It was a blissfully warm evening and the sun was just setting behind the Parthenon, casting a warm glow over Athens. I wandered through the Plaka (Athen’s older, more traditional district) looking for a place to eat dinner and enjoy the beautiful evening. The Plaka is by far my favorite area of Athens; its cobblestone streets, open air markets selling exotic treasures and charming cafes exude a magic and ambience highly different from the rest of the bustling, new world city. The entire district is tucked up against the base of the Parthenon plateau, offering breathtaking views of one of the greatest icons in the world. Best of all, however, are the ancient ruins the district is built around. Large open areas, surrounded by weathered fences enclose clusters of ruins, freely open to the public.
We walked by a cluster of ruins. A pack of free roaming dogs trotted around the ruins and rested in the shade of the giant columns, tongues lolling out of their mouths panting; travelers and lovers strolled through the stone structures, admiring the history and wise, romantic atmosphere. We walked farther down the lane and came upon another gathering of ruins. The sound of music being played softly in the evening air drifted out over the street. A tall, white canvas canopy was strung out amidst some high reaching columns and a small ensemble was set up underneath, playing their instruments for the passersby. Apparently, a few nights of the week, bands set up amidst the ruins and perform everything form Mozart to jazz. Tonight was a delightfully simplified version of Mahler’s fifth symphony.
I walked into the park and sat down in white folding chairs that had been set up for the occasion. A few people sat on toppled pillars, sipping wine and enjoying a light pre-dinner snack. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath of the warm, sweet air, rich with the scent of steaming mousaka and roasting lamb. The music floated lightly on the breeze, embracing the scene in a peaceful yet energetic aura, like a deep breath of fresh air. The music rose and fell in smooth crescendos and diminutions, weaving a beautiful harmony that hung above the ruins, spreading out to the surrounding cafes. It wasn’t the overwhelming blast of a full orchestra, it was something beautiful, simple and pure. The gracefully defined notes washed over the scene like tropical water, in a smooth stillness; it brushed over my skin, making everything feel at peace as though time was standing still. I could not imagine anything more perfect.
The sun set, and after a while the ensemble stopped playing and started packing up their instruments. The Parthenon was illuminated on the plateau like a glowing beacon, celebrating the achievements of the past and the promise of the present. I walked through the Plaka, slowly heading back to our hotel. The atmosphere was cheerful and relaxed and the music still reverberated in my ears. The concert had instilled a unique atmosphere in the night. It was a feeling of art, history and time all converging at one point, in one freshly springing, rich mellifluous experience. Listening to music among the ruins is like a respite, a disordering of the normal flow of time. It’s a pristine moment, where the past is present, the future nonexistent and there is only the present, the warm air embracing you and the notes tickling your ears.