After over a month of cold weather and Balkan food (meat, wrapped in meat, side of meat) Greece has been a very welcome end to my ~4 month trip though Europe.
A lot of people who visit Greece do it via cruise, or island hop in the Aegean Sea, both great ways to see Greece, I’m sure. But with thousands of Thai islands ahead, I decided to spend most of my time in Athens getting to know the city the way I get to know all cities, by climbing every hill possible.
I was never all that interested in Greek mythology. I took a course in college and remember finding the names hard to remember and the stories ridiculous. So the idea of seeing all these things built in dedication to the Greek Gods wasn’t super exciting to me. However, I found that you don’t have to care about Greek mythology at all to appreciate the temples named for the Gods. Most of these temples were built in the 5th century BC (about 2,500 years ago for those bad at math) and what blew me away was the size. These temples are enormous, even when it’s just 16 out of 104 columns left to look at, as is the case with the Temple of Zeus, and often they are built on top of hills, which is even more impressive.
Temple of Poseidon:
I realized before I got to Athens that aside from knowing of the Parthenon and Greek Gods, I didn’t actually know much about Greek history and it turns out it’s pretty interesting. So now you get to learn too!
- When people think of Greece they often think, that’s a really old place. However, Greece itself is a fairly new country by European standards, first gaining its independence in 1821. I found it interesting that in Athens, a now booming metropolis, nothing much happened between the ancient temples being built and the War for Independence in the 1800s. A common depiction of Athens in the early 1800s looks like the below picture, a mostly undeveloped area of land occupied by the Ottoman Turks with the Acropolis looming above it.
- All the “cool” stuff happened in the 500 years or so before Christ. The Parthenon, Temple of Zeus, Temple of Poseidon, etc., were built during this time period.
- Greece was then part of the Roman/Byzantine Empire for the next 1,500 years until, like most of the Balkan countries, Greece was conquered by the Ottoman Empire which ruled for the next 400 years.
- Finally, in 1821 the Greek War of Independence began and with a little help from the Russian Empire, Great Britain, and the Kingdom of France, Greece gained its independence.
- Greece has complicated WWI & WWII history, I’m going to skip ahead to the Greek Civil War. Did you know there was one? I had no idea. It was one of the first Cold War conflicts, incredibly violent, and lasted from 1944 to 1949 between the Greek government army (backed by UK & US) and the Democratic Army of Greece (a little confusing as it was actually the Greek Communist Party, backed by Yugoslavia, Albania, Bulgaria). I’m reading a book about it now called Eleni and it’s fascinating.
- The Greek Monarchy was finally overthrown in 1967 and Greece, which was a democracy all the way back in the 4th and 5th centuries BC, once again became a democratic country.
Other things that come to mind:
- It’s impossible to cross the street here. People drive anything with an engine, from cars, to motorcycles, to ATVs, to motorized wheelchairs. Nobody follows any sort of rule, pedestrians dart across the street like they are trying to get hit. If I think it’s crazy here I don’t know how I’ll survive Bangkok.
- For the most part people are exceptionally friendly and welcoming, and honored when you decide to try their restaurant. Also I’ve been asked for directions more in this city than anywhere in Europe, often from locals, I must have some Greek in me from waaay back.
- There’s a really odd changing of the guards here with a lot of fun high-stepping:
- Athens was the site of the first modern Olympics, starting in 1896. The Panathenaic Stadium, the site of the first modern games, is still the finish line of the Olympic torch marathon every single year. Fun fact: in Ancient Greece, a stade was the unit of length of a typical sports venue, which is where the word stadium originated.
- The sunsets are beautiful:
- And the food is sooooo good:
On Tuesday I leave for Thailand ! One more Euro-wrap blog post coming before I do…