Memories are both the reminders of our past and the guides for the future. Most of the time we describe our recollections as the reliving of events that we ourselves have experienced. But sometimes the memories of past generations are so powerful that they transcend personal experience.
Such are the memories of Greece and its mighty cultures. On the day after our island cruise, the history of the ancient Athenians drew us to the city center in an attempt to further understand the ideas and artifacts residents have left behind over the centuries.
This time our search took us to the marvelous Acropolis Museum, built in 2009 and named one of the top 10 museums in the world. It was built to replace a much smaller previous building that housed the collected artifacts from centuries of life, both secular and spiritual, that occurred on Athen’s Sacred Rock, the Acropolis.
Thousands of finds – from intricately carved statuary to bronze weapons – are displayed in the museum’s three stories. Beneath the first floor, an on-going archeological excavation of an Athenian neighborhood takes place right under your feet. Glass flooring allows visitors to watch as the stone houses and walls, discovered when builders began clearing the site for the museum, appear from the earth that’s covered them for hundreds of years.
The museum is a stunning building, composed inside of marble, shining stainless steel and glass, which is polished constantly by a crew of cleaners. Outside, the concrete walls and steel columns mirror the massive size of the structure to which it is dedicated, the Acropolis, which towers just 300 meters away.
The collection on display behind the glass walls is astounding. Perhaps the most stunning is the Archaic Gallery on the first floor, which houses the magnificent sculptures that were displayed on the first temples built on the Acropolis. Marble reliefs, gigantic statues of men, women, animals and gods are displayed on marble pedestals scattered through the 30-foot-high naturally lit gallery.
Elsewhere within the museum, artifacts from the Parthenon itself are displayed, including the colossal figures from the building’s two pediments. Other exhibits feature discovered art from the centuries after the creation of the Parthenon.
At the conclusion of your tour, you’re invited to view the Acropolis and Parthenon itself rising just beyond a gigantic glass wall that extends floor to ceiling.
Although the memories of these eras were not specifically ours, they certainly were “recollections” that have formed our lives. Western philosophy and democracy, literature, theater, music and, obviously, art have been deeply influenced by what happened here.
We decided to end our museum pilgrimage with a stop at a nearby café where we sipped Greek coffees and sampled mezze, include grilled octopus. Crispy grilled bread toasted with olive oil and savory hummus completed the stop.
After our rest, the four of us returned to the narrow cobblestoned streets to engage in a few hours of touristy entertainment – touring the tiny shops that literally line the streets of this Athenian neighborhood. We didn’t buy much – after all, most was the same types of trinkets that could be found in Disneyland, albeit cast as a Grecian god instead of Mickey Mouse.
The best part was the experience, and the personal memories it will generate. The sight of the three young men who had traveled here with me jostling and joking, smiling and laughing, sharing and caring is etched into my memory. The tastes of the wine, beer and coffees we shared will forever be on my tongue. The echo of their voices makes me smile.
As I’m sitting at this moment in the airport, about to embark on the next leg of my adventure to Kenya, I have to admit it’s bittersweet. The bitter is the need to leave the three young men who I love most in my life. The sweet is the memories that have been created here.
It is the memories, after all, that form the most important part of our lives. The material objects we surround ourselves are nothing in comparison. But those memories, especially when captured jointly, will live on within us. This journey, shared with three fine men, comprise a loving portrait of relationships and people that will never be erased.
So, here I am, watching my plane as it pulls up to the gate, glancing over at the dusty Grecian hills. I might never see these sites again – the astounding Grecian islands, the historic city center, the majestic Parthenon – but they will never leave me.
Memories – whether they emanate from your experiences of those of the people before you – are splendid things.