A brief trip to nearby Greece, or more specifically Athens, yielded a plethora of impressions, experiences and delights that could provide material for a dozen posts like this.
Of course, setting foot on the very ground which was once the home of gods and goddesses, heroes, mythical creatures, and the famous oracle of Delphi is enough to send a shiver down anyone’s spine. However, one’s first glimpse of Athens, which is a sprawling modern city with 4.5 million inhabitants, is something of a disappointment. The fairly mundane impression it makes reminded me of some of the seedier neighbourhoods of Haifa, with many shuttered storefronts, graffiti on every available surface, and a population evidently striving to make ends meet.
And yet, at night, from the rooftop restaurant of our hotel, there on the opposite hilltop stood the Acropolis and the Parthenon in all their ancient glory, illuminated in order to display their grandeur. Luckily, the darkness hid the ugly buildings of modern Athens that lay between us and that sacred site. The following day we hastened to make our way up the Acropolis, accompanied by other tourists from all over the world and speaking every language under the sun. The panorama over the city and the surrounding countryside that the hilltop with its ancient stones affords is truly impressive. One can understand why that particular spot was chosen for the structure that constituted the religious and administrative centre of the city-state that was the dominant power in the region for several centuries in antiquity.
The culture of ancient Greece, namely, the philosophy, system of government (democracy), literature, art, sculpture, crafts, architecture, theatre and music, were considered by the ancient Romans to represent the highest achievements in those fields, and although their military prowess overcame that of the Greeks their culture aspired to imitate theirs, and that, of course, is the sincerest form of flattery. Still today we consider the culture of Ancient Greece to be among the highest achievements of humankind.
After spending two days scouring Athens’ archaeological museum, with its myriad treasures from all over Greece (except Crete, which holds on to its heritage), including the extensive gold artifacts from Mycenae discovered by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, we decided to venture a little further afield. Our first excursion, was to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon (of which very little is left), driving along the beautiful southern coast which hugs the Mediterranean sea and is reminiscent of the French Riviera. The remains of the temple stand atop a promontory that dominates the surrounding area as well as the surrounding sea, as is only fitting for Poseidon, the god of the sea.
Our next excursion was to Mount Parnassus and Delphi, the site of the Temple of Apollo and the Oracle. How could our legs not tremble as we ascended this sacred spot, the centre of the world? According to the legend, Apollo marked it as ‘the navel of the world,’ the omphalos, and the small museum adjacent to the site contains a large egg-shaped sculpture purporting to show just that. Sadly, the oracle and its tradition disappeared from the world with the rise of Christianity, but the site remains to remind us of the ancient myths and beliefs that once reigned supreme.
There are many fine sculptures in the museum there as well as in the one in Athens, and in many others which we didn’t get to. In them one can find depictions of the human form in all its glory, the work of artists of the highest caliber, inspiring a sense of awe and admiration. These works of art are among the most magnificent achievements of humankind, and we cannot but be grateful to the hands that created them as well as to those that have enabled them to be preserved for posterity and displayed for our enjoyment and delectation today.