Tag Archives: Greece

Historic Graffiti

Although the rest of Athens and other parts of Greece are covered in tags and graffiti the practice of writing or scratching your name on ancient Greek or Roman monuments has past. It has declined since the mid-1960s. Sgraffiti of historic significance can still be found on many buildings in Greece. The letters scratched into the marble might be more legible than current taggers but it is still tagging.

There is the sgraffiti scratched into the marble by the 18th and 19th century English lords and gentlemen on their grand tours. Lord Byron, young British architects and their companions exploring classical Greek architecture carved their name on the marble remains of the major temples in Greece. There is a block of marble, preserving a good example of this sgraffiti for the future, in the small museum at the temple of Aphaia on Agenia.

Historic tagging on ancient Greek marble

There is the sgraffiti scratched by WWII British Navy crew: “BAM 44 ETON 11” in the back of a Greek Church on Agenia. It appears to be is from the BAM class Area Minesweepers in use by the British in the eastern Med in 1941-45. The AM class minesweeper was given the prefix B to designate British when they were on loan through the US lend lease for the duration of WWII. The connection with the Eton 11 cricket team is something for the WWII history buffs.

WWII tagging?

And what about the tourists who did it in the 1960s and 70s that will soon become antique?

Not yet antique tagging

These and many other examples of sgraffiti are different from the defacement of statues carried out by the barbarian Christians, who actively sought to destroy ancient Greek sculpture. The sgraffiti just tagging, in a relatively harmless way, like the kid writing his tag on a wall. Antique tourist sgraffiti in Greece amounts to the one of the least damaging human actions that these ancient buildings have suffered over the centuries. It is insubstantial compared to the damage by war and deliberate damage by Christians and Muslims.

The historic significance of the sgraffiti on ancient Greek and Roman ruins raises new questions about the claim that permission is the difference between the difference between graffiti and street art. (And Lord Elgin had permission, from then owners, to take the marble frieze from the Parthenon. But did the Ottomans have permission to damage ancient Greek sculpture just because they had won a war?) What happens to the discourse when we are talking about street art, history and permission?

These examples are just discussing historically significant tagging in Greece. There is antique and historically significant sgraffiti and graffiti in many parts of the world. The whole point of tagging is to mark your presence at a location and people have been doing that for centuries. There was controversy over the preservation of graffiti by Soviet troops in the Reichstag.

Of course, with the vast numbers of modern tourists, like myself, visiting these antique ruins, this unrestricted tagging had to stop. Along with the increased numbers of modern tourists came new attitudes towards tagging and new levels of preservation and security were added for the antiquities. The end of the sgraffiti will mark a distinct historical period on these buildings; further adding to the historic value of what sgraffiti survives.

I first mentioned historic graffiti in my blog entry on Athens Graffiti.


Travel Notes + Jetlag

Relaxing on the green grass of Ireland

I’m back from my European Economic Basket-case 2010 tour of Dublin and Greece trying to get over my jetlag, get through the hundreds of emails, downloading travel photos, Facebook, the handful of snail mail, shopping and washing. Under this stress I’m trying to put together blog entries from the jumble of notes in my travel journal.

What is this gibberish that I’ve written?

“Beware of Greek’s building bathrooms.”

“Dubliners are to fashion what the Eurovision song contest is to music.”

“I arrive in Greece on the 21st of May the birthday of Apollo; his twin sister Artemis was born the day I departed Melbourne.”

I wasn’t looking at art galleries for most of the trip, sometimes I was even trying not to look at the horrors in the tourist focused art galleries that I passed in Greece and Dublin. Or trying not to look at the same thing hung on the wall of the hotels that I was staying at.

Then there is the art in airports. I should write something about the similarities between international airports and art galleries. There is always some art on display at the airports – I remember as a child seeing an Alexander Calder mobile at Toronto International Airport. Nationalism at international airports sometimes demands displays of art and the architecture wouldn’t really work without it. However, the art, like hotel art, can’t be too confronting, too political, too expressive, too anything. At Melbourne Tullamarine Airport there are mosaics. Then in the departure lounge there are these funky, shiny and colourful steel, bronze, aluminium and fibreglass sculptures by Akio Makigawa “Journey West” and “Journey East” 1996. There is one Australian aboriginal painting by David Blanasi “Two crocodiles, the same yet different” 1994 in the departure lounge at Gate 7. Why is it the only painting in the departure lounge? Is it a token piece of Australian aboriginal art at the airport?

Looking back through my travel journal there are more notes about the art at Adelaide Airport and Singapore Airport but the art is pretty much the same. But maybe the content is more suitable for the blog my wife and I write: Who Buys This Stuff?

At some points in my travels I was on a similar path to the 19th century grand tour. What is the point of the “grand tour” as a contemporary experience? No, someone else (Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour) has already made a TV series about that.

Maybe I should write something about Mykonos given that The Kings of Mykonos movie has just been released. It was also released in Greece when I was there. I can put a tag on it and get a few more readers. Maybe not… but the exchange of contemporary Melbourne and Athens Greek culture is worth noting.

Maybe I should write about travel guides. “In Your Pocket – Essential City Guides” they proved to be a more practical travel guide than my old favourite Lonely Planet. For one these guides actually fit in your pocket and don’t overload the reader with information. The editorial information was accurate, informative and critical…

I am just raving now… jet lag will do that to your brain. I will be writing more about my travels – I just have to do some more writing and research before publishing them.

Athens Graffiti

“People who want to make me stop make me laugh”

I saw this painted on a wall along the Athens metro line out to the airport.

I could read it because it was in English, in Roman and not Cyrillic alphabet. Lots of graffiti in Athens is written in English, there is very little written in Greek, apart from a few political slogans.

Taggers in Athens use English words for their tags. Graffiti has become an international style with very little regional differences.

I am currently in Greece on holiday but I am trying to write and research about art and culture for this blog as I travel. I have been looking at a lot of classical art and architecture in Greece but I have also been looking at the graffiti and street art.

There is graffiti everywhere in Athens, apart from metro stations and on the ancient monuments where only scratched graffiti survives. This antique graffiti raises different issues about history and conservation than the contemporary graffiti; some of it is already in the museums. It records the interest of 19th and 20th century visitors in these ancient sites, like the temple of Aphaia on Aegina. To remove this antique graffiti would be to further damage the ancient stone and it would also damage the historic record of use of the site. And in understanding that there is antique graffiti of historic value raises questions about the way that contemporary graffiti is buffed, conserved or left to fate to decide on its preservation.

Back to the contemporary graffiti in Athens. With the economic collapse and the riots this year and last year in Athens it doesn’t look like anyone can afford to buff, or paint over, any of the graffiti. Anarchy symbols, tags, bombs and other marks cover every second building, it is all along the metro lines and on the metro cars (although the metro stations themselves remain untouched).

“Even cops die.” The graffiti writers are clearly frustrated with the political developments but I wonder what the point of writing political slogans in a foreign language.

Most Greek graffiti writers are not the experienced crews making masterpieces in aerosol, as in other cities; although I did see a few good pieces on the way to Piresas. The Greek graffiti writers will try anything, pens, paint brushes, paint rollers, stencils (only one colour) – it is a fun but amateurish mix of styles and techniques.

There is a lot of graffiti on the buildings and laneways around the ruins of the Roman agora. “Bicycle revolution now.” reads one slogan. The old buildings in Athens with their accretions of architecture now have a new layer of paint on them. If Athens is an example of how bad and ugly as unrestrained graffiti can get in a city then graffiti, even in its most basic form, is not a disaster for a city it is a fact of urban life and will be with us as long as there are cities. Athens graffiti shows that without draconian legal restrictions on graffiti writers, like canning in Singapore or jail in Melbourne, there are more tags, more political slogans, less quality work by professional street artists and more strange experiments.

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