Athens was not part of the original plan - actually the whole of Europe was not on the original plan. The plan was to go for a romp in Russia and spend time there till it was time to hop over to Oslo to catch the cruise to the Arctic. Russia is cheap, big, beautiful and full of vodka! What more can one ask for?
Unfortunately Putin had an attack of empire-itis and attacked Ukraine - in fact, war was declared on the day I applied for the visa! That was 8000 bucks I wont see again. I hoped that it might turn out to be nothing more than a bit of roughhousing which would last only for a couple of days - but as events proved, it didn't. I could still have gone to Moscow of course, but it might have been difficult to transfer from Russia to Europe later.
So Bharathi had to change all plans at the last minute - again - and decided to route me through a bunch of European capitals instead. She had first planned to start somewhere else - but then she found an Abu Dhabi - Athens ticket for just $40! WOOHOO!
I duly landed in Athens and took a train to Monastiraki, in the heart of old Athens where SWMBO had booked a nice hotel for me, just 500 m from the station. What a killer location! I could actually see the Parthenon from my room!
I spent the next four days traipsing around old Athens and saw all the sites - the Acropolis and the Parthenon on the ‘sacred rock’ and a number of other places. As a spectacle - it frankly isn’t much. The place has been attacked and looted so many times over the centuries that there isn’t anything left. There are just a few cracked pillars and rubble and a few carvings here and there.
Even the Athens museums don't have too much of stuff. That is because the other Europeans came and shamelessly looted the place - you will find more Ancient Greek artefacts in the British Museum and the Louvre than in Greece. The most shameless example of them all are the ‘Elgin marbles’ - a British ‘Nobleman’ Lord Elgin came and stripped the Parthenon of all the carved panels he could lay his grubby hands on and shipped them off to his house in England. After he got bored of them, he conned the British government into buying his collection for 35000 pounds (a fortune in those days) and it is now in the British museum and they are refusing to give it back to Greece.
(We know the Elgin family - his son, the next Lord Elgin, came to India and looted us as well)
Anyway - coming back to my point - there is nothing much left to see with the eyes of the body. But if you look with the eyes of the mind - then WOW! IT IS MINDBLOWING! This is where western civilisation started.
‘Le Miracle Grec’! As the philosopher Ernest Renan called it. ‘…something which only existed once, which had never been seen, which will never be seen again, but whose effect will last. eternally, I mean a type of eternal beauty, without any local or national spot.’
The development of philosophy, the construction of the Parthenon in Athens, the emergence of deeply innovative historical and literary works ( Aeschylus , Hecataeus of Miletus , Herodotus , Sophocles , Euripides …), the renewal of codes aesthetics by the sculptor Phidias , the evolution of the idea of democracy with the orator Pericles and a multiplication of cities and maritime exchanges along the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Athens is the birthplace of Democracy. This was where the whole concept of rule by the people started- and flourished for centuries. The Greek myths are known worldwide and are the fundament of storytelling and culture. The success of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan shows that the power of the Greek myths in today’s world right now. The Greek alphabet was the father of all the western writing systems in use right now. The Olympic Games started here - I visited the Panathenic stadium where the original Olympics used to be held. The battle of Marathon and that hoplites run to tell the people about the victory happened here - well …about 42 km from here I suppose…
Modern theatre started here - in the temple of Dionysius - where the first formal plays were written and performed. The Greeks worshipped the muses, which embodified various arts - and this shows the importance they gave to arts and music.
Modern science was developed here - I went to a museum of Ancient Greek technology, which wad amazing. They had developed so many scientific and engineering techniques, that they would have been the lords of steampunk today. The fundmentals of maths and science and engineering and architecture and medicine were laid down here. We still study Archimedes principle and take oath of Hippocrates and use the Archimedes screw to raise water from lower levels to higher ones.
Aristotle taught here - I went to the pathetic ruins of his school - and his thoughts still underpin all of Western philosophy today. He even taught Alexander - and Alexander conquered his way all the way to India! Even now, we use the word ‘Sikander’ for any person of great accomplishment and bravery. Greek culture - what we call ‘Bactrian culture’ - lived on in India for centuries and the Greek rulers spread their culture and art all through Northern India.
The Parthenon and Acropolis were the crowning achievement of culture and art. Even the ruins left now are awe-inspiring if one imagines how they must have looked in their times.
The Acropolis museum has a beautiful display on how the carvings on the temple must have looked like - and what all has been destroyed or looted.
The Greek republic and the Greek empire dissolved long long ago - more than 3000 years ago. They were conquered by the Roman Empire, the various rampaging tribes of Europe, they were conquered by the Turks for 400 years and Venetians blew up the Acropolis and their great temples were cast into the ground by Christians and Muslims alike.
But still their glory lives on and their stories live on - and you can imagine them as you walk through the ruins of the temples and Agoras. You can see reconstructed temples which try to show how grand the place must halve looked then - minus the gold and silver and ivory, of course. I saw such a building and looked at it open-mouthed - and then found that this was the University of Athens, and the grand temple was their convocation hall! These Greek temples with the Doric and Ionian columns are still the emblem of power and authority and are the models for the offices of all major governments even today - the US Capitol and the Lincoln memorial are exactly replicas of Greek temples.
The gift shops are full of recreations of Ancient Greek carvings - and the restaurants serve Greek food - stuffed vine leaves and kebabs and moussaka and octopus.
I think its wonderful how culture can live on even if every physical monument is destroyed. All you need to do is remember.
I blog about my travels - and the thoughts they set off! Sometimes the simplest destinations can be the most thought-provoking!