’Ruins are boring.’
‘Or so we’re supposed to believe’, kids think. Culture is something, like medicine, that parents should impose on their children in small doses, with a hefty hit of sweetener to help it go down. You know. First a ruin, then a theme park. A museum, then an ice cream…
Now, I’m a great believer in Jamie Lee Curtis’ fabulous maxim that parenting is a combination of bribes and threats. But even the shortest trip to Greece should show you that, at least when it comes to ruins, threats are no longer required. That goes especially for the Horrible Histories generation, not to mention fans of the young demi-god Percy Jackson, who will, most likely, know more Greek myth than you.
Let’s take Mycenae, the awe-inspiringly somber hilltop town, with its Cyclopean walls of giant stone. Did I say ‘Cyclopean’? I meant, of course, ‘One-eyed giants built this city. The same ones who wanted to eat Odysseus in the Odyssey.’ (The Percy Jackson crew, by the way, will be a mine of information on this species.) Mycenae was, of course, the site of the fall of the House of Atreus. ‘Well, you see, it all started going wrong for them when Tantalus cooked up his own son as a meal for the gods…’ If that’s not going to get the imagination going, what is?
Well, perhaps the tale of Agamemnon sacrificing his own daughter to get the winds to help him sail to Troy. Or the story of the bath his wife prepared for him on his return, and the dressing gown – without holes for his head and arms – that she slipped on him so her new boyfriend could hack him to pieces with an axe. These are not the stories you’ll find in most of the guidebooks. But they are magical tales that transform a ruin into living, breathing drama. The blood, guts and gore of Greek myths add a whole new layer of excitement to the magic of scrambling over the walls of ancient cities or racing down the streets that once divided millennia-old houses.
Perhaps you’ll visit the crimson remains of Knossos, the Minoan city in Crete. ‘Mysteriously wiped out by a cataclysm, perhaps a tsunami, perhaps invasion.' Or, for children who love a good story, ‘The maze where Theseus trapped and killed the Minotaur, the monster who was half-man, half-bull.’
Or Delphi, the dazzlingly beautiful mountain gorge where the immortal but not un-aging priestess was preserved in a bottle, withering by the day. ‘She asked to be immortal. She forgot to ask to be forever young.’ Or Olympus. The place where Greek athletes wrestled NAKED (apart from a leather thong) and the gods held parley on the summit. And also the inspiration, of course, for our very own Olympics. Or the entrance to the Styx, in today’s Mani, where Charon the boatman took vanquished souls across the river to his master, Hades.
The ruins of this wonderful country are soaked with generation after generation of primeval gore. And when we find the story, and tell the story, they fascinate. Because if there is one thing Greek ruins aren’t, it’s boring.
Read more about family holidays in Greece, including things to see and do with kids and the best family-friendly places to stay, and see our review of a family visit to the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.