Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Easter in Athens


I never wanted to visit Greece, had made up my mind against the place before I first came here in 2002, but I hoped I might like Athens, which everyone told me I would hate. I like shabby capitals with many nineteenth century public buildings and I thought Athens could not be less appealing than Sofia, but in fact Athens, which seemed the 1970s incarnate, terribly polluted, traffic choked and boringly first world depressed me utterly in 2002. 

This year, for the first time, I got to like the town. Last year I managed the same feat with Istanbul - one grows tolerant with age. Athens has its charm, despite affluence and post 1960 property development, which have made the whole world dull. 

Athens under Ottoman rule was a very small place of between five and ten thousand inhabitants, half Christian, half Muslim. Bucharest was bigger (with no Muslims), Sofia even smaller. All these Balkan capitals were effectively created when their countries were invented, but though Athens does not have much Byzantine architecture it has some absolute jewels.

Especially, I loved the frieze on the wonderful eleventh century church of Agios Eleftherios,  a tiny church which used to be the cathedral and stands next door to and is completely overshadowed by the preposterously large nineteenth century cathedral. The latter is in the midst of repairs.

I stayed a couple of days with an American friend of mine and his wife, who have lived here for a couple of years and before spent five in Bucharest. They both think Athens is pretty much the same as Bucharest, beneath the Western European veneer, and they do not mean this as a compliment. Buildings are jerry built, people are an hour late for meetings, nothing is efficient. Personally, I don't see why foreign countries  should be as efficient as England or America and find problems give a place texture. that elusive thing that makes life interesting.

I remember another American, years ago, who split his time equally between Romania, Turkey and Greece. He was asked in my hearing how Romanians Greeks and Turks compared in terms of honesty. His answer was that Romanians were far more honest than Greeks and Turks, but that ''Turks are sometimes too proud to cheat you. A Greek never is.' I repeat this to my host who said this was exactly right.

Athens then is something like Bucharest would be had it not been for Communism. Greeks apparently go to great lengths to be ingenious and sometimes crooked, when being straight would actually be easier. That sounds familiar. But there are two big differences: the Greeks are very proud of their history, which Romanians are not, really, having been conquered and exploited for most of it. And Greeks still believe in socialism and often Communism. After all, they were prevented from having a Communist government by the UK and the US, while in Romania until 1944 the Communist party was miniscule. Though there are now plenty of true believing Communists in Romania among the older generation.

An evzone and I. I was told evzones can have all the girls they desire. This is why they become evzones, it seems. I wonder if they have as much success as Etonians.

The Thinker (4500 - 3300 B.C.) at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens. This makes it  more recent than The Thinker in the National History Museum in Bucharest which is dated 5000-4600 BC.

Wonderful sculpture of a boy on a horse, discovered underwater and pieced together in the 1970s — at the National Archaeological Museum, Athens.

The National Archaeological Museum only ten minutes from the centre is in a bad area, with many illegal immigrants who dislike the police. I like bad areas and anyway it seems fine to me but I notice how very few immigrants there seem to be. Brown-skinned ones, at least, are almost nowhere. Not a diverse society.

Muslim immigrants in Athens want to build a mosque, as is their right in a free country. I am very sorry the Muslims were expelled from Greece in 1922-1923, yet I do not want a new mosque in Athens. The making of Albanians into Greeks annoys me too. As I said, I wish Turkey were full of Greeks and Greece full of Turks. But I want countries to withstand the horrible values of the EU and ECHR.

By the way, whenever I am in Athens I go to gaze at the lovely eighteenth century mosque in Plaka. It houses a museum of Greek folk art. Why not use that?

Greek Folk Art Museum in Monastiraki 
There is a second nearby. I am always pleased that they were not destroyed by Greek patriots, as so many mosques were in Greece and as most of the mosques in Sofia were.

Fehtiye Mosque, Plaka, Athens

For the latest on this, click here. I would love Greece and Poland to save Europe from a hundred post-Christian developments. They and we should start by having more children - and I a childless bachelor am in no position to talk.


  1. A state-sponsored mosque to boot; it would seem the Greek government still has money to lavish on pet projects

  2. My understanding is that majority of the Muslim population in Athens aren't Turks. They are immigrants from the Balkans, from the Middle East and from North Africa. Albanians, Algerians, Pakistanis, Somalians, etc. They are immigrants.

    The problem with building that mosque is that many/most of these immigrants will move close to it, the locals will move out to escape that five times a day muezzin call, and then you can wind up with no-go areas like you have in Paris -- as though Greece doesn't have enough problems.

  3. I too am in Greece, on Crete, about to go to Gavdos, and I too was expecting I would hate Athens. But I likes it. I didn't see the monuments you mention or have such interesting conversations but I just liked the atmosphere. And I'm really impressed by the Greeks. I had been told, and had believed, that they don't work but they never seem to stop working (at least in the restaurants and shops)

    If you want to know where is the best walk in the world, as far as I am concerned, go to Soughia in southern Crete and walk to Aghia Roumeli; it's not far but it's incredibly mountainous and it takes two days.

  4. Yes. As some Muslim leader( I don't recall who) said, "We will conquer by the wombs of our women". Alas.

  5. http://rdcnroman.blogspot.pt/2013/01/ganditorul-de-la-hamangia.html

    we have a similar one here..maybe even a bit older.

  6. Rupert, read Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor's wonderful book Roumeli, which I read in memoriam when he died.

  7. Good pictures as always. I like the evzone and you.
    All the girls one can desire sounds like a dangerous hobby.