What's old is new again
Greece dusts off for Olympic infusion
By MELISSA BIRKS, Rockford Register Star
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ATHENS -- Today, the 4th century B.C. monument to the goddess Athena looks like a hardhat zone.
Scaffolding encases the Parthenon. To the southwest sits some kind of construction vehicle, maybe a forklift. It's bright orange. Next to the Parthenon's muted yellow columns, it looks like an accident.
The makeover is just one of many for a city preparing to be seen by the world in August. The restoration has not come without controversy, a trend that seems to follow anything that touches the 2004 Olympic Games.
Marble chunks the size of office desks are strewn around the grounds of the Acropolis, this hilltop site that contains the Parthenon and other remnants of the Golden Age of Greece.
This is a new age. Some of this marble is waiting for the hands of a sculptor to mold it into a column or frieze. White now, the marble will be painted to match the yellow of the Pentelic marble that built most of these monuments.
"Everything you see is being done for the Olympics," says guide Lydia Mahera. "This is the Acropolis. It has to be spruced up. It's the first thing anyone sees."
Mahera, a history teacher and archeologist, explains that her bretheren are divided on the wisdom of rebuilding parts of the Parthenon and other monuments.
"I find this brutal," she says. "I'm an archeologist. I don't believe this can happen. But the archeologists are split in two. Some say it's good to see it" as it was in antiquity.
"I'm in favor of those who say leave it the way it is, in ruins."
In a tour through the center of town, Mahera lists other Olympic-inspired projects:
There's a new fleet of buses that operate on natural gas. They've been around for two years, but "nobody uses them," Mahera says, because they cost more to ride than the older blue buses.
An estimated 15,000 new taxis are in service.
A metro system that's faster than the existing underground will service the airport. The mayor of Athens recently took a test run.
A tram that will service the southern suburbs (the underground goes to the north) is a work in progress. Will it be ready? "Let's hope before the Olympics," Mahera says.
And, of course, the famous 17,000-ton roof over the Olympic Stadium. On Thursday,the official Olympic Web site had photos of the eastern arc sliding into place.
Earlier in the week, the International Olympic Committee president told the Associated Press that Athens will be "100 percent ready."
The Olympics will touch more places than just Athens. Olympic venues are scattered throughout the country.
Evidence of the games' fingerprint on the nation can be seen in the tiny waterway where the Gulf of Patra and the Corinthian Gulf meet.
The suspension bridge between Rio to the south and Antirio to the north was lit in electric blue on a recent warm night. The bridge spurs an argument between two Greeks who represent divergent views of this summer's spectacle.
Joanna Adoniadou, a 21-year-old native of Athens, sneers. She's offended that it took the 2004 Olympics coming to Athens to build this bridge, which will be the longest suspension bridge in Greece once it's done. For years, travelers have depended on ferries to get from southern Greece to the north.
The bridge is just one example of how the Olympics has changed her hometown.
"The only reason anything is happening in Greece is because of the Olympics," she says. "Every day it's something else. In Athens, it's 'Oh, look at this!' I don't even know where I am anymore!"
Panos Gadalos, 26, is a native of Patra, the third-largest city in Greece and the site of some Olympic games. He takes the ferry north almost every day.He says the Olympics has merely sped up construction.
"It might take 10 years before it's finished," he says, "if not for the Olympics."
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A word on terrorism
The shopkeeper who sells Greek souvenirs is not worried about terrorism during the Olympics. Neither is the owner of God's Restaurant; he's more concerned about filling his sidewalk tables.
The Greeks seem bored answering the question. They've been asked it so often, second only to, "Will Athens be ready for the Olympics?"
Most say they're not concerned. Greece has no enemies. No one has any reason to target their peaceful country.
"I don't think the Greeks have any reason to be concerned. We have done nothing to provoke anyone," said Lydia Mahera, an Athens tour guide who will volunteer at the Olympics.
Joanna Adoniadou, 21, said she's afraid of how her suburban Athens home will be affected by throngs of tourists. She lives near an Olympic venue and dreads the traffic.
"I will go to an island during the Olympics," she said. "Athens is already crowded. It will be so many people. You won't be able to go anywhere."
Another threat? Skyrocketing price tags.
"Everything just keeps going up," Mahera said. "One year ago, it was 1 or 5 euros to get inside the Acropolis. Now, how much was your ticket? Something like 17 euro. That bottle of water you're drinking? It's 1 euro? It might be 4 euro. Or 11."
On the Web
The official Web site of the 2004 Olympics is www.athens2004.com/athens2004/
Several Web sites give information about the Acropolis, among them:
For information on Cross Country International for a horse-riding vacation, visit:
Sources: The Associated Press; www.greekembassy.org; www.athens2004.com/athens2004/
Do you see this as a positive or negative development? Thoughts?