GREECE:THE ROMANCE OF THE RUINS
In Athens they are rebuilding the mighty Parthenon which sits on the Acropolis rock overlooking Athens. Very few sights in the world can match that of the Parthenon lit up in the evening as you sit outside at one of the many restaurants. The rebuilding is very meticulous and is likely to restore it to something very like what it was in the 5th century B.C. The only major absence will, I think, be the giant statue in gold and ivory of the goddess Hera herself unless someone finally locates the great work of Phidias from a very large vault somewhere in Istanbul or Rome.
This loving, meticulous recreation of the past in the modern capital is, to my mind, much more than just an acknowledgement of how influential Athens has been. As you go round the modern country you find an abundance of ruins. In doing so you become more and more aware that the distinction between the past and the present is not as clearcut as you might have thought. There can`t be many experiences which can so clearly remind our confused age of what humanity can achieve and also of what power a close partnership with the natural world can provide.
Sadly, you can also see how blindly destructive can be the effects of an unthinking commitment to a creed or a religion. A slavish devotion to a simple-minded version of democracy sent triumphant Periclean Athens to its horrific downfall in declaring war on the robotic military machine of Sparta. Those in the UK appalled by the Brexit referendum might wish everyone had been forced to read how a very similar vote had tolled the deathknell of Athens. Then Romans took over Athens but treated it with laudable respect unlike the Christians and Muslims who came near to destroying the Parthenon forever.
This book records what I have seen, experienced and photographed on a number of visits to mainland Greece and the islands. Whether your taste is good food and wine on a warm evening by the Aegean, basking in the hot sun with moussaka or souvlakis in prospect, being lost in admiration for the wonderful sculptures of ancient Greeks or admiring beautiful and varied countryside the experience of Greece is one of immense richness.
The large number of colour photographs in this book make it the most expensive book I have published so far. They appear well in the e-book versions on the more modern Kindle –type readers and that is only a little more costly at £6.37 in the UK $9.00 in the USA or the equivalent in other currencies. The paperback, inevitably costs a lot more at £18.00 in the UK and $33.00 in the USA. I`m delighted (and a little surprised) that both versions have already had sales in the first week of being available. This is a sample from my first sight of the ancient sanctuary of Apollo the sun-god at Delphi. Unfortunately on that first visit the god was not very much in evidence. Nonetheless, it was an unforgettable experience:
“I found Pitho rooms and had a warm welcome from Giorgios and Vikki who run it along with a splendid souvenir shop on the ground floor. My experience in most countries is that souvenir shops are a display of quite drab items you would be embarrassed to present to a friend. Greek ones are different. They usually offer a wide range of very good quality replicas of ancient pottery and sculpture from the classical age. I decided to spend some time in it later in the week. My room was modern, bright and very comfortable. After settling in I decided to defy the weather by walking the mile back along the road to Ancient Delphi. I was very glad I did this.
I began to walk along the main street which was quite free of traffic at this time in the early evening. Only when I came to a gap in the buildings on the right did I see for the first time one of the features that make Delphi unforgettable. The little town is quite high up in the hills. Through this gap I could see in the fading light down the hillside over farmland that holds Greece`s largest olive grove to the distant water of the Gulf of Corinth. This is the wide stretch that separates Central and Western Greece from The Peloponnese, the southern area that includes the legendary Arcadia, the ancient city of Sparta, historic Olympia and, in the far south, the wild, unruly area known as the Mani. All that joins these and prevents the Peloponnese from being an island is a narrow strip of land, the four-mile wide isthmus, a little west of Athens at the spectacular site of Heraion of Perachora. Despite the heavy cloud and drizzle this was a magnificent scene. Even without historical associations it was splendour. If you had read a bit you would know that the Spartans had crossed that water under Leonidas to face and repel the huge and mighty Persian invading army under Xerxes in 300 B.C.as they defended the pass at Thermopylae. You might know it was the waterway along which Socrates must have sailed from Athens to consult the Delphic oracle in his celebrated visit. Its waters were then the scene of the momentous confrontation between the Ottoman Turks and the alliance supporting the Venetian fleet to prevent the Turks from taking Cyprus. That was the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. One participant on the Venetian side was none other than the great Don Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra, better known just as Cervantes, author of Don Quixote. Another, possibly, was the great general Othello, the Moor, assuming Shakespeare`s heartbreaking tragedy had some basis in fact. Lepanto was the Venetian name for the Greek town called Nafpaktos which I later visited.
I continued to the edge of the new town and on for around a mile. It was still raining heavily but, strangely, this was an advantage. Normally there would have been groups of tourists along this road but I was entirely alone. Leaving the buildings behind I got an uninterrupted view down the valley to the Gulf. The road curved slightly to the left and as I rounded this bend I saw the ancient ruins of the sanctuary of Apollo climbing the steep hill that was one side of Parnassus. To my right the hillside continued sharply down to the ruin of the circular structure that had been the Temple of Athena. This is often referred to as the “Tholos” of Athena. This word is used in modern Greek for the dome of a cathedral and so it is describing a similar structure. Now all that is left is the circular base and three pillars. To my left was the modern museum which was now closed for the day as was the site itself. Beyond that a path climbed up to the sanctuary, a climb I would undertake the following day. Standing alone by the roadside with the great height of Parnassus on my left, its slopes hosting the ancient ruins and on my right down to the Tholos and the gymnasium before the land sloped steeply away towards the Gulf I felt my trip and my braving the falling rain were fully justified. It was a scene of mighty grandeur in its timeless silence. I could not say whether it was mainly the great beauty of the natural setting itself or the melancholy grandeur which ruins often have or the awareness that this was the site that in ancient times persuaded fiercely warring states to come together in reverence. No doubt all of them contributed to the sense of majesty I enjoyed. Despite the rain which was now easing a little I felt it was a rare privilege to stand alone and insignificant on the hillside as old as time, looking at the silent presence of one of humanity`s true inspirations. I decided to forgive Apollo for having withheld his gift of sunshine from me this one time. It seems in my memory that no sooner had I thought this than I saw an immense rainbow form over the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia a little downhill to my right and on into the far distance down the valley, just like a smile from the great god.”
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GREECE:THE ROMANCE OF THE RUINS