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An Acropolis

David Yon, May 2, 2017

It is always a good feeling to get those wheels off the ground.  That is especially true when the wheels have stayed on the ground past their appointed take off time, and you have been banging your head on the seat in front of you while trying to figure out how you could have ever thought 58 minutes was enough time to connect to a flight to Athens, Greece in Atlanta. Somehow though with a little hustle through the tunnels under the Atlanta airport it happens. We are on way with a stop and plane change in Paris.

This is our first adventure to Greece.   It is the only Olympics we have missed since 1992. Our Olympic travels started in 1996, but only involved hopping in a car and heading north to some intersect point on I-75 and then following the interstate to Atlanta. In the year 2000, we went down under to Sydney for the Games.  For a variety of reasons, we did not make the trip to Athens in 2004 for the Olympics. Looking back now, I really wish we had. Our 30th wedding anniversary, however, seemed just the right occasion to book the trip.  It has, I know, always been a place high on Mary Jean’s list of travel destinations. 

Athens is truly one of the remarkable cities of the world; its origins are estimated to be around 3000 B.C., even earlier by some, and it has been continuously functioning as a city for more than 3000 years. My first surprise on the trip, was just how far to the east Greece is, both in geography and in culture. My second surprise is just how many battles there have been waged for control of the city. To control the city you had to storm the walls known as The Acropolis. 

The history of Athens however is one of many wars and many different “rulers” as a result of those battles and wars.   Athens was likely first settled because of the strong defensive location the hills offered, with an acropolis built around one of the highest hills in the city to help it to survive and to protect its leaders.  The first fortification wall was built during the 13th century BC. Over the years, it was a target and despite its position, often conquered by enemies who destroyed early versions of the acropolis and internal buildings.   It is a history lesson that suggest humans may never overcome the need for war.

And yet, when I think of Athens, I think of a city that is considered the cradle of western civilization by many and the birthplace of democracy, western philosophy and literature, the modern Olympic Games, political science, major mathematical principles and theatre by many more.   Of course, included in all of that is the mythical inspiration for the marathon, the story of Phedippides running from Marathon to Athens to deliver critical news from the battlefield that in the end allowed Athens to win a war that brought extended peace and move into The Age of Pericles and The Golden Age of Athens during the 5th century BC.   The UNESCO website describes it this way: 

In the age that followed, as thought and art flourished, an exceptional group of artists put into effect the ambitious plans of Athenian statesman Pericles and, under the inspired guidance of the sculptor Pheidias, transformed the rocky hill into a unique monument of thought and the arts. The most important monuments were built during that time: the Parthenon, built by Ictinus, the Erechtheon, the Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles and the small temple Athena Nike.

It seems there is a tremendous draw to this history, evidenced by the number of visitors to the Acropolis each year which is roughly 7,000,000.  Athens proper has roughly 666,000 residents, down from a onetime high of more than 700,000. As you move out into what is considered the “metropolitan” area, the number grows to 3.4 million to 4 million, depending on how one counts.  There are few, if any high rise buildings, but there is also very little green spaces as buildings jam together with no space between.  

We did find a nice park with a lot of runners circling the grounds and we joined them.  It was hard not to think about where Athens and the Acropolis once stood and how so much of the Golden Age had been smashed.   The Acropolis and the buildings within were architectural marvels.  The idea of democracy even more amazing.   One of our tour guides wanted to make sure that the ancient form of democracy being practiced by the Greeks was much more than just “majority rules.”  It was a principle that said every citizen of the city had the right to step up to one or more of the “podiums” (high hills) of the city and argue the merits of the citizen’s position. 

Time runs short and we are off to do some island hopping. Maybe there will be some secrets to learn there.

 I look forward to telling more of the story next week.