It’s been already three weeks that I am in Athens, and it was not until last night that I went the sea. And not until yesterday that I realized how I miss it in London. A friend and I drove all the way to the coastal road, and then along it for a few kilometers. I parked the car to the Glyfada boat marina, next to Glyfada beach (Glyfada is a coastal suburb of Athens). It was late at night, so the sea was black and still in the marina. We instead walked to the beach. There the sea looked wild, and it was windy enough for my ears to freeze. The smell of the sea reached me and I felt my nose burning from the salt. I ran towards the water and I tried to breathe in as much sea-wind as I could. I put my hand in the water and I looked far into the sea. I saw in the distance (some 19 kilometers away) the lights of the island Aegina, and to my right the lights of another island, Salamis. To my left there was nothing but open sea. Then I looked behind me and I saw the houses on the coastal road, and far back another Athenian suburb, Panorama Voulas, built on the mountain of Ymittos, one of the four mountains that encircle Athens. A Greek punk song came in my mind then, which, referring to Athens, says “this city has no end and no beginning”. I thought how very wrong it is. Because I was at standing at the limit of Athens. The sea.
The sea is but one of the five edges of Athens. Athens is built in the Attica basin, which is formed by four large mountains. Mount Aegaleo to the west, Mount Parnitha to the north, Mount Penteli to the northeast and Mount Ymittos to the east. Sea is the south limit of Athens and the Attica basin.
The limits of Athens are very well defined by nature. This specific characteristic of Athens makes me feel more comfortable with the city itself. Referring to my older post about conquering a city, the fact that Athens is so well defined and has certain limits, makes me confident that one day I will have explored it all.
Here I must make a parenthesis. Athens has grown immensely over the past century. It might be a city that is thousands of years old, however, as the capital of Greece and the center of its economy it is only but 181 years old, as opposed to other European cities. That is because Greece became an independent state in 1830, and it was not until 1833 that Athens became Greece’s capital city. Back then it had only 50.000 citizens and was almost ruined by the war of independence. Since then, Athens grows at a very fast rate, and now it is at a point where it has filled the basin. If you look the city from one of its mountains you can see the white mass of houses climbing on the slopes, looking like on overflown bowl of cream. Now, new housing has started to develop on the other sides of the mountains, outside Athens and outside the basin.
Up until a certain age (I will not say which, but I was young) I believed that all large cities are built in basins, or at least by the sea. I could not understand how, otherwise, a city could be defined. This can be explained by the fact that most large Greek cities are indeed built by the sea and have some mountains around them. When I started visiting other cities that diverged from this pattern, I caught myself wondering how the edge of the city looks like. Is it just a line of back walls of houses? Is it a road? And what is beyond that? (Ok, I was a child) Still, this feeling, that a city must have some physical limits, still follows me.
When I came in London I was trying to set the limits of my territory, as I said before (I still am). First I had to set the limits of London. Thankfully, we have M25. But, London has started to expand beyond it. So London, to me, is a city with no limits, with no end and no beginning, that expands to an extend that I do not know when I look at a distance. London is very flat, so when I had gone up Primrose hill I could see it all. But I did not know where to stop my gaze. In Athens, when I look around from a high point, I see the mountains and the end of the city. In London there is no visual aid to define the city’s edges.
___more on edges and London will follow