A DOCUMENTARY LIKE APPROACH TO ATHENS
Athens, with its fairy tale history and its memories, adorned as they are with romantic visions of lovely days, is a unique source of cultural wealth. The themes that can be developed are multifarious and of great interest in terms of aesthetics, historic testimonies, and every form of informational material. They bear within a poetic disposition, a nostalgia, and, at the same time, they are a living part of Greek history.
On the sacred rock of Acropolis the Parthenon was built, the Golden Age bloomed and democracy was born.
There, the Athenians organized, in honour of the goddess Athena, the small Panathinaia, which took place every summer and the big Panathinaia that took place every four years and went on for twelve days. The celebratory events were impressive, spectacular but also intensely religious. The program included majestic processions, music and dance contests, sports events, as well as religious rituals and sacrifices.
Under the shade of the Parthenon, in the ancient market, and on the opposite hill of Pnyka, even today, live the visions of Pericles and all those that shaped the spirit of democracy and brought forth the Golden Age of Athens. The period of the Athenian democracy with the amazing achievements in terms of social life, the arts and philosophy; of Athenian democracy that, through its values, deeply affected the development of mankind.
On the foot of the Acropolis, Dionysus’s ancient theatre brings to mind one of the most glorious religious feasts of the ancient Athenians. The Big Dionysia take place there every year with mass participation by the Athenians. During the Big Dionysia the renowned dramatic competition took place: a competition which the most prominent dramatists of the time participated in. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, the three grand playwrights of ancient Greece, with their ageless present, have enlightened humanity and made whole generations bow to their great spirit.
A little further on, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus brings forth the continuation of the story of the Roman and the Hellenistic years, during which Athens continued to be the giver of light in terms of spirit and artistic creation.
But then comes the death sentence of the ancient Greek spirit by the Byzantines which brings with it the decline of Athens.
Later on, even darker years follow, which reach the dream, but do not actually reach the spark of the fairy tale. Through the centuries conquerors pillaged the city, desecrating her glory and obliterating her culture, turning her into an insignificant Turkish village. But the spark of the fairy tale stays patiently lit, longing for the chance to be set alight once more.
During the 19th century, essentially after 1834, when Athens becomes the capital of the newly established Greek state, the suspension comes to an end and the time for the continuation of the fairy tale arrives. The registering of the new chronicle of the city begins: a city that from an insignificant little village is transformed into a glorious capital. A transformation that is not, in essence, a transformation but, rather, a revival. From the ashes of the fairy tale a new fairy tale is born, and the ancient gods return to offer their gifts.
Otho’s arrival in Athens marks the beginning of the period of Bavarian occupation, with all its negative political elements, but, at the same time, with the onset of the countdown to the reacquisition of the ancient grandeur of the city. Great architects adorn the newly established capital with their neo-classical masterpieces. The raising of the palaces begins, the cathedral is established, gardens are created, the squares of Syntagma and Omonoia are constructed, the University is built using the designs of famous architect, Hansen, who, a few years later, offers his architectural masterpiece, The Academy of Athens.
The beautification of the capital continues even more intensely during the second half of the 19th century, with the economic recovery and the inflow of foreign currency. The reign of Georgios I makes its own mark and brings about new customs. The Trikoupian reformist period ends ingloriously with bankruptcy, but nothing gets in the way of the evolution of the city and of its extending in terms of its rapid population increase.
The re-establishment of the Olympic Games in 1896, in the restored Kallimarmaro stadium turns all eyes onto the re-born queen.
And the 20th century arrives, with the Athens of the Belle Époque and its romanticism—regardless of the big problems of the first decade—with its days of happiness and its period of the triumphant Balkan wars and with the trying days of refuge following the destruction of Asia Minor in 1922. But it is also a time during which there is a noted creative renewal of human resources. The refugees offer their spirit, their knowledge and achieve great things. The spiritual generation of the ‘30s establishes its intense presence through literature, poetry and art.
The nostalgic event-recording tour evokes the pulse of yesterday’s Athens: bringing to life snap-shots, habits and quaint elements that left their mark on the personality of the city during certain periods. A dreamlike retrospection through the decades of romanticism and finer feelings, and a deep incision into the soul of Athens, reveals the true personality and the innermost world of the city Kostis Palamas called: ’’source of the idea, queen of the beautiful”.
The years of the German occupation bring a sad darkness onto the evolution of the lovely fairy tale. But in post-war Athens pictures slowly slowly find their lost colour again. Pictures--visions with snap-shots we still mentally revive. The children that despite their poverty play carelessly in Plaka’s back-streets. Open-air cinemas. The refreshment stands of the Museum Garden, the Pedion Areos, ‘Aegli’ in Zappeion. Variety shows. The traffic-warden of Chafteia. Aiolou street at Christmas. Open-air vegetable stands. Football games in alley-ways. The transformation of Omonoia square. Fokionos Negri street. The popular beaches of Faliron. The first trolleys…
And the tour can be completed by visiting Athenian spaces in which history was written. Syntagma square, the Old Palaces, the old Houses of Parliament, Klafthmonos square, the Makrygianni army camp, Pedion Areos, Goudi, Exarheia (the blue condominium).
Written by: George Petritsis
Edited by: Yallou