In April 1869, the Prince of Wales, who was on a big tour of official duties (and presumably fun and sightseeing) around Europe, left Constantinople vis Bosphorus in Turkey and duly arrived in the Port of Athens. After a quick look around (with everything festively decorated to welcome his Highness apparently,) the Royal Party then hopped on the train to the Hellenic King’s palace in the countryside, by all a beautiful place surrounded by equally beautiful scenery. On the following day, they all hopped back on the train and headed for the Acropolis for a personal (and presumably private) tour.
It's not surprising that his future Majesty went for the Acropolis tour. It's such an imposing and unmissable sight, looming up over the city of Athens. I had actually been to visit it before, while on a day trip to Athens with my family (from our holiday on a Greek island, standard) when I was about 12 or so. And my lovely boyfriend Sean had been before, too. But I wanted to do something unusual for this latest article and so, we duly trekked up to the lofty heights on a scorching day.
After getting there, getting tickets and then nearly dying of shock at trying to buy two (500ml!) bottles of water and being asked for no less than €10 (we declined), we headed in. The first thing to say is that it (and its surrounding areas) look rather different from how it would have done back in 1869.
In the screenshot above (click to see bigger), you can see the ruined Temple of Olympian Zeus...
This is the view from it today with the hill from which the above photo was taken to the left...
But what about the ancient buildings themselves as Bertie would have seen them? Well, between 1835 and 1854, the first ever major restorations took place and the monuments were, in effect, put back together using the actual ancient parts, interspersed with new marble. Hence the Parthenon was partially restored at the time. But unfortunately, the inexperience of the workers and the use of iron created lots more problems which have been being sorted out ever since. The modern Acropolis is 50% scaffolding.
The Temple of Athena is more put together than it was back then, though. Exhibit A (1869):
And Exhibit B (September 2013):
Nonetheless, it must have been an imposing sight for the future King and his entourage... not to mention significantly fewer heath and safety restrictions!
The Life of King Edward VII by John Castell Hopkins tells us that on the day in question, 21st April 1869, 'The Acropolis was visited and the glories of that scene of historic greatness revived in the memories of the Royal travellers. A state banquet followed in the evening and on the next day a number of memorable sights and scenes were visited while the evening was the occasion for a coloured and very striking illumination of the mighty ruins of the Acropolis.' Sounds super fancy.
But this wasn't the only time Bertie visited Athens (and went round the Acropolis)... for he returned again during his reign. In 1906 to be precise, for the first Intercalated Olympic Games.
Ah, the Olympics. Big news in the UK last year and, in fact, a topic I covered in this very blog series since they were also held in 1908, during the reign of our hero King Edward VII. You will know several Olympic facts, like that they happen every four years; but you may not know that in the early part of the last century, they tried to make them more often.
The first ever 'official' (there were plenty of smaller forerunners across Europe in previous years and centuries) took place in Athens in 1896. They were very successful, so much so that the Greeks proposed they did the same every four years. Unfortunately, the French chap who founded the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin, wanted his homeland to have some of the glory. Hence, Paris hosted the next Games in 1900, St Louis Missouri in the US got the 1904 event. And dear old Blighty played host to the 1908 edition. But the French games were very long, stretching over several months, were slightly overshadowed by the Exhibition they ran concurrent to. Thus, after the 1900 Olympics, the IOC decided to grant the Greeks their own quadrennial Games - otherwise known as the Intercalated Games. They were a big success, short (two weeks), sweet and with the first ever First Parade of Nations (in alphabetical national order with Greece entering last as the host nation), and the first Closing Ceremony, featuring 6,000 local schoolchildren. Very little footage survives but, luckily, this clip features none other than our hero, King Edward VII entering the stadium along with King George of Greece for the opening ceremony with Queen Alexandra (who was in fact the daughter of King George I of Greece). So grand.
At the time, this interim Games was actually known as an official Olympics, it was only downgraded later. Shame! It wasn't as eventful as the 1908 Olympics of London but Royal participation did come in the form of Prince George, King Edward's brother in law, accompanying the marathon winner, Canadian Billy Sherring, on his final lap of the stadium. Also, according to Wikipedia, 'Peter O'Connor of Ireland won gold in the hop, step and jump (triple jump) and silver in the long jump. In protest at being put on the British team, O'Connor scaled the flagpole and hoisted the Irish flag, while the pole was guarded by Irish and American athletes and supporters.'
I wish I could have gone to Panthanikos Stadium to take some photos, but there are only so many ancient ruins one can do in one holiday (I did lots more, pictures to follow).
I hope you have enjoyed this little look at King Edward's two visits to Athens. As you know, I usually pose with a bottle of King's Ginger to illustrate my posts, but booze and budget airlines don't work well together at all. So, I improvised with a booklet instead!
Don't forget to try the King's Ginger... perfect for these cool autumn nights. See where it's available here!