It was summer 2010 when I visited Athens for the first time. I was on an official trip and was supposed to be back to Geneva on Friday night. But coming to Athens and not seeing anything appeared to me as a stupid act. I rescheduled my flight and got it booked for Sunday late night. The meeting was over Friday evening at 5 and I had two complete days to enjoy Athens. I already left the hotel so had to search for a new one. After an hour long search, I got Best Western – right next to the university near Omonia square. I took a taxi for Omonia. On the way, saw few massive pillars on a ground surrounded with railings.
“Whats that? – I asked the driver. He looks at me for a while and tries to understand what I am saying. Like many other taxi drivers in Greece, he doesn’t understand English. I showed it one more time and asked the same question. “Oh, its temple of Zeus”.
Zeus ? The temple of the Greek God? Some moments, lost somewhere in the memory lane, flashed in.
I was a school kid – may be in 2nd or 3rd standard when my father bought us a book “Folks and fables of Greece and Rome”. I and my brother read it for months. It was the first time we heard names such as Apollo, Athena, Prometheus and Zeus. That school kid made his own world of fantasy with the stories and fables. Zeus was a powerful strong man sitting in a throne with thunderbolt in his hand. To me, that time, he appeared as the most powerful being.
Much later, in my college days, one of my arguments with my girlfriend brought the topic of Zeus back. The argument was on if God exists and if yes, how is he different from the common human beings except for the power that he enjoys. My point was he is also like other people who enjoy power, who expect everyone else to bow down in front of him and if someone does not obey, he punishes strongly. If God is so noble, why is he so bothered about his own image? That context brought Zeus who punished Prometheus for disobeying him and bringing fire for the humans.
After a long time, I am here in Greece and in front of the temple of Zeus. The book might be still there, but no one has flipped its page in last 20 years. Neither the college days remain. But the temple is standing, still standing on its feet after thousands of years of oppressive weather and violent invasive attacks. History says it took close to 640 years to build it. It started in second century BC with a vision of making it the greatest temple of the world but could not be finished due to invasions. Finally, during the roman emperor Hadrian it was completed.
It has survived several attacks. The kings who started building it have been thrown away; the columns that were being used have been shipped to Rome for building the temple of Jupiter; multiple times the project has been abandoned; the place was excavated for using the materials for building some churches and finally a storm in 1852 which brought few columns down. The old statue of Zeus and Hadrian are no longer there. But still there are 15 columns showing a glimpse of what it was during the time of its glory.
I stood there for hours. Took several photographs from all possible directions. Few other thoughts came to my mind – how much of knowledge is required for building such a grand structure? If you look at the columns carefully, you will see the way they have been placed with a certain distance between them to be able to bear the load of the roof. The ancient Greece had a pool of architects who were experts in geometry. It seems pretty simple today – but more than 2000 years back, when in other parts of the world human beings are struggling to make a living somehow, how did Greece acquire this much of knowledge? I keep looking at them and ask – How? How? No one will be able to answer – those great architects will be hidden there somewhere in the pages of history and people like me will be coming and standing here with a great sense of bewilderment! Today its me, tomorrow it will be someone else. But the great temple of Zeus will be still standing with its head high.