Saturday, August 6, 2011

Going Greek - Ancient Athens via Modern Athens

There are certain places you go and admire them for their beauty or skill or craftsmanship. An impressive skyscraper perhaps, or a beautiful sports venue, or a work of art. There are places you go that you are struck by their awesome scope and power, like the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. And then there are places that humble you.

For DB~ and I, the Acropolis in Athens (and the Parthenon in particular) was one of those places. The Acropolis (High City) is perched on a hill high above Athens. We were able to look out of our balcony at the Magna Grecia and see the Acropolis looming over us, keeping watch while we slept at night.

The Acropolis is the conglomeration of different buildings that made up Ancient Athens. It was built in 430 B.C. and for being 2400+ years old is looking remarkably well. The centerpiece and most well-known piece is the Parthenon, which was the meeting center of the times. Surrounding it, at least what remains today, were a few temples (the Erecthion was to Athena and a few others), the Theatre of Dionysus (the God of Wine...kind of the party god), and an amphitheatre that has been preserved and restored to the point that it still serves as a space for live theatre and crappy new-age music like Yanni.

While looking at the Parthenon, I was struck by thinking of all the world events this structure has lived through. It was around 430 years BEFORE Jesus, lived through the Bubonic Plague in Europe, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, the Crusades, Roman occupation of Greece, Turkish occupation of Greece, the birth of America, Industrial Revolutions, multiple World Wars, and our current entertaining state of world affairs. And yet, in some fashion, it still stands.

As an engineer, the structures that most of us build are expected to have 50 to 100 year design cycles. This one is going on its 25th design cycle. Here is Pittsburgh, there is ample debate over demolishing the Civic Arena that is all of 45+ years old. That is an eyeblink in the Parthenon's life.

To get to the Parthenon, we walked 3 blocks from our hotel to the Syntagma subway stop, which is a main hub on the recently completed Athens subway system. The system was done in the runup to the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics and is a pristine system. It is clean and bright and has shiny marble-esque floors in the station.

It is extremely handy to get to many key points of the city all for a very reasonable fee for a 24-hour pass. We also took it to get to and from the airport, especially handy because all taxi drivers were on strike while were there, for only 7 euros ($10) per person for the 42 minute ride.

It was an interesting juxtaposition for me to be enjoying modern transportation while hiking up hand carved rock steps all the way to the top of a hill to see a 2400+ year old structure. I probably didn't fully grasp it while in the moment because it felt like we were on the surface of the sun (not much shade in Greece) and surrounding by pushy, sweaty citizens of Earth.

The Parthenon is one of those places that I wish everyone could see once.


  1. Look, if you think that a single one of us who read this thing(i.e. me) believe that you DIDN'T request that they start blasting a certain Greek gentleman's tribute to Linda Evans over loudspeakers when you hit that theater, you are fooling yourself.

    As a matter of fact, there's no way in HELL you are going to convince me that you don't have Yanni entrenched in your rotation. If nothing else for the hair/'stache alone. Much like Dave Littlefield, Yanni was always meticulously coif'd....and that, of course, always demands respect.

    Don't hate on the "World's Most Famous Greek."

  2. I do listen to a lot of techno-esque music like Massive Attack, Tricky, etc, so I'm sure one day I will transition to crappy new-age music.

    Kind of a bummer...we looked up Yanni on more long hair or moustachio. Total buzzkill.

    Youtube Yanni Live at the Acropolis. He exudes feta from every pore of his body.