Tag Archives: Athens

City Planning – Roman Style

On 4th March 2020 I was enjoying my last day of a week’s holiday to Cyprus.  I was visiting the archaeological site at Paphos and I got to thinking about designing my very own ancient city…

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Cyprus, The Tombs of The Kings at Paphos

Greece Coffee Time Cafe Taverna

After we had approved of and settled in to our room we sat for a while on the sunny balcony before going out, walking from the hotel along the seafront and then back to the busy road to look for restaurant opportunities for later.

Kim as an uncanny knack of good restaurant selection and today was no exception.  She found a promising looking Greek Taverna with blue and white chairs and tables and pristine check table cloths, also blue and white and declared it the place to eat later.  I always leave restaurant selection to Kim.

Cyprus is not Greece, it used to aspire to being part of Greece, but not any longer, both Greece and Cyprus are members of the European Union and for Cyprus this is the next best thing to political union.  Cyprus is more prosperous than Greece so is not going to step into an economic crisis over issues of nationality. Even so, most places fly the blue and white flag of Greece in preference to the official flag of Cyprus.

Flag of Greece

The Greek flag is called “Galanolefci” which simply means “blue and white”. Originally it was blue with a white diagonal cross.  The cross is now situated in the upper left corner, and symbolizes the Christian faith.  Blue is the colour of the sea, and Greece being a seafarers country it could hardly have any other colour. Blue is also a lucky colour, which will ward off evil according to superstition.  White is the colour of freedom, and that is something the Greeks hold very dear after years of enslavement under the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The nine stripes each symbolize a syllable in the Greek motto of freedom: E-LEY-THE-RI-A-I-THA-NA-TOS, which translates into the bold statement – Freedom or Death.

Cyprus is one of only two countries in the World (and the first) which has the map of the country on its flag, the other by the way is Kosovo.

Cyprus Flag

We ate in the Greek restaurant later, Kim had beef stifado and I had Greek chicken with orzo and we drank some house wine from a chipped jug and it was very, very good!

The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel dining room which was just short of OK!

Mid morning and we took the walk to Paphos seafront and stopped on the way at the archaeological site ‘The Tombs of the Kings’, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A very impressive place as it turned out with unrestricted access to all of the site and the ancient burial chambers and tombs.

Nothing in them of course because anything of value has long since been removed and robbed.  The main culprit of this was an Italian/American consul to Cyprus (1865-1877) called Luigi Palma di Cesnola who carried out unauthorised excavations which resulted in the discovery of a large number of antiquities which he stole and tried to ship back to New York.  The ship he commissioned to transport an estimated thirty-five thousand stolen items was sunk in a storm and the plunder remains lost.

In Cyprus he is considered to be a villain and his actions are still considered to tantamount to looting.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

I mention this because several years ago I visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens which is a contentious site because of the missing Parthenon (Elgin) marbles.

The blood-curdling descriptions of Lord Elgin as a looter and a robbing pirate seemed especially designed to stimulate a reaction from visitors from the USA who were encouraged to gasp in awe that an Englishmen could have done such terrible things.  One man said that he would promptly write to the British Prime Minister to demand their return. If I had known about the American looter at the time I would have tapped him on the shoulder and told him the thieving story of Luigi Palma di Cesnola.

I liked the Tombs of the Kings almost as much as Pompeii and Herculaneum  in Italy, except for a few information boards there is no attempt at restoration or interpretation and I think it is better for that.  Interesting also that although there are no restrictions or security guards there is no damage or graffiti.

We left the site and continued our walk towards the harbour of Paphos where we had to run the gauntlet of restaurant sharks trying to lure prey towards their waterside tables.

At the end of the harbour was a small castle, the entrance charge was €2.50 which seemed like a lot for such a small castle but I can never resist a castle so paid up and made the five minute visit to the top. To put things into perspective it had been the same charge at the Tombs of the Kings and we had spent almost two hours there and could have stayed longer.

Away from the harbour we selected a small bar for a drink and then in the early afternoon strolled back to the hotel and wasted what was  left of the afternoon sitting in the sunshine on the balcony of our room. Later we returned to the same restaurant for evening meal. We had walked twelve and a half miles today.

Paphos 02

A Virtual Ancient City

Aqueduct of Segovia

It was a long tedious drive from Ephesus to Pamukkale and thinking about the Ephesus experience I thought it would be fun to recall all of the other ancient sites that I have visited and assemble a near perfect virtual ancient city.

Approaching the city the first thing to be seen would be the aqueduct bringing fresh water to the citizens.  The finest aqueduct must surely be that in Segovia in central Spain.  It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometre from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town.

This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.

Split, Diocletian's Palace

After passing through the arches of the aqueduct the road would lead to a Palace – Diocletian’s Palace from Split in Croatia.  The palace was built as a Roman military fortress with walls two hundred metres long and twenty metres high, enclosing an area of thirty-eight thousand square metres and it is one of the best preserved Roman palaces in existence because after the fall of the Romans within the defensive walls it effectively became the city of Spalatum which eventually evolved and became the modern city of Split.

Herculaneum

Inside the city walls there would be the houses of the people who lived in the city, the houses of Herculaneum  near Pompeii in Italy that was destroyed in the same Vesuvius eruption.  But in a different way because where Pompeii was buried in ash, Herculaneum was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow which is  a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas that rushes down the side of a volcano.  Although it killed all of the inhabitants this flow did little damage to the structures, instead slowly filling them from the bottom up and preserving them perfectly without destroying them altogether.

Volubilis Morocco

After passing through the residential area there would be a magnificent triumphal arch marking the entrance to the civic and public areas.  I think it would be very much like the arch at Voloubilis in Morocco.

Volubilis  was the Roman capital of the Province of Mauritania and was founded in the third century B.C., it became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and was graced with many fine buildings.  Extensive remains of these survive in the archaeological site, located in the middle of this fertile agricultural area.  The city continued to be occupied long after the Romans had gone and at some point converted to Islam and Volubilis was later briefly to become the capital of Idris I, founder of the Idrisid dynasty, who is buried at nearby Moulay Idris.   It is now of course a UNESCO World Heritage Site, admitted to the list in 1997.

Rome The Forum

Once through the Arch into the Forum which for the Romans was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life. This has to be the Forum in Rome.

According to the playwright Plautus the area ‘teemed with lawyers and litigants, bankers and brokers, shopkeepers and strumpets’.  As the city grew  successive Emperors increasingly extended the Forum and in turn built bigger temples, larger basilicas, higher triumphal columns and more lavish commemorative arches.  Here is the Temple of Romulus and the house of the Vestal Virgins and then the Temple of Julius Caesar erected on the very spot that he was cremated following his assassination in 44 BC.

Hierapolis Pamukkale Turkey

Every ancient city needs a theatre and at the end of the forum in this virtual city is the theatre of  Hierapolis at Pamukkale in Turkey, a restored ancient theatre that surely has to be amongst the best that I have ever seen and that includes Segesta in Sicily and Merida in Spain and also (again in my opinion) the ruins that we had visited at Ephesus.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

Next to the Theatre is the Temple and I am happy to include in this virtual city the Temple of Apollo in Didyma just down the road from Ephesus.  This place would have been huge, one hundred and twenty columns, fifteen metres high and each taking an estimated twenty thousand man days to cut and erect.  It was never completely finished because during the construction process the money kept running out but if it had been then it is said that this would have been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in precedence over the Temple of Artemis at nearby Ephesus.

Arles France Amphitheatre

Finally there would be an Amphitheatre and whilst it may seem like madness not to include the Colosseum in Rome I am going to overlook it and include instead the Amphitheatre at Arles in Southern France.  It could also have been the the Amphitheatre in  Pula in Croatia or,Mérida in Spain but there is something majestic about about Arles which just fascinates me.

No one can be absolutely sure about which was the largest in terms of capacity and it is generally agreed that this was the Colosseum but we can be more certain about physical size and there was a plaque nearby that claimed that this was the twelfth largest in the Roman Empire.  Interestingly using this criteria the plaque only listed the Colosseum as second largest but it’s like I have always said size isn’t the most important thing!

Finally when my city is put together, I will need a wall to protect it and what better choice could I make than Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England

So there it is, my virtual Ancient City, just my personal choices and I would be more than happy to consider any alternative suggestions for inclusion.

Ancient Rome

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My blogging pal Will sent me this in an email and I am delighted to add it to my city…

… thought I would share this picture of the colonnaded street and forum at Jerash. It would definitely be in my fantasy Roman city!

Jerash Jordon Picture_0438

Check out Will’s blog here …  Wilbur’s Travels

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Related Posts:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

Verona

The Greek and Roman Ruins at Empuria, Catalonia

The Palace of Knossos in Crete

Athens and Ancient Greece

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

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Greek Islands, Day Trip to Delos

Delos, one of the great classical archaeological sites of the Mediterranean, is a tiny island stretching only three miles north to south and barely one mile from east to west. It was here, that Apollo and his twin sister Artemis, son and daughter of Zeus and, like Delphi, is a major sanctuary dedicated to Apollo, the Titan god of gods and one of the most important in all of Ancient Greece.

It is the epicentre of the Cycladic ring and an uninhabited island six miles from its larger neighbour and is a vast archaeological site that together with Athens on the mainland and Knossos on Crete makes up the three most important archaeological sites in Greece.

Delos Greece Postcard

I imagine that the reason we are not so aware of it is because whereas a lot of the work in Athens and Crete was undertaken by British and American archaeologists Delos is predominantly a French excavation site and we prefer to concentrate on British rather than Gallic achievements.

The excavations on the island are among the most extensive in the Mediterranean; ongoing work takes place under the direction of the French School at Athens and many of the artefacts found are on display at the Archaeological Museum of Delos and the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

In 1990, UNESCO inscribed Delos on the World Heritage List, citing it as the “exceptionally extensive and rich” archaeological site which“conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port”.

Delos is just a short ferry ride from Mykonos.  We left the old port on a small ferry boat where we sat on the open deck and watched Mykonos slip away behind us and the approach to tiny Delos which took about half an hour or so.  It was already hot as we stepped off the boat and paid our admission charge to the island and took the pathway into the site.

There is no set route and visitors are allowed to wander in all directions along the rough paths and the dark grey stony earth overgrown with vegetation, strewn with ancient relics, ravaged by wind which moves across the embers of a past civilization and, if you listen to the warnings of the locals, home to poisonous snakes which will attack if disturbed so keeping an eye out for this danger we set off first to Mount Kythnos, the highest point and a stiff climb where, at the top, we were rewarded with sweeping 360º views of the Cyclades and beyond.

It was a lot easier going back down and once back in the main city which was once home to thirty-thousand people (compare that with a modern population of eight thousand in Mykonos) we walked through a succession of excavated buildings, some with ancient frescoes and colourful mosaic floors, dismembered statues, altars, sanctuaries, agoras and reconstructed temples and arches.

At the centre we stopped to see the Delian lions, one of the iconic images of the Greek islands.  These were only plaster copies however because they are now kept in the island museum and one is missing because it was stolen and taken to Venice to become a symbol of that city.

Walking through the centre of the ancient city we passed the sacred lake where Apollo and Artemis were born and then to the far north of the island and the site of the ancient stadium and a view back across the water to Mykonos.

We had been continuously walking now for about three hours in the blistering sun without any shade so we made our way back to the main site and to the museum where we hoped it might be a bit cooler.  There was no chance of that and although it was light and airy inside it was oppressively hot so we rushed through the exhibits rather too quickly to do them any real justice and were soon outside again looking for refreshments.

Delos is well worth a visit but here are three bits of advice, firstly don’t miss the last boat home or else you will be stuck on the rather remote island all night long with the spirits of Ancient Greece and the snakes.  There is a superstition that no one should stay on the island overnight. Secondly don’t die on the island, no one is supposed to pass away on Delos, it is considered to be bad luck.

Finally, take plenty of water and a snack because there is only one small shop on the island attached to the museum and it is explosively expensive and bearing these two earlier bits of advice in mind we finished our tour of Delos by wandering back to the jetty and taking the early afternoon ferry back to Mykonos.

Travel Memories – Greek Island Hopping

Backpacking Greece Paros

“Somewhere…I once found a list of diseases… and among these occurred the word Islomania, which was described as a rare but by no means unknown affliction of spirit.  These are people…who somehow find islands irresistible.  A little world surrounded by the sea, fills them with indescribable intoxication. – Lawrence Durrell – ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’

Island hopping with a bulging rucksack strapped to my back was an immediately brilliant idea when Sally mentioned it in May and invited me to bring my credit cards along and join her for a week or two in the Greek islands.

Sun drenched beaches, friendly tavernas, Mythos and ouzo, I knew immediately that I would take up the offer but at first I was slightly wary of committing to a holiday with two girls addicted to the internet and who sleep with their mobile phones but I have always wanted to be more imaginative about my holidays and to take control and make my own arrangements rather than rely upon a holiday rep from Thomsons or Airtours and those tedious welcome meetings that seem to go on for ever in a dingy hotel lounge when all you want to do is get outside in the sun.

So the chance to do things my way was a real opportunity and I signed up.

Naxos Back street Cyclades Greece

Preparation involved booking the flights and finding suitable hotels on line. This, I later had to concede, turned out to be a bit of a cheat because proper back-packers, I am told, take their lodgings chances when arriving in port, but I just wanted to be certain of a basic level of accommodation.  I was fifty-two years old and had certain standards to maintain! I wanted Olympic size swimming pools, air conditioning as fresh as the mountain air and at the very least a minimum standard of bathroom facility.  Most people go backpacking in their teens or in their twenties – I had left it all a bit late!

Packing the rucksack was quite a challenge! There wasn’t a lot of room in there and it took a number of clothing/essentials trial runs before I achieved the perfect combination of items. I needed my snorkel and essential bathroom items and some books of course and after that I had room for some clothes. It was like doing the hokey-cokey, in, out, in, out and shake it all about until I got it right.

Blue Star Ferry Athens to Naxos

Like most people I always take too many clothes on holiday, that extra pair of shorts, another shirt just in case, and usually some items just go for the ride there and back and never get worn, this time I was sure I had got it about right but for some unexplained reason I took some socks along for the trip. I didn’t wear them of course because all I had for foot attire was two pairs of sandals including my favourite gladiators.

I had the gladiator sandals since 1999 when I went to Rhodes and they accompanied me abroad on every single beach holiday after that – always the first item in the bag.  They were showing signs of wear and not expected to see through this adventure. I  made it my mission to see how long I could make them last.

Gladiator Sandals Naxos Greece

Footnote (please excuse the pun):

The Gladiators made it through the holiday and lasted another two years when an important part of the shoe infrastructure failed (one of the straps snapped) and they had to be thrown away soon after.  I left them in Greece, I thought that was appropriate – a little bit of me is in a landfill site in Athens!

Have you been to the Greek Islands?  Which is your favourite?

Oia Santorini

A Virtual Ancient City

Aqueduct of Segovia

It was a long tedious drive from Ephesus to Pamukkale and thinking about the Ephesus experience I thought it would be fun to recall all of the other ancient sites that I have visited and assemble a near perfect virtual ancient city.

Approaching the city the first thing to be seen would be the aqueduct bringing fresh water to the citizens.  The finest aqueduct must surely be that in Segovia in central Spain.  It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometre from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town.

This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.

Split, Diocletian's Palace

After passing through the arches of the aqueduct the road would lead to a Palace – Diocletian’s Palace from Split in Croatia.  The palace was built as a Roman military fortress with walls two hundred metres long and twenty metres high, enclosing an area of thirty-eight thousand square metres and it is one of the best preserved Roman palaces in existence because after the fall of the Romans within the defensive walls it effectively became the city of Spalatum which eventually evolved and became the modern city of Split.

Herculaneum

Inside the city walls there would be the houses of the people who lived in the city, the houses of Herculaneum  near Pompeii in Italy that was destroyed in the same Vesuvius eruption.  But in a different way because where Pompeii was buried in ash, Herculaneum was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow which is  a ground-hugging avalanche of hot ash, pumice, rock fragments, and volcanic gas that rushes down the side of a volcano.  Although it killed all of the inhabitants this flow did little damage to the structures, instead slowly filling them from the bottom up and preserving them perfectly without destroying them altogether.

Volubilis Morocco

After passing through the residential area there would be a magnificent triumphal arch marking the entrance to the civic and public areas.  I think it would be very much like the arch at Voloubilis in Morocco.

Volubilis  was the Roman capital of the Province of Mauritania and was founded in the third century B.C., it became an important outpost of the Roman Empire and was graced with many fine buildings.  Extensive remains of these survive in the archaeological site, located in the middle of this fertile agricultural area.  The city continued to be occupied long after the Romans had gone and at some point converted to Islam and Volubilis was later briefly to become the capital of Idris I, founder of the Idrisid dynasty, who is buried at nearby Moulay Idris.   It is now of course a UNESCO World Heritage Site, admitted to the list in 1997.

Rome The Forum

Once through the Arch into the Forum which for the Romans was the centre of political, commercial and judicial life. This has to be the Forum in Rome.

According to the playwright Plautus the area ‘teemed with lawyers and litigants, bankers and brokers, shopkeepers and strumpets’.  As the city grew  successive Emperors increasingly extended the Forum and in turn built bigger temples, larger basilicas, higher triumphal columns and more lavish commemorative arches.  Here is the Temple of Romulus and the house of the Vestal Virgins and then the Temple of Julius Caesar erected on the very spot that he was cremated following his assassination in 44 BC.

Hierapolis Pamukkale Turkey

Every ancient city needs a theatre and at the end of the forum in this virtual city is the theatre of  Hierapolis at Pamukkale in Turkey, a restored ancient theatre that surely has to be amongst the best that I have ever seen and that includes Segesta in Sicily and Merida in Spain and also (again in my opinion) the ruins that we had visited yesterday at Ephesus.

Temple of Apollo Didyma

Next to the Theatre is the Temple and I am happy to include in this virtual city the Temple of Apollo in Didyma just down the road from Ephesus.  This place would have been huge, one hundred and twenty columns, fifteen metres high and each taking an estimated twenty thousand man days to cut and erect.  It was never completely finished because during the construction process the money kept running out but if it had been then it is said that this would have been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in precedence over the Temple of Artemis at nearby Ephesus.

Arles France Amphitheatre

Finally there would be an Amphitheatre and whilst it may seem like madness not to include the Colosseum in Rome I am going to overlook it and include instead the Amphitheatre at Arles in Southern France.  It could also have been the the Amphitheatre in  Pula in Croatia or,Mérida in Spain but there is something majestic about about Arles which just fascinates me.  No one can be absolutely sure about which was the largest in terms of capacity and it is generally agreed that this was the Colosseum but we can be more certain about physical size and there was a plaque nearby that claimed that this was the twelfth largest in the Roman Empire.  Interestingly using this criteria the plaque only listed the Colosseum as second largest but it’s like I have always said size isn’t the most important thing!

So there it is, my virtual Ancient City, just my personal choices and I would be more than happy to consider any alternative suggestions for inclusion.

Ancient Rome

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Related Posts:

Spartacus the Gladiator

Rome

The Roman City of Pompeii

The Roman City of Herculaneum

The Roman Amphitheatre at Pula

The Aqueduct of Segovia

The Roman Buildings at Mérida

The Roman Ruins at Segóbriga

Diocletian’s Palace at Split

The Roman Buildings at Arles

Verona

The Greek and Roman Ruins at Empuria, Catalonia

The Palace of Knossos in Crete

Athens and Ancient Greece

The Acropolis Museum in Athens

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

Acropolis Parthenon Athens

“We climbed up the hill to the theatre whence we overlooked the splintered treasures of the gods, the ruined temples, the fallen columns, trying vainly to recreate the splendour of this ancient site.”                                                                Henry Miller

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Urban

We had been sailing for nearly four hours now and the time had begun to drag but then we could see Athens, a gleaming mantle of white urban concrete filling the valley, spilling down to the sea and creeping up the sides of the mountains that surround it and soon we were docked and in contrast to the slow pace of the islands pitched back into the madness of Piraeus.

Read the full story…

My Personal Greek A to Ω – B (Beta) is for Βύρων or Byron

After four years of waiting I was actually going to see the new Acropolis Museum.  It was originally planned to be completed in 2004 to accompany the symbolic return of the Olympic Games to their spiritual Athenian home but construction setbacks and various outbreaks of controversy along the way meant that it did not finally open to an expectant public until June 2009.

I purchased tickets on line and arrived at my allocated visit time of ten o’clock.

I had feared that the place would be crowded and uncomfortable but this was not the case at all and without the lines of visitors that I had anticipated it was easy to cruise effortlessly past the ticket desks and into the museum.  I had a gigantic sense of anticipation because I was genuinely looking forward to seeing this magnificent replacement for the hopelessly inadequate museum at the top of the Acropolis that I had visited before and which it had replaced.

I have to say that anticipation was mixed with some trepidation because having followed the saga of the open wound debate about the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles I wondered how I was going to feel because the long awaited €130m Acropolis Museum is a modern glass and concrete building at the foot of the ancient Acropolis and home to sculptures from the golden age of Athenian history but unlike any other museum in the world this one has been designed to exhibit something it doesn’t own and can’t yet exhibit but all of Greece hopes that it will be the catalyst for the return of the disputed Marbles from the British Museum in London.

Outside the museum and in the cavernous entrance hall there were glass floors with sub-level views of the excavations that were discovered during the construction of the building and contributed to the delays and then there was a steady incline cruising through seven centuries of history and impressive and well set out displays along a generously wide gallery that provided sufficient space for everyone to stop and enjoy the exhibits without feeling hurried or under pressure to rush through this timeline of ancient treasures.  Moving on to the second floor there are two galleries that I have to say I did not find so well set out and involved a rambling walk through a succession of exhibits that was not helped by the absence of a simple floor plan to help guide the visitor through and having finished with the second floor I then had to double back to get to the third and the Parthenon Gallery skilfully avoiding the café terrace and the inevitable gift shop along the way to make sure I wasn’t parted from my cash.

After an hour passing through various centuries of ancient Greece I finally arrived at the top floor Gallery, which is designed to eventually hold and display all of the Parthenon sculptures but for the time being has only about half of the originals.  The remainder are plaster casts made from (and controversially paid for by the Greek Museum) of the remaining treasures temporarily remaining in London.  It is truly impressive and with the Acropolis Hill and the Parthenon looming up outside I can only explain it rather inadequately as a very memorable experience.  The top floor is designed to provide a full 360º panoramic of the building and how the sculptures would have looked when they were originally commissioned and sculptured in the fifth century BC.

I really liked the Museum but what I didn’t care for especially was the demonising of Lord Elgin and the unnecessary nationalist, provocative and belligerentanti-English sentiment attached to the explanations and the video commentary. I considered that rather offensive as an English visitor and it made me feel slightly uncomfortable and unwelcome.  The descriptions of Elgin as a looter and a pirate seemed especially designed to stimulate a reaction from visitors from the United States who were encouraged to gasp in awe that a British Lord could have done such malicious and terrible things.  I know that a lot of what should be in Athens is in London but let’s not forget that material from the Parthenon was dispersed both before and after Elgin’s time and the remainder of the surviving sculptures that are not in Athens are in museums in various locations across Europe and there are also parts of it in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, the Vatican Museums in Rome, the National Museum, Copenhagen, the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, the University Museum, Würzburg and the Glyptothek in Munich all of which seemed to have been conveniently ignored.

As I wandered around I considered the debate and tried to balance the two radically opposing views.  There are many factors to take into consideration. We do not know if Elgin’s actions were legal at the time but he had certainly obtained permission to work on the Acropolis from the Ottoman authorities, then in control of Athens, and it seems that he had a genuine interest in archaeology and the preservation of the past.  What shouldn’t be forgotten is that when Elgin removed the sculptures from the Parthenon, the building was in a very sorry state indeed and this is expediently omitted from the commentary and the otherwise excellent interpretation.   In the early twentieth century there was some inappropriate restoration work that has subsequently been proved to be damaging so perhaps Elgin saved the Marbles from the deadly fate of ignorant restoration and we should thank him for that?

Although we think of it primarily as a pagan temple, its history as church and mosque was an even longer one, and no less distinguished. It was, as one British traveller put it in the mid seventeenth century, ‘the finest mosque in the world’ but all that changed in 1687 when, during fighting between Venetians and Turks, a Venetian cannonball hit the building, which was inappropriately being used as a temporary gunpowder store and approximately three hundred women and children were amongst those killed as the building itself was blown apart and destroyed. By 1800 a small replacement mosque had been erected inside the shell, while the surviving fabric and sculpture was suffering the predictable fate of many ancient ruins and falling further into a state of unloved disrepair.

Elgin might be the villain in the opinion of modern Greeks but what the Acropolis museum conveniently fails to mention is that at the time he removed the sculptures Turks and Athenians were using it as a convenient quarry and a great deal of the original sculptures and the basic building blocks of the temple itself were being reused for new local housing or simply being ground down for mortar.  It is all very well getting precious about it now but whatever Elgin’s motives were for removing the sculptures there is no doubt at all that he saved them from possible even worse damage and without his intervention we might not be even having the ‘Elgin Marbles’ debate at all.

My personal opinion?  Well, I believe that we should thank the British Museum for having looked after them for the last two hundred years while all this was going on and then the Marbles should be returned and I believe that one day they will because as the poet and Grecophile, Lord Byron wrote and with whom I leave the last word:

‘Dull is the eye that will not weep to see                                                                             Thy walls defaced, thy mouldering shrines removed                                                     By British hands, which it had best behoved                                                                      To guard those relics ne’er to be restored.                                                                     Curst be the hour when from their isle they roved,                                                       And once again thy hapless bosom gored,                                                                        And snatched thy shrinking gods to northern climes abhorred!

Greece 2011, Athens and the Varvakios Agora (Central Market)

Athens and the Varvakios Agora (Central Market)

“The early morning animation is somehow an indication of the tempo at which Greece lives; you rise each morning to a new day, a new world, which has to be created from scratch.  Each day is a brilliant improvisation…”,                 Lawrence Durrell

On the last day we deliberately woke early because we wanted to return to the busy commercial street close to the hotel and visit the central market called the Varvakios Agora which was only a hundred metres or so away and housed inside a huge building with a dangerously crumbling facade that looked as though it might catastrophically collapse into the street into a pile of masonry and debris on the pavement at any moment.