Athens

Posted by – 31/05/2008

Finally we got to Greece. I was curious about this part of the trip, and also we wanted to try to get some beach days (it was sunny in Italy, but not really warm enough for us to go to the beach). But the beach would have to wait a little longer, since we entered Greece by its capital, Athens.

We got there by night and went to a traditional Taverna (a restaurant with typical food and singing-dancing presentations). On our way to the Taverna, we took a picture of the Piraeus port in the night:


What a beautiful city! It’s well organized and well preserved and people are much more friendly than Rome. We stayed in Plaka, which is an old neighborhood with narrow streets and good places to eat and shop, and close to the touristic places we wanted to see. Rome’s ancient places were more “look but don’t touch” places, Athens, in the other hand, invites you to really enter the places. They have a well stated project to recuperate some sites (such as the Parthenon) to “give it back” to the people. While we were there, they held a “open weekend”: when they open everything to local bands and artists to show off in the ruins. We saw a band preparing the sound equipment in Herodes Odeon thinking how interesting it would be to have a band and present in such a place!

The acropolis is really impressing. Such a high place with such beautiful buildings makes you think of how they got all those stones up there with the technology they got at the time.

The Parthenon – or the temple of armed (parthenos) Athens – is marvelous:

We went down from the acropolis to the Athenian Agora… something similar the Roman forum: the political center of old Athens, with temples and public buildings. There’s a museum there, with some interesting remains, being the “random choice stone” one of which I found the most intriguing:

It was a piece from the legendary Athenian democracy called Kleroleria, used to select “randomly” the jury that would serve that day in the court of law: free people names were written in metal plates inserted in the horizontal slots in the stone. An opaque metal tube was previously filled with a random sequence of white or black balls which were extracted one by one. If the ball was white, the whole line of names was accepted for duty that day; if black the line was rejected. (I wonder if cryptography people would be happy with this randomness nowadays ­čÖé ).

Also in that museum we found pieces of black ceramic with names written on them. That was also part of the democratic processes in old Athens, these particularly used for ostracism. Ostracism was a process designed to protect Athens from despotic power: every now and then a survey was taken where citizens had to vote in the least desirable person in each opinion. The “winner” had to leave Athens for the next ten years.

To end the day we watched the Guard change in front of the parliament, in Syntagma square and ate Greek barbecue (called Gyros) in a place nearby:


The change of the guard is quite an weird ceremony that happens every hour. The soldiers perform interesting movements with their legs and feet before holding still at their “watch spots” for the next hour. They use strange outfits. We recorded the change as a movie, but later I found lots of videos in youtube recording the same so if you want to take a look at the ceremony just search for ‘Athens Syntagma Guard’ and you’ll be fine.

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