Tag Archives: History

European Capital of Culture 1985 – Athens

My plan was to go first to the Acropolis and the ancient city of Pericles, Socrates and Herodotus and the guidebook advised getting there early to avoid the crowds.

I did as it suggested and got there early (well, reasonably early) and it was swarming, I mean really swarming and there were hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people ahead of me in the line at the entrance gate. Obviously I wasn’t early enough and I cannot even begin to imagine what it is like when it is really busy. There was no turning back though because I’d only a couple of days in Athens before leaving for the neighbouring city of Piraeus and then sailing for the islands.

Acropolis and Parthenon Greece Athens

Although it was only mid morning it was desperately hot already and climbing the exposed sun-bleached steps to the top of the Acropolis it felt like the anvil to the sun’s hammer and I began to break out into a massive sweat and had to stop several times for a drink of water and a short rest before reaching the site of the Parthenon at the top of the table top mountain.

The top of the Acropolis is huge but there isn’t really a lot to see, no statues, no paintings, no exhibits, but a rather barren archaeological site in the thirtieth year of its restoration with tens of thousands of pieces lying strewn in the dust and long since stripped of its treasures, a stark marble ruin surrounded by ancient brick and concrete, so once a full circuit has been completed, although it felt as though I should stay longer the truth is there is not a lot to stay around for.

Athens Parthenon Acropolis

This doesn’t mean that the visit experience is in any way disappointing or less wonderful just that it seems to me that there are two types of sightseeing, the first is where we go to admire the statues, the paintings and the exhibits and the second where the experience is simply about being there, in a place that has played such a pivotal role in world history and the development of civilisation and for me the Acropolis and the Parthenon is one of the latter.

The Parthenon is an icon of western civilisation and the most architecurally  copied building in the World wherever man wants to demonstrate authority and power through the construction of buildings and monuments.  Of course there might have been more to see if the Parthenon marbles had been in place but we of course know these as the Elgin Marbles and two hundred years ago the English aristocrat hacked the statues off the buildings with blunt instruments and sent them back to the London where the fifty-six sculpted friezes, depicting gods, men and monsters can now been found at Great Russell Street in Bloomsbury (more about that later).

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After leaving the Acropolis I walked back down the slippery slope of the Parthenon and picked my way between olive trees and day trippers competing for shade from the midday sun and after I had left I had a good long walk around the other principal tourist attractions in the city because in addition to the Acropolis there is the Ancient Greek and Roman Agora and the dramatic Temple of Zeus with its spectacular muscular columns thrusting triumphantly into the sky.

They are all in pretty poor shape it has to be said, the Parthenon at the Acropolis was blown up by Venetian invaders when it was being used as a Turkish armoury store, looted by Elgin and then damaged by ham-fisted restoration work in the early twentieth century, most of the Agora is pretty much non-existent and the Temple of Olympian Zeus has only a handful of its original columns still standing.  It was here that I saw what I found to be an amusing notice at the entry kiosk, in large letters it said:

Please respect the Antiquity”

Just a little late for that I thought.  What a pity someone didn’t think to put up these signs two thousand years ago, perhaps it would have stopped people in the middle ages dismantling them to build houses, the Turkish invaders from grinding down the marble to make mortar (yes, really) and made Lord Elgin think twice before he plundered the Acropolis for the treasures he returned to Britain.  But this was long before UNESCO and the World Heritage Sites initiative and so perhaps for most of those two thousand years no one has been especially concerned about the preservation of the past.

APTOPIX Greece Acropolis Museum

Much of the tourist area of the Plaka is simply built over the top of Ancient Greece and around every corner there is an open excavation, which disappears under a modern building or a road.  The Greek Agora has to be the worst example of all because running through the middle of it is a railway line.  I wonder who thought that was a good idea?  As the construction workers kept coming across priceless artefacts surely it must have occurred to someone that they should stop and excavate the place properly before carrying on?  Part of the reason why it took so long to build the Acropolis Museum was that the builders came across an unexpectedly rich archaeological site and it had to be properly examined and explored before the building could be completed.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus must have looked wonderful, it took six hundred years to build due to a stop-start building programme and when completed had one hundred and four Corinthian columns seventeen metres high (that’s about four London double decker buses).  Only fifteen remain standing now and one other lies in pieces across the site, blown down in a gale in 1852.  As early as the year 86 people were not respecting the antiquity and two columns were removed and taken to Rome to be relocated in the emerging Forum.  An earthquake probably did most of the damage and then everyone helped themselves to the stones for their new building projects around the city.

I walked through the Zappeion gardens to the recently restored and renovated International Conference Centre building that had wonderfully colourful internal decoration and then to the original Olympic stadium of the modern games built in 1884, and which was used symbolically once again in 2004.  After that it was a stroll around the official government buildings where I saw the Greek soldiers famous for their lanky legged, goose stepping walk.  They are called the Evzones, which is the name of the elite light infantry of the Greek Army and today refers to the members of the Proedriki Froura, who are the official Greek Presidential Guard, a select ceremonial unit that guards the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Parliament building and the Greek Presidential Palace.

The basic elements of their uniform are a scarlet garrison cap with a long black tassel, a woollen kilt, a cotton undershirt, white woollen stockings and black-tasselled knee garters and red leather clogs with hob-nailed souls and a black pompon.  The full-dress uniform, which derives from the traditional uniform of south-mainland Greece is only worn on Sundays, on important national holidays and other special occasions. It has a white, bell-sleeved shirt and a white kilt with four hundred pleats, which represents the four hundred years of Turkish Ottoman occupation and an awful lot of work for the poor person who has to do the ironing!

Winston Churchill – The Greatest Briton

the 24th January 2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.  The result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.

Read the full story…

EPCOT World Showcase – United Kingdom

EPCOT England

Following my previous post about visiting World Showcase at EPCOT, Florida, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the ‘real’ countries that I have now visited and make a short comparison.  Of the eleven EPCOT pavilions I have visited six of those showcased and I suppose I have obviously to begin with the United Kingdom:

The EPCOT version is not bad if people from around the World all believe that we live in thatched cottages and fill them with Beatrix Potter prints and spend most of our time talking in Cockney rhyming slang and listening to Beatles albums.  The presentation is completely inaccurate of course but then it is not just Disney that can get it wrong…

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EPCOT UK Barmaid

Houses I have Lived In (1)

16 Tyndale Street Leicester

Who remembers the first house they ever lived in?

My parents were married in 1953 and around the same time dad was appointed to a job as a clerk with Leicestershire County Council.  They moved from living in Catford in South London with my mother’s family to a house in Una Avenue in Leicester where they lived with my dad’s grandmother, Lillian.  Shortly after that my mother was pregnant and I was on the way.  I was born the following year and lived my first few months in that house.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

Wroclaw Dwarf

The dwarfs of Wroclaw can be found posing outside buildings and along the footpaths all over the city and this afternoon we bought a dwarf map and went looking for them.

The map must be rather old and out of date because it lists only seventy-nine of these little people but the dwarfs own web site (http://krasnale.pl/) says that there at least two hundred and five and some sources claim that there are as many as two hundred and fifty so the chances of seeing them all in one afternoon seemed hopelessly ambitious.

See more minimalist people in Wroclaw…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

Shell on a Beach:

Just south of Santa Clara was the beach of Azuraia where we parked the car and walked over the golden sand that had been washed clean by the high tide and went down to the waters edge.  There was a good clear view back to Vila do Conde and the fort that we hadn’t had time to visit. The beach was deserted and instead of people we were outnumbered by the seagulls that stood at the edge of the water but paid little attention to us as we walked along the sand.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: ZigZag

Bom Jesus do Monte

Not very original, I completely agree, but this is my picture of the challenge location…

Staying near Porto, the plan  was to drive north to the City of Braga and visit the park of Bom Jesus do Monte.

Many hilltops in Portugal have been places of religious devotion and the Bom Jesus hill was one of these. It was an ancient site where in 1629 a pilgrimage church was built dedicated to the Bom Jesus (Good Jesus), with six chapels dedicated to the Passion of Christ.

The present Sanctuary was begun in 1722, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Braga, Rodrigo de Moura Telles and under his direction the first stairway row, with chapels dedicated to the Via Crucis, were completed.  He also sponsored the next segment of stairways, which has a zigzag shape and is dedicated to the Five Senses of Sight, Smell, Hearing, Touch and Taste and each is represented by a different fountain.

Around 1781, Archbishop Gaspar de Bragança decided to complete the sanctuary by adding a third segment of stairways and a new church. The third stairway also follows a zigzag pattern and is dedicated to the Three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity, each with its own fountain.

The old church was demolished and a new one was built following a neoclassic design by architect Carlos Amarante. In the 19th century, the area around the church and stairway was expropriated and turned into a park and in 1882, to facilitate the access to the Sanctuary; the Bom Jesus funicular was built linking the city of Braga to the hill.  This was the first funicular to be built in the Iberian Peninsula and is still in use today.

We stood at the top of the steps and debated whether or not to go to the bottom but after we realised that true penitent visitors climb them on their knees we agreed that a gentle stroll would be quite easy by comparison so we did just that and we were pleased that we did because the view from the bottom looking up the towering black and white stair case made it worth going to all the trouble.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

Naxos Cathedral Tour

In one room there was a pot-pourri of treasures that really deserved to be in a proper museum where they could be looked after properly.  She dragged them out of boxes and held them in her frail hands and in a rhapsodical way accompanied by extravagant arm gestures as though she were conducting an orchestra kept imploring us to “look at this, look at this!”  

At one point she opened an illuminated manuscript and declared it to be five hundred years old but she turned the pages over as though it was a copy of last week’s Radio Times.

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Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon

“Step back in time for all the sights, smells and sounds of a real Tudor farm and explore the house where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, grew up.”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Website

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.

This belief was based on supposed historical evidence dating back to the 18th century, when a historian unearthed records of the Arden family in Wilmcote who made the connection with the property based on the rather flimsy fact that Mary’s father, Robert was a wealthy farmer who lived in the village.

For many years after that the Trust proudly showed thousands of tourists and school children around the beautiful half timbered house facing the road in leafy Wilmcote, telling people all about the time when Mary Arden lived there in the sixteenth century.  The image of the lovely house (top of page) was on chocolate box lids, tea towels and postcards and tourists bought dozens of mementoes of Mary Arden’s House to take home with them.  This for example was a jigsaw puzzle box lid from the 1940s:

My first visit to the house was on a school trip from the Hillmorton County School near Rugby, also in Warwickshire, on a day visiting Shakespeare’s town of Stratford sometime in the 1960s.  I don’t have any real recollection of that trip because it was over forty years ago but I do remember visiting with French town twinning guests from Evreux  in 1977 and later taking visitors there when I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986 to 1987 on every occasion sticking to the official Mary Arden Story.

On 12th February 1995 I took my ten year old daughter Sally to visit Stratford and naturally included a visit to Mary Arden’s House for the very reasonable entrance fee of £1.30 (it now costs £12.50) which by this time was also a countryside and agricultural heritage museum and inside the house Trust members were on hand to provide a comprehensive historical narrative.  A very comprehensive narrative indeed by an elderly gentleman and one that went on at great length about Tudor life and how Mary Arden had sat in front of the fire in the Great Hall, helped prepare food in the kitchen and had slept in one of the bedrooms on the first floor.  It was all very interesting information but it subsequently turned out to be a lot of old nonsense!

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the timber used to construct the house was dated too late to be linked to Mary Arden’s early life and this couldn’t therefore be her house after all, she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen and further historical research revealed that the large house actually belonged to a family called Palmer, and had to be promptly re-named Palmer’s Farm.

For a while it was thought that Mary Arden’s family home was lost to history and the Trust had lost a valuable asset and a sticky tourist trap.  Lucky for them then that another small house on the estate which they had purchased in 1968 with a view of demolition and close to Palmer’s Farm, was also wood tested and technology was able to pin point the time the wood in this house was cut.  The Birthplace Trust declared this to be the Spring of the year 1514, the dates tallied with Mary Arden and the members of the Trust breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.  Visitors would still come!

This time the Trust carried out more thorough research and what the records revealed was that Shakespeare’s grandfather, Robert Arden, had bought the land in Wilmcote in 1514 and built the house that had sat next to Palmer’s Farm,  The house that for hundreds of years was largely overlooked and ignored because it was considerably less interesting than the farm house.  Mary Arden’s house had been there in Wilmcote all the time, smaller and more modest than anyone had thought.

The last time I visited Mary Arden’s house (the real one that is) was in 2010 and as I paid my admission charge I was minded to ask for a refund on all the previous visits on the basis that I had been seriously misled and provided with false information on several previous occasions.

Sadly however, although the Birthplace Trust itself is now clear about which house belonged to who many other tourist web sites still show a picture of Palmer’s Farm instead of Mary Arden’s house because it is significantly more picturesque and interesting.

P&O Mini-Cruise – Hull to Rotterdam

Hull to Rotterdam

Normally I take a low cost airline flight to a chosen destination but with a bargain price of £23 each for a return ferry crossing from Hull to Rotterdam this was too good an opportunity to miss. My son, Jonathan, was due to come and stay for a few days and with the weather too bad for golf then I needed alternative plans that would get him out of bed by mid-afternoon.