Saturday, June 25, 2011

The glory of ancient Athens.

Our trip to Canada over we flew back to Athens to resume our travels. Danielle’s mom Claudette came to spend five weeks in the Mediterranean with us. With Chocobo in Turkey we decided to spend a few days visiting Athens before taking another flight to Istanbul and one of the very first thing we did after we arrived was to go visit the Acropolis. As we started our visit of the site we quickly realized something that for many might be obvious but not to us. When we talk about the Acropolis we immediately think of the huge stone monument with all the columns around it and the remains of a triangle top façade but as we quickly realized this building, or what remains of it, is actually called the Parthenon. Acropolis is in fact a much bigger site which includes of course the Parthenon but also a few other temples or monuments and the term simply means “higher city”.

Surrounding the Acropolis are many other sites such as the amazing and still functional Theater of Herodes Atticus with its round rows of seats made of stones but at least they provide a cushion for each seat. Sitting directly on the hard stone during an entire play would give the audience members more than what they paid for! All this looks good in pictures and they are indeed in reality but the trick is to actually get to the sites. No buses or anything, we must walk uphill. At the gate at the bottom of the hill we bought a ticket giving us access to about ten different sites then started walking the path made for that purpose. Along the way we would stop at a theater here then carefully observed a fallen column there but at one point an old site is an old site and we just kept going to the top to see THE monument namely the Parthenon. Of course the most difficult part at the Parthenon is to take a picture that doesn’t show all the cranes and scaffoldings used for the restoration of the old building. However, it is worth mentioning that Greeks are doing quite a good job with their ancient ruins. They are literally rebuilding the old sites by using existing stones still available but also by adding new ones where some are missing or adding cement to complete the broken ones. The result is that instead of looking at just a bunch of broken stones we are able to see a structure that looks just like what the original one was and is by far much more interesting to visit. Purists could argue that things should remain untouched but any building whatsoever needs maintenance to stay in place and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

Here are other pictures of the sites surrounding the Acropolis some of them very old others much newer but all standing as a remembrance of the glory of the cradle of civilization.

Athens is by far not only the old archeological sites but also a large modern city of about 5 millions of which we could have a good view from our hotel room on Konstantinou Street in the Omonia area. Some warned us that this area wasn’t the safest place in town but we didn’t feel such a thing. Of course walking at night in the area felt really out of place but during the day it was just another urban area where people just live their lives and see to their businesses. One interesting aspect of choosing that area was that it was not directly at the center of all touristic sites and therefore the hotel prices were a bit lower. Consequently we had to take the subway to get to the sites and as I said many times travelling in the public transportation system is always the best way to feel the real culture of the place. The Athens’ metro is a modern and efficient system and it was amazing to see that the payment of the entrance fee was somehow based on an honor system. The users buy their tickets from a machine, keep their tickets with them and simply enter the metro with no one to check at the gate. Apparently the tickets can be checked while in the train but we never saw such a thing. This kind of system would be simply inconceivable in Montreal for instance but here it seems to work.