Greeks are justifiably proud of their history and contribution to the western world. They talk with pride about things that happened over 2,000 years ago. However, it's been a long time since the Greeks had much to be proud about. They suffered greatly under the 400 year rule of the Turks and only recently have begun to be a fully functioning democracy and contributing partner to the European Community. In some ways the Olympics five years ago, put this country back on the map.
As we arrived on a beautiful Saturday the traffic was light and we had a pleasant impression as the bus moved rapidly into the main part of town from Piraeus, the port. None of the garbage flying around we had seen in Naples. We parked at the base of the Acropolis and climbed up the hill to see the ruins of the Parthenon and other temples at the top. Ruins is the operative word here. Not only are these buildings very old; they have been through a lot. The guide explained that the Parthenon was originally a temple honoring Greek gods, painted in bright colors. Inside was a gold and marble statue of Athina, for whom Athens is named. Then the site was taken over by the Romans, then the Christians who turned the Parthenon into a Christian church. When the Turks came they turned it into a mosque and took that golden statue of Athina back to Constantinople and melted it down. At times munitions were stored in the Parthenon and of course they exploded when the site was fired upon. It's amazing that there's anything left at all. The complex has been repaired eight times. The most recent project began in 1983 and is no where done yet. Some of the repairs caused more damage, especially the iron rods inserted into the pillars which have begun to rust.
While Greece was recovering from Turkish occupation, it was a poor country and did not have the means to excavate and preserve its heritage. Other Europeans stopped by and helped themselves. The most well known case is the facade of the Parthenon which is now known as the Elgin Marbles, named after Lord Elgin, and housed in the British Museum. They argued that these priceless historic artifacts were much better off being cared for by the British than out in the elements and vulnerable to robbers on the Acropolis. Recently the Greeks have completed a large, modern museum at the base of the Acroplois and are trying to get their marbles back. Time will tell.
After the historic stuff we walked to the Plaka, the shopping area. I did not recall seeing so many fine jewelry stores and fur shops when we were here last. Greece is coming up in the world. Christmas decorations are already up; we are not the only ones that start much too early. Many non tourists were also prowling the Plaka, loaded down with shopping bags.
For lunch we were taken to a touristy, but very enjoyable restaurant which tried to duplicate the food that the ancient Greeks ate and the way they ate. Forks were not available. After each course a slightly clad dancing girl swirled around in a toga to the delight of the men. Mead (honey wine) and more familiar red and white wines were poured with regularity and complemented the salad and meat dishes.
We sat across the table from folks from red states and I'm afraid that the wine prevented me from biting my tongue as I normally do. They made the most irritating comments about why Chicago shouldn't host the Olympics and why we don't want any Spanish signs in our country because their parents learned English and so should the Mexicans. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Usually I just let people jabber. They won't change my mind and I won't change theirs, but with the spirit of Greek democracy and wine flowing, they got an earful from me. A rather satisfying, but out of character experience!