As the King of the gods, Zeus controlled the thunderbolts and could do just about anything he wanted. But on the subject of his compulsive womanizing, he ran in terror from his wife Hera. After one particular tryst with the brainiac Mitas, he grew so concerned that he naturally swallowed her (don’t even think about it, boys). A furious migraine ensued and was only cured by splitting open his skull. Out popped the goddess Athena, already fully grown, armed, and dangerous.


When the citizens of a minor seaside Aegean settlement were looking for a patron, Poseidon tried to bribe them with salt water and trade. Athena, by then a confirmed virgin, offered a single olive tree. For reasons lost to antiquity, the Athenians went for the tree and all the billions of those tiny, shriveled, salty black fruit that eventually came from it.


But patronage did not come cheap. The Parthenon (i.e., Virgin) temple cost a fortune and, with all the other monuments in town, caused one rebellion after another by the vassal cities the Athenians taxed to pay for it. And the structure only lasted a short while as a temple anyway. The Greeks turned it into a treasury, the Christians into a church, the Ottomans into a mosque and then an ammunition dump—which explains how, on 26 September, 1687, a Venetian bomb blew off the roof and walls.


For centuries, the structure just sat there, as travelers and vandals picked off bits and pieces—or, in the case of the British, massive chunks. Whatever you might think about tourists, it was the official Greek discovery of the trade that led them after World War II to suddenly discover preservation. Which is the reason you can hardly get a photograph these days without scaffolding to mar the view.

But you just can’t have everything.

Categories: Greece

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