Wednesday, May 7, 2014

April 23rd – Rediscovering Ancient Athens

The last couple of times I've been to Athens, there's been a bit of a depressing, melancholy air to the place. We've been caught up in anti-austerity demonstrations, we've been bothered by persistent beggars, and we've noticed a decline in infrastructure and an increase in graffiti. However, this time, I think that things are getting better – it may just be me, but people seem happier and there seems more of a sense of optimism about the place. Of course, it's impossible to tell from just a daytrip, but I hope that Athens (and Greece) has hit the bottom (economically), and is now on the way back up.

Our mission today was to try to rediscover some of the glory days of Athens, from the Ancient times, when this city was at the very centre of western civilisation. For an immediate immersion in Ancient wonders, we headed straight up to Athens's Number One sight, the superb Parthenon, at the top of the Acropolis.

Ever since I've been coming here, the Parthenon has been wreathed in ugly scaffolding, so I was hoping that it would have been removed by now – but, sadly the job of rebuilding and preserving the Parthenon is moving as quickly as the job of rebuilding the Greek economy, so the scaffolding's still there. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, the entire complex of buildings is as impressive as ever, while the views of the sprawling (largely concrete) city below are magnificent.

From here, we walked through the Plaka, to the Ancient Agora – Athens's commercial heart, sitting below its spiritual heart, the Acropolis up above it. Through the jumble of ruins, there was just enough remaining to imagine the splendour of the old city; although our next stop, the Roman Agora, was confirmation that the city's time in the limelight was only a brief one. Because, within a few hundred years of the construction of the Parthenon, the Romans had taken over, and the city was reduced to the status of being a relatively minor cultural centre.

After some delicious food, we went to watch the faintly ridiculous spectacle of the Changing of the Guard outside the Parliament Building – the goose-stepping, skirt-wearing, pompom-clogged stamping soldiers keeping impressively straight faces as they performed their slow-motion show for us tourists. Finally, we went to see some more Roman ruins at the Temple of Olympian Zeus – its forlornly tumbled columns a reminder of how much this city has witnessed over the last 2,500 years.

Athens may be experiencing a pretty miserable downturn at the moment, but the reminders of its glorious past are still acting as a wonderful example of how this city can get back on its feet again.