After a trip to Athens, Ohio this past summer (see three postings below)….. we had a chance to visit the real thing on our way back to HNC: Athens, Greece! Yes, yet another seat of learning – but this one the very foundation of Western Civilization.

A couple of obvious targets were the Parthenon on the Acropolis and the new Acropolis Museum housing many of its original treasures…. & for these I had Mary Beard’s lively & rather witty book The Parthenon as a guide. She delves into the complicated history of that edifice: an ancient temple for the goddess Athena; a Christian church, complete with bell tower; an Islamic mosque, with the tower extended to become a minaret; and a valuable treasure source for Britain’s Lord Elgin in the early 1800’s (i.e., the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum). Lately, of course, it has assumed the role of cultural icon, with restoration still on-going (as evident in the picture)…. and never-ending controversy about the return of major pieces from London, now that a suitable museum home for them exists at the site.

The Parthenon

Its classic beauty has been appreciated by architects around the world, and – given my recent postings about modern architecture – I found it interesting that Beard pointed out that even an iconoclast like Le Corbusier “rooted his new vision of architecture in the sheer perfection of the Parthenon.” Le Corbusier had written: “There has been nothing like it anywhere or at any period,” and suggested that “one clear image will stand in my mind forever: the Parthenon, stark, stripped, economical, violent, a clamorous outcry against a landscape of grace and terror.”

The people, food, climate, and lifestyle of Greece have always held attraction – a major reason for our trip! — but others see an even more profound Mediterranean influence on Le Corbusier. Alain de Botton & John Armstrong, in their work Art as Therapy, state that “what we now know as Modernism is in large measure an attempt to recreate white vernacular Hellenic architecture in a northern climate, with the help of steel, glass and concrete.” The sun-drenched, outdoor, laid-back attitude of Greeks and other southern Europeans contrasted with the cold, rational and efficient mores of northerners, and these authors suggest that Le Corbusier was fascinated by “the whitewashed seaside villages and the spirit their simple, uncluttered, unornamented designs exuded.” A solarium on the Villa Savoye in northern France was thus “making an argument for a paganism of the spirit, whatever the weather might be doing outside.”

It’s a bit of a leap from the classical columns of the Parthenon to Le Corbusier’s pilotis & other design elements – but I suspect that those Hellenic whitewashed seaside villages and the Mediterranean food & lifestyle were indeed as enticing to him as they were to us…. & those factors were key to our next two stops, in Santorini and Mykonos.

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