CULTURE

New book a precious gift to the city of Athens

It is time, so we must let it change, let it flow, so long as it allows us to keep the memories and images intact of our favorite idol, in this case, the city of Athens. Athens, the walled city of the Golden Age of Pericles, who was, justifiably, so proud of the city and the power it held. He used to say that there were so many true testimonies of the city’s greatness that it would live on as an object of admiration for generations to come, even without the exaltation of Homer. Pericles’ words are brought back to mind by the lustrous, colorful and so carefully studied texts of Fani-Maria Tsigakou, the curator of the Benaki Museum’s department of painting and engravings, a spirited and glowing presence in the cultural circles of present-day Athenian society. Pericles’ words are also made true by the 11 thematic units of her book «Athens Through the Eyes of Artists-Travelers (16th-19th century).» Her new book, a celebration of art and top-quality publishing, was launched recently by the Technis Oistros publishing house in a bilingual Greek-English edition, translated by Alexandra Doumas. The photographs are by Costas Manolis and Vassilis Georgiou, while the publication’s jacket has been designed by Costas Costopoulos and Tsigakou. The prologue has been written by Athens Academy archaeologist Christos Boulotis, who says that the publication of any new book that takes up the history of Athens, be it the distant or recent past, or even the present day, takes on the character of a debt of honor. Because Athens – the former walled city – is an emblematic city, the wise and profound expression of Western civilization, Boulotis adds. But it is also a city that has suffered a great deal over the course of its long history, as attested, first and foremost, by its classical monuments, monuments that compose a palimpsest of its character, pay testimony to the senseless demolition of Byzantine churches under the reign of King Otto and, more recently, of gems of neoclassical architecture (among many others) in the name of a short-sighted model of development that defies all sense of aesthetics and reason. The city has also suffered greatly at the hands of vast and unfettered urbanization and uncontrollable construction. Its historic rivers, writes the archaeologist, have been built in and over, robbing the land of its landscapes. Boulotis also pays tribute to the person who created this book by saying that Tsigakou’s book takes us on a journey to a lost Athens, as it was seen, experienced and recorded by foreign travelers from the 16th to the 19th centuries. He says that the book offers an alluring mental tour of the Athenian landscape over the course of its history, composing a colorful kaleidoscope of eloquent images. The archaeologist also notes that the accompanying texts are written in a manner that is lucid, easy to follow and with spirit. He says that the book allows the scholar, the researcher, the admirer and the lay reader to see Athens as though looking through the eyes of these artists and travelers, as though reading a story about their experiences that they have imprinted on a canvas. The 205 pages of Tsigakou’s book take us on a journey through the city of Athens that allows us to see it anew, to compare the past with the present and to express our admiration for it once more.