Athens was very different to how I had imagined it. An ancient city, the home of democracy, dominated by imposing marble columns, wipe amphitheaters, and emotive sculptures. It was disappointing to see how the few points of historic beauty were so swamped by an immensely ugly concrete sprawl.
Recovering from food poisoning, we slowly climbed the Acropolis – a great height – passing though the great columned gates until we stood in the middle of a vast reconstruction site. Cranes and scaffolding appeared to devour many of the structures.
The remains of the carvings in the apex of the Parthenon were pulsing with life – the horses at the corner still struggling to emerge from the sea, thousands of years later. The columns of the Pantheon were mottled like patchwork, with the stark white new marble carved with laser precision to melt into every niche of the old stone, turned dark brown from centuries of smog.
The impurities in the air of Athens have led to a strage idea of conservation – all the grand sculptures and frescos must be removed for their own protection and stored inside a building nearby. Plaster casts now stand in their place, a replica being the only object that can be risked against the elements.
The Erechtheum was my favourite of the structures at the Acropolis – the tall maidens swathed in in cloth, each one uniquely inspired by a woman of the time. The final end point of the procession to present Athena with her new gown.
From the top of the Acropolis, the grey sprawl of the city spread out in all directions, a stark contrast to the golden columns of the few temples that remained. The classical foundations remaining in the city were scarce, hemmed in at all sides by chaotic traffic and tall unpainted concrete apartment buildings. The Temple of Olympic Zeus was visible, with one of the toppled columns looking like a child had just knocked over some building blocks, and they were waiting to be stacked up again for the next game.