Athens is known for its wonderful open-area cinemas. These “rituals of the Athenian summer” operate between May and September and usually offer daily screenings at 9:00 and 11:00.
Last night, I saw Casablanca at Cine Thision. This fantastic outdoor theater at the foot of the Acropolis is a few minutes’ walk from my apartment. It began operating in 1935 and is situated on Apostolou Pavlou, a “pedestrian street that meanders around Acropolis Hill”.
There are many “zingers” in Casablanca, but seeing it in the magnificence of Acropolis Hill made one really stand out for me: Rick to Ilsa: “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”. So true, that we must forget ourselves and our dramas to appreciate the rest of the world.
Mysterious Acropolis Hill
I’ve grown fond of the Acropolis Hill area. Although the Acropolis (high city in Greek) has been inhabited since prehistoric times and is one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in the world, it’s also mellow and low key. The grounds are a great place to go for a hike or sit on a bench and meditate. Many locals walk their dogs there, and most are friendly and helpful in pointing out hidden gems and special walking trails.
This magnificent limestone hill above Athens has unequaled history – a citadel and religious center, home to kings and gods, a major tourist attraction, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The hill “withstood bombardment, vandalism, and earthquakes, and still stands as a reminder of Greece’s rich past”. I’m undoubtedly in awe!
The mostly-Greek audience at Cine Thision last night seemed subdued and content during a hypnotic evening. After a hot day and lingering sunset, a cool Aegean breeze passed through the theater. To the left, an “illuminated,” almost neon Acropolis was glowing, and the night sky was filled with a golden full moon!
This perfect description explains the venue – “Rows of chairs with little tables in between. A bougainvillea-framed screen. The chirp of cicadas and the heady fragrance of honeysuckle and jasmine mingling with hot, buttered popcorn”.
“It’s truly not the movie that takes top billing; it’s the experience”.
“Cinema arrived in Greece in 1896. During the summer of 1900, in the crowded cafés of Syntagma Square, the first films were projected outdoors by so-called provolatzides. They unfolded big pieces of cloth to screen movies in popular areas of the city. Soon after, the first official open-air cinemas started popping up. Entrance was free. These venues became so popular in Athens, that by the 1960s, over 500 outdoor cinemas were operating.”
Today, Athens has over 60 outdoor cinemas. They’re scattered throughout the city “hidden in parks, by the sea, or in forgotten courtyards between apartment blocks”.
“Cinema under the stars is a cherished Athenian institution during the steamy summer months. Every neighbourhood has at least one open-air movie house — some as old as the history of cinema itself.” Carolina Doriti
Since 1980, Cine Thision has been operated and maintained by the Maniaki family. I think it was 78-year-old Thomas Maniaki who was greeting guests and operating the ticket booth last night. The family keeps the historic cinema “neat, green, and perfectly suited to the area”. They feature Greek films and cherished movie classics.
Tsipouro, Pies, Popcorn
You can buy hot dogs, homemade cheese pies, Greek tsipouro from the villages of Agrinio and Messolonghi, and popcorn. It was a delicious evening – I can still smell the jasmine and picture the Acropolis framed by a full-moon sky!
That seems a truly magical evening. And the perfect way to cool off.