Justified & Ancient?

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March 5th 2020
Published: March 11th 2020
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There is no getting away from the fact that the big draw in Athens is the Acropolis. It looms over you from most points in the city centre, as a self-advert that says "come up and see me sometime". By day, it glistens in the sunshine. By night, the uplifting lights mark out the form of the main structures. The majority make a bee line for the place on arrival, but as I said in my last blog we opted for the slow approach. A visit or three to the lesser sites will make you appreciate the place a whole lot more. We were up bright and early and out of the hotel by 8 am. Visiting the Acropolis needs planning. The crowds tend to arrive from their cruise ships docked in Piraeus harbour by mid-morning, so I was keen to beat the crowds. There are 2 entrances. The tour groups tend to arrive from the west - the incline is less steep and presumably the coaches can get closer. The other entrance is on the south east side - a 5 minute walk in from Hadrian's Gate. It was a bright February morning and by the time we had wandered through the Plaka district, crowds were beginning to home in on the attraction. There was no significant queue at the ticket office and we made our half price 10 Euro purchases with ease. In summer, I guess the process isn't quite as simple. The demand sees the admission price jump back to 20 Euros, so the combination ticket also makes financial sense at 30 Euros. The beauty of already having a ticket will also be that you can join the admission queue, as opposed to queuing for a ticket and then again for entry. An automatic vending machine stands about 100 metres before the ticket office, so I think that might be an indication of just how big a queue can develop. Our tickets were scanned by a staff member taking no chances with Coronavirus. She had her face mask firmly in place.

It is a reasonably steep climb towards the Acropolis. I noted even in the relative cool of a February morning, those somewhat out of condition were sweating and were glad of the respite half way up to check out the Theatre of Dionysus Eluthereus. Marble figures appeared to be still holding up the stage. There were some extensive renovations going on, so we headed further up to the Odeon of Herodos Atticus. The Roman theatre was built around 161 AD, but what you see us the renovation carried out in the 1950s. After the works, the Odeon has been used as a venue for the Athens Festival and has hosted many big names over the years - Maria Callas, Frank Sinatra, Sting, Elton John, Florence & The Machin and Foo Fighters. The venue gazes out to sea from the slopes of the Acropolis, so regardless of the performers it would be a good experience. Other than the Festival performances, there is no access. The view is taken from the track directly above. You then climb higher towards the plateau, where you will find the Temple of Athena Nike. I suppose in modern terms we have be accustomed to word 'Nike' being associated with the famous sports brand and that the spiritual home is in Beaverton, Oregon. However, this is the inspiration and the original home of Nike. This one doesn't feature a reserved parking space for Michael Jordan! Nike means victory in Greek and the Temple was a shrine to pray for victory against the enemies of Athens in the wars with Sparta. What we think of as the Acropolis is actually the Parthenon - the largest structure in the centre. The restoration goes on unabated and in amongst the structures scaffolding spoils the photographs. A small handful of portakabins and even a railway line to transport building materials hide in the shadows. The Parthenon was completed in 437 BC and has had a chequered history after the original decline of Athens. It has been a Christian church and an Islamic mosque. It has suffered at the hands of invading armies and conquering powers. The Turks even used it as a gunpowder magazine. The big controversy however lies with the removal of the what have become known as the Elgin Marbles. A plaque on one of the information panels in front of the Parthenon describes the removal as a bigger act of vandalism than the Turks gunpowder escapades. Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin and ambassador to the former Constantinople, is said to have bribed the Turkish authorities to let him carry off the priceless artefacts. The same now reside in British Museum amid claims from the Greek government that they are repatriated. Time will tell. The largest number of marbles are still to be found in the Acropolis Museum below.

We decided to exercise our 5 day metro tickets and head to the seaside – or Piraeus - the port of Athens to be more precise. It was about 6-7 stops south on the Green Line. We alighted by the Georgis Karaiskaki Stadium – home of current Greek champions, Olympiacos. The stadium looms to your right as you pull into the Metro station. The first thing you notice is modern, sleek looking appearance and the colour red everywhere. The supports of the footbridge are daubed with the graffiti of the local Ultras, simply known as Gate 7. The material is very reminiscient of that at Red Star Belgrade with whom they share a big love in. The club name is obviously inspired by the Olympic tradition and the emblem with a man with laurel head wear gives the game away. The site of the stadium was in fact the space used as the velodrome for the 1896 Olympic Games, although Olympiacos didn't form and start to play here until 1925. They are the most successful team on Greek football history and very much top dogs in the current era. The stadium has been completely rebuilt and is very much the modern football stadium. The rebuild was primarily to host the football events at the 2004 Olympic Games and the hosts have the right to exclusively use the premises until 2052. Club offices and a swanky looking club shop - well more of a mega-store really - occupy the perimeter. The rivalry with Panathonaikos is along the same lines as the Celtic / Rangers rivalry in Glasgow and a memorial to the 1981 tragedy at Gate 7 when 21 died in a crush after a game v AEK is maintained in a pristine fashion on the concourse. The President though has his fingers in other pies - most notably Nottingham Forest in England. We walked over the motorway footbridge that sweeps past the stadium and into the suburbs of Piraeus. The Man in the Middle stayed in these parts on his trip and was pleased to hear his hotel was still standing after the earthquake. A small harbour was occupied by various fishing and pleasure craft. They bobbed in the water, as a lone fisherman tried his luck in the creek. The space age home of Olympiacos Basketball Club hovered over the scene. It is interestingly known as the Peace & Friendship Stadium, although the two qualities are probably not much evident when the green team visit. The original construction purpose was to host the 1985 European Indoor Athletes Championships before Olympiacos Basketball moved in. It was all very quiet compared to the centre of Athens. A number of the bars and restaurants were either closed for the winter or closed full stop. We walked on round to the next bay. Fish restaurants lined every inch of the waterfront. Business was quiet, despite the perfect weather for a Friday in February. Touts lined the entrances, trying in vain to encourage the passing custom including us that a fish lunch would be a good use of the day. We declined and walked on. The far side of the bay was home to the Yacht Club of Athens. A number of expensive looking craft lay idle at anchor waiting for the summer, when no doubt the whole area took on a different complexion. The streets rose sharply from the bay area, although in truth very little was occurring and most businesses look closed. Those open seemed to be there to service the yachting world, but we eventually found a place for a snack and then had an iced coffee overlooking the sea. Visibility was good and you could see for miles. We retraced our steps and caught the Metro back into the city centre.

The area around Monastiraki is full of bars with high vantage points that offer a view over the Acropolis. I had read favourable reviews of both A For Athens and Bar 360, that had outdoor terraces perched on the roof. On the way back to the hotel, we climbed to check out the offering in the late afternoon sun. Busy and hectic was the verdict and not at all relaxing. We made a brief visit to the Athens Cathedral on the way back to the area of our hotel. The structure seems smaller than you would expect in a city of this size, but is fairly impressive within. The grand exterior of Cathedrals in this part of the world often then sees an almost bare interior. The construction started in 1842, but the style looks more modern. We opted for the terrace bar of the Hotel Cypria, which was a whole lot more zen and offering better prices. The iced coffees were served with a very satisfactory piece of cake as a complementary snack. We watched the sun descend from the sky and the colours over the Parthenon change to orange. After a quick change, we dined at a Greek fish restaurant literally over the road from the hotel. What appeared to be a very small establishment packed out with locals turned out to have copious indoor seating. The calamari and salmon duly arrived, which was much better value than the offering in Piraeus earlier in the day.

Rome is often quoted as being built on 7 hills. The hills of Athens don't usually get a mention, but a casual observer will spot quite a few. The most prominent other than the outcrop on which the Acropolis stands is Mount Lycabettus. We set off for a climb. The area behind the Parliament seems quite upmarket judging by the executive nature of the shops. The streets rise steadily. We meandered our way upwards. The shortcut to the top is available in the form of a funicular, but we opted to save our 5 Euros. There is anything of significance at the top of the climb, but 300 metres above sea level gives a good panoramic view across to the Acropolis and Piraeus beyond. The white walls of the Chapel of St George reflected in the sun. The wind whipped round the summit and the Greek flag on Chapel did more than flutter. We avoided the overpriced cafe, took a few photographs and retreated down the slopes.

The Acropolis Museum at the foot of the actual monument is home to many of the real marbles not displayed in the actual Acropolis. 5 Euros secures entry. It is what the Man in the Middle would des ribes as a post and pans Museum. The ancient artefacts are tastefully laid out and one can get an appreciation of what grandeur was on the actual Parthenon in the heyday. However after 3 floors, I guess I was beginning perhaps not to fully appreciate what I was viewing. It states no photographs, so I left my camera in a locker. Meanwhile, the rest of the attendees were busy taking as many snaps as they pleased with only the occasional word of scolding from the many staff on patrol. We are lunch in the streets below and gravitated towards my afternoon entertainment. It was probably fair to say, the locality was more for the locals as we made our way to the Kallithea Municipal Stadium. The Stadium wasn't actually in Kallithea, which is closer to Piraeus. A wall was painted with the slogan "Queen of the South" as we turned near the ground, although there were no similarities to Dumfries. The local crew, Desparados, had been busy on the rest of the wall. The ticket office was hidden in the fence. The price of Greek 4th Division football was 10 Euros..... not exactly cheap. The Other Half wasn't really keen and was even less keen on entry into the stand, as we climbed through a handy looking set of lads. They turned out to be the visiting fans, who numbered about 50. The Municipal Stadium was almost carved into the hillside. The large terrace behind the goal and that opposite were closed. The far side was almost a vertical cliff of solid rock. A few apartment blocks wre effectively inside the ground. All the spectators were housed in the Main Stand and quite surprisingly, there were only a couple of Police and no enforced segregation. We settled near the visiting contingent. GS Kallithea were top of the league and hot favourites. In all honesty, they were second best in the early stages. The main early excitement revolved around a failure to stop play for an injury, which brought the locals rushing to the front fence. A bottle was hurled at a dugout in frustration. The game swung with the first goal. The home side hit a sizzling 20 yard shot. The visitors then had to chase and were picked off twice in the closing stages. Meanwhile, a bitter wind swirled around and it was good to get back to the relative warmmof central Athens. We rounded the evening off in School Pizza - a cavernous and happening establishment that served some giant and extremely tasty sharing pizzas.

Appendix 1

Greece Gamma Ethniki League (Group 5)

GS Kallithea FC 3 Agios Ierotheos 0

Date: Saturday 29 February 202 @ 1500 Hours

Venue: Kallithea Grigrois Lamprakis Municipal Stadium, Athens, Greece

Attendance: Est 500

Scorers: 1-0 Kostas (Kallithea) 36 Mins, 2-0 Dautai (Kallithea) 75 Mins, 3-0 Drugas (Kallithea) 85 Mins

GS Kallithea: Farmakis, Hodzalli, Papagelis (Grossios 87 MIn), Stephanis, Cretan, Kostas, Stavros (Vassiladis 86 Min ), Kaitsas, Dautai ( Drugas 81 Min)

Agios Ierotheos: Antonoupolis, Symakou, Apostolos, Batis, Tsatsaris, Daflas (Christou 73 Mins), Eliadis (Hatzitamos 80 Min), Bristogiannis, Krassi

Additional photos below
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11th March 2020

Wow, great photos!!

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