A is for Athens

And is the name of the hotel where from the cocktail bar on the 10th floor you have a direct view across to the Parthenon. After dinner the first night, we made our way up to the terrace and pushed our way through the chique clique looking for a place to sit. Bless those fairies (the ones that find you a parking place where you need it) – there they were – three seats looking directly out across the balcony to the monument. The music was good, the drinks pricey, and we amused ourselves taking interesting pictures of our cocktails with the floodlit Acropolis in the background. Husband amused himself watching two women taking shot after shot – photos that is, not drinks – of candles, glasses… Oh the joys of digital photography.

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Our few days in Athens were spent doing all the touristy things, of course. S was on a mission to discover the “locales”, contemporary life and art, but our days were so full, we never did make it.

What we did see, was amazing:

The Cycladic Museum, a private museum that specialises in the objects found on the island group in the middle of the Mediterranean. These are better known as the Greek islands where overweight Brits flock to get sunburned and trashed. The islands are beautiful; classical whitewashed churches with blue roofs gleaming in the sun. This is the image that captures most people’s imagination – including S’s who I fear felt a bit cheated by not going to see them. I tried to console her whenever I saw a whitewashed building, but she was not fooled.

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The statuette with a stylised human face is typical of the region.

To think that these glass vases were created over 2000 years ago!

 The Archaeological Museum – a fine collection of the remnants of Greek civilisation.
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Scene of cat vs dog fight                                            This young rider would have had                                                                                              leather reins, long since perished

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This smiling statue seems to be a different style – most of the classical statues have blank or stern faces. Maybe this is their Mona Lisa?

One of the displays is from a ship, the Antikythera, wrecked in the first century BC; she was probably a trading vessel on her way to Venice. The statues that were retrieved show the effects of exposure to the sea – where the marble was covered in the mud, it is intact, where it was exposed, it is – well see for yourself.

Only half the face is left                                                          And this bronze is perfect,                                                                                                           even to the eyelashesImageImage

The other amazing discovery is the Antikythera  Mechanism. Much decayed, it still shows a remarkable sophistication; studies have determined that it is the oldest mechanical astronomical instrument – the world’s first computer..

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And of course, the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum

The government has long been reassembling the Parthenon. The site is somewhat marred by the cranes and the scaffolding, but it’s still amazing to see this 3D jigsaw emerging as a full building again. The tell tale is the colour. Where the original marble still stands it’s a buttery cream, the newly created replacement pieces are white.

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Our visit is curtailed by the furnace-like heat up on the exposed marble hill. Quite a few of the throngs of tourists are similarly afflicted – we huddle in whatever shade there is – even the tour guides find a place for their charges to stand out of the sun while they recite the history of the building.We decamp to the new Acropolis Museum, completed in 2009, a magnificent building just down the hill with views of the Acropolis. Air conditioned!! Blessings.

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Many have heard of the Elgin marbles; few know the full story. Lord Elgin was a British adventurer who appropriated some of the marbles from the Parthenon as trophies, where they ended up in the British Museum, with all the other plunder of Imperial England. I had never thought about the process by which the marble friezes were removed, but when I saw the recreation of the history of the building, I almost had a fit. The friezes were literately jemmied off and dropped to the ground – God knows how much was destroyed in the process – pure unadulterated vandalism.

Greece has been petitioning the British to have them returned, which to date has been countered with “They’re better off here, where they are looked after and people can see them”. The Brits have no excuse now: the museum is thoughtfully and cleverly put together, what remains of the marble friezes from the upper facades re-assembled and placed overhead recreating what one might have seen. The collection tells the story of the Ancient Athenians’ pilgrimage to the Acropolis, from starting out on foot beside their horses, all the way to the seat of the Gods.

But there are also the subways which have been made into museums for everyday commuters. The excavations from the project have been glassed in, with plaques to indicate key features – burial sites, cross sections of early Christian graves, and paving stones where ancient roads lie buried. Dotted around the subway stations are exhibits of vases and other finds – a history lesson with every journey.

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