Saturday, August 08, 2009

Day 2 Athens, Agora, Acropolis, Acopolis Museum

We woke early and headed off for the Agora, always a good route to take if you plan to visit the Acropolis, as you can walk the Panathenaic Processional way to the entrance. The reconstructed Stoa is as cool as it was originally designed to be, with its Doric ground floor and Ionic first floor, a feature first seen at Perachora, which we plan to visit later. Where the ori

ginal shops would have been there’s the excellent Stoa Museum. The pottery collection hers is top class with some unusual pieces such as a child’

s commode. But it’s the objects that reflect Athenian democracy that amaze; the collection of ostrica (pot bases) inscribed with Themostocles name and the slot machine used to select

jurors. The law courts were here and various forms of Athenian democracy practised within its precincts. The other main building is the Temple of Hephaestus, a Doric structure, built after the completion of the Parthenon.

We then walked up to the Acropolis to see the Parthenon, at various times a Temple, Christian Church, Mosque, explosives store and now museum piece. Despite being, robbed of its sculptures, defaced by Christians, eroded by acid rain and blown up by the Venetians, it’s still a beautiful structure. The famous curvature of the stylobate, columns and cella walls make it seem light in structure but it would have been its external sculptures that would have made it seem like no other temple. After a walk over to the Erechtheum, a more delicate Ionic structure, set on the north side of the Acropolis, we headed off to the new Acropolis Museum.

We walked over the glass floor above the new excavations and paid the token 1 Euro entrance fee in the huge entrance hall containing little more than a cafe. The sloped entrance has a superb collection of pottery and sculpture, and the first floor, the kore and korai lead you past the famous Critian Boy. My friend David has a full size replica of this in his hallway. It was found as rubble in the walls after the destruction of the Acropolis by the Persians and has the slight gait, twist and asymmetry that pre-figures the golden age of Geek Sculpture. Then round to the caryatids a the frieze from the Temple of Nike with the woman leaning down to fix her sandle, her dress falling off her shoulder.

The top floor is less of a museum than a political statement. Like a shop window dummy without a dress, it’s largely a series of plaster casts from the British Museum, the remaining blocks being of poorer artistic merit and badly eroded. I happen to agree with those who argue for the return of the Elgin Marbles as they were robbed during an occupation, split an artwork in two and are remote from the building which they originally adorned. However, the propaganda in the film, with its Americanised narration and mispronunciation of Elgin (as El Gin) will do the Greeks no favours.

We walked back to the hotel from the museum and saw the other side of Athens. through an area North of the Acropolis that was full of young male immigrants, of all nationalities. The police were everywhere, and even although we were in Athens for only two days, we heard of the problems this was causing. They had recently flooded in from all parts of Greece, and the heavy police presence, coded operation Hoover, was attempting to contain and control the problem. The original residents have fled central Athens leaving a sort of immigrant ghetto. The abandoned Apollon Hotel has become an illegal shelter for many. Around Omonia Square, where there are many tourist hotels, you can see junkies and threatening packs of young men. This is a complicated issue, as Greece lies on the frontline of Europe when it comes to immigration from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan and so on. Most arrive via Turkey as the Turks do not respect the bilateral agreement to repatriate, so the islands are being swamped by asylum seekers. Even though it only grants asylum to 1% of applicants, and has been reasonably generous in the case of Albanians in the past (500,000), it is experiencing a flood of illegal immigrants. The detention centre in Samos has 580 on hunger strike and the police are rounding up immigrants in Athens, expelling many. All of this in a country experiencing high unemployment, political unrest and the rise of extremist right-wing parties.

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