There are few places so rich in history as Athens. It gave rise to democracy, produced some of the best philosophers, artists and politicians, and was the crucible for decisions that shaped the modern world as we know it. Needless to say, I was excited to walk the same streets that influential figures have walked for centuries. And that is what I did while in Athens – I walked, a lot.
Landing at the crack of dawn, I was determined to waste no time. If I could only see one thing in Athens I knew what it would be, and it wasn’t the Acropolis (the obvious guess); it is actually opposite the Acropolis, an unassuming boulder that most tourists walk past on their way to the temple of Athena – but for me, this was it: Mars Hill. The place where the Apostle Paul delivered one of his most famous talks.
24“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[b] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.”
The power and weight of those words – words I have read many times – took new meaning when internalizing their power as I stared in awe of these opulent structures towering over this humble rock where my feet stood. This was a moment I knew I would not forget. I took the opportunity to dwell on these words and pray – it is not every day that you have the opportunity to consume the word in the context that it was delivered.
Next, I turned my sights on another hill, well, a mountain. In the distance, about an hour’s walk, Mount Lycabettus pierces the morning sky – I had to climb it. Off I go, cutting through the streets of Athens, past small shops and through small alleyways – no map necessary because my true north is a small chapel stretching far above any other structure in Southern Greece. The circuitous path to get there makes for more of an adventure – it may not have been a direct shot, but as I pass through small, quiet residential corridors I can feel the vibrance of the city, the unique, laissez faire attitude I had come to understand in my study of economics. Finally, I arrive at the base. I see two options: a paved path that winds up the mountain in cylindrical fashion, or a direct shot up a man-made path, tree branches cleared and loose footing present from the feet of curious travellers before me. I opt for the latter.
As I reach the summit – calves and glutes on fire – I am greeted by some other travellers who opted for the more travelled path. Panting, disheveled, covered in sweat, dirt and a bit of blood, I must have reaffirmed their decision not to take the unbeaten path; however, I am glad I did. It made the view from the summit that much sweeter. From the top of Lycabettus sits a small chapel, capacity for maybe 50 people, but it towers over all of Athens and surrounding area. The Acropolis, just hours before, staring down on me as I stood on Mars Hill, now looks like a small, inconspicuous hill, nestled in the heart of the city. I cherish this moment – it is quiet – probably because no one wants to bare the consequences of the trek. At this moment I feel blessed. What an opportunity to see the far reaching borders of this beautiful city.
Maybe because I’m a glutton for punishment, or because I wanted to make the most of my time in Athens I again opt for a direct shot down, forgoing the opportunity to take a casual stroll down the winding, paved path to the foot of the mountain. The descent proves to be even more bloody than the ascent, but alas, I have made it, and on to my next adventure – Panathenaic Stadium.
One of man’s most primitive instincts is to compete. I love competition – I have a sick obsession. Not because I necessarily need to win (I do), but because it forces another gear when the stakes are highest. Panathenaic stadium is the epitome of that – a place where for centuries, man would compete, surrounded by spectators with bated breath. As I stand there, no one in the stadium less a few hairy greek men hitting some laps – who I thought were wearing shirts, but it turns out were bare backed, just covered in hair – I can hear the roar of the crowds in my subconscious. What a feeling of euphoria these athletes must have felt, centuries ago, underneath the marble pillars. On this warm afternoon I couldn’t help but feel the rush myself – all alone (kind of), eyes shut, hair standing on my arms – primal instinct to compete.
At this point I begin my trek to my final destination for the day. I have not been avoiding the Acropolis, I have been waiting An opportunity to ascend to the top and the sun descends below me. As I reach the top I am overcome with the gravity of where my feet stand. I feel humbled to think about the great women and men who have stood here before me, shaping not only shaping how we as a society operate as a living, democratic organism, but even right down the core of how we as humans think. Politics and philosophy, intrinsically tied beneath the pillars of the Parthenon. For the first time all day, I sit. I sit and watch the sun slowly descend behind the mountain just hours ago served as my perch, observing the city-scape. A cool breeze brings momentary respite. I can do nothing but sit and marvel at the blessings that brought me here.
As night falls my evening at the Acropolis is just beginning. I was fortunate to find tickets to an opera playing in the ancient amphitheatre carved out of the side of the Acropolis known as Odeon of Herodes Atticus. This half dome with seating for five-thousand was constructed at the turn of the millenium, serving as a home for both the fine arts and political platforms. Tonight, I sit in the refinished marble benches, enjoying the bellowing sounds of an Italian opera, underneath the sprawling Acropolis. An experience I won’t soon forget. However, at intermission I walk outside, only to find a group of Sudanese men, playing for a crowd on the streets with drums and dance. The only entrance fee is to embrace the music and dance a little. I decide this is where I belong, opting to forgo the second half of the opera to enjoy the best music available that night, the street performers from across the Mediterranean.
What a perfect end to the night. Under the stars, dancing and singing with a collection of people from all over the world. Some stopping briefly to leave some change in a hat, other staying a while to embrace the music. At this moment I know there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.