Tag Archives: Lord Elgin

A Life in a Year – 6th April, The first Modern Olympic Games

Our plan was to go first to the Acropolis and the city guidebook advised getting there early to avoid the crowds. We did as it suggested and got there early (well, reasonably early) and it was swarming, I mean really swarming! Obviously we weren’t early enough. I can’t imagine what it is like when it is really busy!

We visited the hopelessly inadequate Acropolis Museum; It was small, hot and stuffy and overcrowded with lots of pushing and shoving, and there were so many treasures to show but it was smaller than a corner shop; later we saw the buildings where the famous marbles used to be before Lord Elgin pillaged them for the British Empire 200 years ago, he just hacked the statues off the buildings with saws and sent them back to the England where the 56 sculpted friezes, depicting gods, men and monsters are kept at the British Museum. Elgin was the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire who ruled Greece at that time and the Turks gave permission for the removal without consulting the Greeks.

We walked past the city museum but didn’t have time to go in and then to the original Olympic stadium of the modern games which opened on April 6th 1896 and which looked perfectly useable to me. I don’t know why they had to build another one in 2004 when this one was completely adequate. And that gave them a lot of trouble as well because they nearly didn’t get that finished on time; what a good job they didn’t need the Acropolis for the 2004 games!

In the afternoon we went to the temple of Dionysus, another unfinished building and there wasn’t much going on there either. What the Greeks need are some builders from Poland to come over and get the jobs completed. Everyone says that that the Poles are the best builders in Europe at the moment with fantastic productivity, I’m sure they would have this placed finished in no time.

The day was really hot by now and the afternoon temperature in the city was rising all the time but we carried on as best we could. Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that! I specialise in speed sight seeing but even I was beginning to flag and I had a bit of a sweat on now but hopefully no one had noticed? Around the back of the Parthenon we walked through a collection of interesting whitewashed sugar cube houses, that looked curiously out of place and resembled those on the Cyclades and we read later that they were in fact built by workmen from Santorini who came to Athens many years ago to find employment during a building boom in the city.

We arrived at the Greek Agora, which is the equivalent of the Roman Forum in Rome, but we had been walking now for almost six hours and really couldn’t do much more so we had to give up after only seeing less than half of it. Sally had a bit of emerging sunburn with vivid white strap marks but Charlotte was well protected under all that factor 30! We took some shade and applied some cream and then we walked back to the hotel stopping off at a little shady pavement bar next to the Roman Agora, another Mythos for me and iced tea for the girls.

On the way back I bought a cheap bottle of local red wine from an untidy little back street mini-market and we returned to the hotel. No one wanted to share it with me so I had to drink most of it myself but couldn’t quite manage the full bottle all in one go. We changed and went out again into the Plaka to eat. This time we choose a taverna adjacent to the first in a picturesque tree lined square. I had probably my best meal of the holiday, a lovely grilled chicken with fresh vegetables with especially memorable baked tomatoes. The girls had salad (again). And there was Greek music and dancing including our first Zorba of the holiday, which was really good.



A Life in a Year – 6th January, the Crown of St Stephen returned to Hungary

Because the sun was shining we left the hotel early this morning to take full advantage of the unexpectedly good weather.  On the other side of the Liberty Bridge was the Market Square and the covered central market building.  As with other cities that we have visited the market was filled with excellent produce, meat, fish vegetables and, this we hadn’t seen before, several stalls devoted to selling different paprika and herb combinations to be used to flavour the Hungarian national dish of goulash.

The weather now was unbelievably good, the sun was shining, the sky was blue and the temperature was several degrees above average for this time of the year.  Today we were going to concentrate on Pest but with an eye on the blue skies had a mind to return to Buda for photo opportunities that had alluded us yesterday.  This meant that time was an issue so there was no time to dawdle about.  From the market we walked through the streets of the city, past the Hungarian National Museum and down a long road that went past some very fine buildings and came out in a Elizabeth Square which was big and spacious and was surrounded by impressive buildings and wide boulevards.  In the nineteenth century Budapest earned the tag of Paris of the East and looking around it was easy to see why.

After the creation of Budapest as one great city, there was a rush of construction and Pest was extensively remodelled in the image of Vienna, acquiring the main arterial street Nagykörút or Great Boulevard and another, Andrássy Avenue, which led out to Hero’s Square and a great park with magnificent fountains and lakes, and all of this frantic reconstruction reached a fanatical peak to coincide with Budapest’s millennium anniversary celebrations of the settlement of the Magyars in the region of 1896.


Today Budapest is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is considered an important Central European hub for business, culture and tourism. we weren’t expecting this and it certainly took us by surprise and like most other places we were beginning to realise that two days was hopelessly inadequate to appreciate this really fine City.

Moving swiftly on we were in full speed sightseeing mode now and next it was St Stephen’s Basilica which at ninety-six metres high is the tallest building in Budapest.  Actually the Hungarian Parliament building is also ninety-six metres high which might sound a bit of a coincidence but in fact this is no accident and is quite deliberate because the number ninety-six refers to the nation’s millennium, 1896, and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896.

The Basilica is named in honour of Stephen, who was the first King of Hungary from 1000 to 1038 and whose mummified fist is kept in a shrine at the back of the church.  There is also a copy of his crown which is quite important to Hungary because it represents the legitimate authority to govern the country and it was first used in the coronation of Stephen which is an event that marks the beginning of Hungarian statehood.

Holy Crown of Hungary

The Holy Crown was removed from the country in 1945 for safekeeping, and entrusted to the United States government.  It was kept in a vault at Fort Knox until 1978, when it was returned to the nation by order of U.S. President Jimmy Carter and it is now kept at the Hungarian Parliament building where it belongs.  It is a pity that Jimmy Carter doesn’t run the British Museum because if he did then the Elgin marbles might get returned to Athens.

Seven years after Budapest was united from the three cities in 1873 the National Assembly resolved to establish a new representative Parliament Building that appropriately expressed the sovereignty of the nation. A competition was announced, which was won by the architect Imre Steindl and construction from the winning plan was started in 1885 and the building was inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of the country in 1896 (no surprises there) and completed in 1904.  During construction the project was a major employer in the city and there were about one thousand people working on its construction in which forty million bricks, half a million precious stones and forty kilograms of gold were used.

Budapest Parliament Building Hungary

It is the third largest Parliament building in the World after those in Roumania and Argentina.  Although it has an eastern appearance it is similar to the Palace of Westminster and was built in the same Gothic Revival style and has a symmetrical facade and a central dome.  It is two hundred and sixty-eight metres long and one hundred and twenty-three metres wide. Its interior includes ten courtyards and six hundred and ninety-one rooms.

It is set in the spacious Louis Kossuth Square and there is plenty of room to wander around and admire the magnificence of the building.  Louis Kossuth led the 1848 revolution that attempted to overthrow the Hapsburgs and there is a large monument to his memory at one end of the square.  At the other end is a statue of Imry Nagy, another Hungarian martyr and hero, who was Prime Minister during the post war occupation  years and led the ill-fated 1956 anti-soviet government after the revolution of the same year attempted to break free from Soviet control.

Nagy’s government formally declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledged to re-establish free elections.  By the end of October this had seemed to be successful but on 4th November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and during a few days of resistance an estimated two thousand five hundred Hungarians died, and an estimated two hundred thousand more fled as refugees. Mass arrests and imprisonments continued and a new Soviet installed government was installed and this action strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe. Nagy was executed for treason in 1958.

I have to confess that Budapest was an absolute revelation, I had not been expecting anything so grand, it was easily as good as Vienna and in my opinion much better than Prague, the scale of the city eclipses Bratislava and Ljubljana and I liked it as wll as any other city I have visited.  An interesting fact is that after London in 1863 it has the second oldest metro system in the world which was opened in the famously important year of 1896.

Budapest parliament