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During our lockdown in Athens, one factor remained reassuringly fixed: the Parthenon was nonetheless standing tall, watching silently over the empty metropolis. The absence of automobiles and planes swept away the Athenian smog and the spring skies shone with an uncanny readability, throwing the acquainted define of the monument into sharp aid. The Parthenon appeared to vibrate with the promise of transcendence – an emblem of humanity’s means to outlast, to beat, to outlive. However one factor was lacking: the tiny vacationers, clinging to the sides of the rock like a path of black ants, had been gone. There was no one up there communing with the spirit of Athena, besides maybe for just a few stray cats snoozing within the shade of these large columns.
So when archaeological websites opened up once more – together with procuring centres, magnificence parlours and excessive colleges – in Greece on 18 Might, I needed to be the primary up on that hill. However my plan was foiled by an unseasonal heatwave that saved Athenians confined indoors; there was no query of scrambling up the Acropolis hill in 37C. On Thursday, the warmth lastly broke. Within the silvery night gentle, my seven-year-old son and I wandered previous the stressed buyers parading up and down Ermou Avenue, the equal of Oxford Avenue. The crowds dissipated within the previous city of Plaka, the memento outlets nonetheless shuttered, the touts who usually prowl hungrily outdoors the tavernas gone. Often, there’s an extended queue of individuals ready to enter the Acropolis, even on the quieter entrance on the north slope, by the traditional theatre of Dionysus. For us, there was no one.
“The marble had area to breathe, the temple had an opportunity to relaxation,” the gloved ticket vendor smiled behind her plexiglass protect, once I instructed her how excited I used to be about our non-public viewers with one of many wonders of the world. “Think about, there are often 10-12,000 folks a day clambering over these stones. In the present day, there may be 10 of you up there.”
A few masked safety guards waved us up the slopes to the Propylaea, the monumental portico that marks the doorway to the sacred precinct. Yellow stickers warning guests to “maintain protected distance” had been caught on intermittent steps, usual from large slabs of marble. “Had been folks actually big in historical Greece?” my son puzzled, marvelling on the measurement of the steps. Every thing appeared amplified with out the chattering, snap-happy crowds. The Parthenon appeared much more monumental than common. A gusty wind drove moody clouds throughout the mountains that encircle town. Shards of daylight pierced the clouds, like searchlights scanning the cascading blocks of concrete that encompass the positioning, whose vanilla and nicotine palette matched the fragmentary columns scattered about in poetic preparations.
And there, on the horizon, was the ocean, punctuated by stationary ships and islands, nonetheless off limits to travellers.
4 teenage ladies had been taking selfies on a ledge, the Greek flag fluttering behind them. Three college students had been sitting on a marble bench, staring variously into their telephones and into the gap. A person was fielding cellphone calls, whereas his two younger daughters scampered across the ruins. There have been loads of affectionate cats, to my son’s delight. However I didn’t count on the gulp of swallows, slaloming out and in of the Parthenon’s columns in a joyous, sonorous sport of tag.
I took a few images that didn’t do justice to the view or the monument or the second. After which, auspiciously, my cellphone died. I didn’t should filter this once-in-a-lifetime expertise by a display. I felt immediately liberated, elated – just like the tanned, insouciant vacationers in photographer Tod Papageorge’s On the Acropolis, a lately revealed collection of black-and-white pictures shot within the early 1980s. Reclining, embracing or unselfconsciously draped on the ruins like a modern-day frieze, these luminous mortals signify a time when touching the Parthenon and each other was completely pure.