preserved statues.


We finished our day with my dearest taking me out to dinner at one of the few vegetarian restaurants in Athens in the Plaka neighbourhood, before walking home together past the Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library. The following day our illnesses made a come back, so we spent the day in bed and my love set a new personal record in the minimum number of hours awake. By the next morning we had recovered enough to visit the Temple of Olympian Zeus, with the few stunning columns that remain, and to walk around the stunning Archaeological Museum, before flying out to Corfu for our conference.

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photo by: Johnpro