History of Greece
This material is gleaned from a variety of sources, but primarily from the National Geographic Traveller Greece.
As we fly in, note the mountains that almost totally surround Athens: Aigaleos, Pentelic, and Hymettos. The Pentelic mountain was (and still is) the site for some of the finest marble that was used for buildings and statues. The presence of these heights has a lot to do with the summer pollution which keeps the lower area of air restricted by cooler upper air.
A Greek legend states that God distributed soil through a sieve and used the stones that remained to build Greece.
Important historical periods:
Bronze Age (3000-1100 BC)
Based on archeological evidence, there is little involvement with the sea as Athens is 8 km from the sea.
Late Mycenean palaces appeared 1600-1100 BC. This was the time of The Iliad, The Odyssey, the voyages of Argo, the trials of Oedipus, and the labors of Hercules (Heracles in Greek).
The digging around the Acropolis, which was the central citadel of Athens shows that there were palaces, scattered wells, and bothroi (storage pits) just south of the Acropolis. This is relatively close to our hotel where we will be staying. Let’s see if we can locate the bothroi. North of the Acropolis were burial grounds during this period, but they take a different form from the Mycenean beehive-shaped tholos (dome) tombs which we will see in Mycenae and Marathon.
The early leader Theseus forcefully ended the extreme parochialism of the various groups in Attica and united them, his council named the city Athens, and instituted a Panathaneic Festival. Theseus is probably best remembered for his conquest of the bull-headed Minotaur of Crete.
The Dark Ages and the Geometric Period (1100-700 BC)
The Mycenean world came to an end between 1200 and 1100 BC, at the hands of invading Dorians, who had migrated south from somewhere in the Danube Basin. Their movement into the southern part of the Balkan peninsula was just one of several tribal migrations which culminated in the Germanic invasions of Central and Western Europe (Anglo-Saxon invasion of the British Isles is included here). The Dorians did not remain in Athens, but crossed over into the Peloponnesus. Yet Mycenean Athens (Ionian Greeks) came to an end and entered the Dark Ages. Archeologists can pinpoint this fairly closely because the Myceneans used multiple tombs while the later inhabitants used single graves. In addition, cremation became common. The Dark Age tombs also had iron implements rather than bronze, so we are seeing a transition to Iron Age culture.
When we look at pottery, we note that Mycenean swirl pottery was replaced by rigid bands of Geometric design on black-glazed pots. The latter people used such characters as swastikas, circles, and triangles.
It was during the Dark Ages that the concept of the polis was devised
There are a number of sites which we will visit which cover the history of Greece going back as far as 3200 b.c. This is known as the Minoan period. We will see evidence of this when we stop during our Aegean cruise at Heraklein on the island of Crete and take the optional tour to Knossos on 8 September. Other Minoan sites include Mycenae, Tiryns, and Argos, but Knossos was rebuilt by the English archeologist Sir Arthur Evans. When we get there and see construction done around 2000 b.c., you must realize that it is over 4000 years old! This civilization lasted around 500 years and may have been destroyed by a huge volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini. Look at a map at the distance between Crete and Santorini and consider the immensity of that geologic event. Because some of the materials originated in the Aegean island group called Cyclades, the early art (particularly sculpture) is called Cycladic. When you visit our home, ask to see the Cycladic example (reproduction) to see where Pablo Picasso got some of his ideas. It also has a distinctly Egyptian look with its very structured posture.
At about the same time as the Minoan period, the Mycenean age began around 2100 b.c. You need to compare the architecture that is visible with that of Knossos. Some reconstruction by the German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann convinced him that he had found the burial place of the legendary king of Mycenae, Agamemnon. Schliemann (who also found the site of Troy) claimed to have found the deathmask of Agamemnon (Connie and I have a reproduction of that as well). The people of Mycenae were part of the series of tribal migrations which swept over Europe from the east and north, each group bringing its own concept of civilization.
Although we will not get the opportunity to visit Mycenae, take a look at this website to get an idea what it looked like.
When I took students to Guatemala to visit various Maya sites in the late 1970s, particularly Tikal in the north part of that country, all that remained for the 19th century explorers was a group of small hills with no visible evidence that a temple had been hidden beneath the soil and vegetation.
The Mycenean world came to an end between 1200 and 1100 BC, at the hands of invading Dorians, who had migrated south from somewhere in the Danube Basin. Their movement into the southern part of the Balkan peninsula was just one of several tribal migrations which culminated in the Germanic invasions of Central and Western Europe (Anglo-Saxon invasion of the British Isles is included here). The Dorians did not remain in Athens, but crossed over into the Peloponnesus. Yet Mycenean Athens (Ionian Greeks) came to an end and entered the Dark Ages. Archeologists can pinpoint this fairly closely because the Myceneans used multiple tombs while the later inhabitants used single graves. In addition, cremation became common. The Dark Age tombs also had iron implements rather than bronze, so we are seeing a transition to Iron Age culture. In many respects similar to the Dark Ages in western Europe, but many centuries earlier, there was a cultural regression and the predominant civilization lost much of what had developed the previous millennium. Dependent on maritime trade in earlier times, the connections with Egypt, the Middle East, and even farther to the east disappeared.
When we look at pottery, we note that Mycenean swirl pottery was replaced by rigid bands of Geometric design on black-glazed pots. The latter people used such characters as swastikas, circles, and triangles. We will see examples of the various pottery decorations in the many museums that we will visit.
It was during the Dark Ages that the concept of the polis or city-state was devised.
This was the time of the development of city-states, dominated by Athens and Sparta (a Dorian stronghold). The Athenians were much more cultured and developed a fairly sophisticated democracy in which all male non-slaves could vote. This was the Golden Age of Pericles, a statesman who encouraged the arts and architecture. What we see on the Acropolis was a direct result of the influence of Pericles. Add to the architecture the encouraging by Pericles of philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; poets; playwrights; painters; and potters to come to Athens to work.
This fantastic period was interrupted by the first of two Persian invasions of Greece led by King Darius the Great (492-490BC) that ended with the Greek victory at Marathon; and the second in 480BC led by King Xerxes. This invasion was by land coming from the north, and involved the famous Battle of Thermopylae, (we will see this site on 9 September) where a relatively small group of Spartans, led by King Leonidas, held off a Persian army for three days. Eventually, the Persians were able to sack Athens but were stopped at the Isthmus of Corinth and the Persian fleet was defeated at the Battle of Salamis. The Persians then retreated. A great deal of the defeat can be blamed on the majority of the Greek city-states either declaring themselves neutral or siding with the Persians.
Yet the continuing controversy with Sparta led to the very destructive Peloponnesian Wars which lasted from 431-404 b.c. The result of these conflicts was that both Athens and Sparta were weakened and made more vulnerable to the conquest from the north by Alexander the Great.
Alexander the Great and the Macedonian Empire
Although we will not get to visit the recently discovered grave at Vergina, we should have the chance to go through the fantastic Archeological Museum in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki (Salonika), the conquest first of Greece and then the expansion of Alexander’s control all the way to the Indus River in India in just a few years showed several things: 1) his organizational skill at conquest; 2) there was not a great deal of organized resistance.
With the death of Alexander, the next outside crisis came from the west, the expanding Roman empire. With the disintegration of the Alexandrian control came what has been called artistically the “Hellenistic Period” which lasted from 323 BC up to 146 BC when the Romans took control of the city-states, removed their independence, and created the Roman province of Macedonia.
This was not a total conquest because the Romans allowed the Greeks to retain their language and customs and the admixture of Roman and Greek culture was particularly evident in Athens. When we visit the Temple of Zeus in Athens, see the Hadrian’s Arch there. At the foot of the Acropolis was the Theater of Herodes Atticus.
Eastern (Byzantine) Empire
The Roman Empire began to divide into an Eastern and Western empire, one ruled from Rome, the other from Byzantium. Emperor Constantine moved the entire operation to Byzantium, renamed it Constantinople in 326AD. The empire was a blend of Roman Christian and Greek culture with the exoticism of the east as this city was the bridge between the Orient and western Europe. The collapse of mainland Greece as it was overrun by Slavic invasions allowed much of the artwork that we have seen, including the Acropolis, Delphi, Olympia, and other pagan areas to degrade.
One of the great difficulties of established civilizations is that they become stodgy and complacent and fear change. The result is that differences of opinion are stymied and those who have become the “pioneers” are treated as pariahs and often suppressed. “Yes-men” surround the leaders and tell them what they want to hear; as a result, no longer is there a finger on the pulse of common thinking.
In 1204, Constantinople and other Byzantine possessions were conquered by the Latins (primarily Venice) during the Fourth Crusade. Imagine the jealousy of western Europeans seeing Constantinople for the first time with its paved and lighted streets, running water, and beautiful buildings filled with art and literature! Although this occupation only lasted until 1261, a lot of damage was done and Constantinople was visibly weakened.
The development of a strong Islamic missionary zeal was not recognized until it was too late. The first Moslems were desert people, but the leadership of that religion devolved to first Seljuk and later Ottoman Turks who were convinced that Christians should convert or die. (How things have returned full circle!) The Christians on the eastern fringes of the Byzantine Empire saw some value in converting and a series of military battles brought the boundaries of the Islamic control closer to the Eastern capital at Constantinople. The Western Empire had long since collapsed (many consider 476 with the Gothic invasion and sack of Rome as the death of the Western Empire) and the Eastern bastion held out for an additional millennium. In 1453, the Turks conquered Constantinople and plunged the entire Greek nation into a horrible period of occupation.
This was a very sad time for Greeks — and they have not forgotten. The Ottoman rulers were cruel and basically forced the conquered Greeks into the position of slaves. Very few were able to escape this degrading condition. Schools were closed, churches were converted into mosques, the official language became Turkish, and Greece entered another period of Dark Ages. The Parthenon, which had converted from being a “pagan” religious site to a Christian church, now became a mosque. Greek youth were conscripted to serve in the Janissary corps. They were given military training and introduced to Islam to protect the Sultan’s life. The Janissary corps was essentially dissolved in 1820 because they failed to suppress a Greek insurrection.
Attempts to drive the Ottomans out included an attack in 1688 by Venetian forces, who blew up a large Turkish armory, which just happened to be in the Parthenon. Unfortunately, in the 18th century, both Greek and Turkish residents of Athens saw the value of the Parthenon, and began breaking off segments and selling them. Around 1800, Thomas Bruce, the Seventh Earl of Elgin, came to Athens in an attempt to preserve ancient Greek culture (and possibly make a financial killing). The attitude of the time was that by looking at a great work of art, a person could become somewhat enlightened by being ‘infected’ by the spirit of the art and of the artist. Lord Elgin wanted to imbue the glory that was Greece in early 19th century England. But a sidelight that comes to light is that Elgin was building a country house and his architect Thomas Harrison encouraged him to bring back examples of the classical period to help him design the house. Elgin and his workers stripped the Parthenon frieze that had been sculpted by Phidias, as well as one of the caryatids and a column from the Erechtheum and sold them to the British government in 1816. They currently are on display in the British Museum.
As the dream of freedom had strong religious motivation, leaders planned to launch an insurrection on 25 March 1821, on the Feast of the Annunciation, but actually began a few days earlier. It probably would not have succeeded if Russia, Britain, and France had not intervened on the side of the Greeks. Two of the famous generals were the Ypsilantis brothers. (Yes, the city of Ypsilanti was named after them. In addition, a whole sub-style of architecture, Southern Michigan Greek Revival, appeared in cities like Kalamazoo, Marshall, Ann Arbor, and even several Grand Rapids examples.) Lord Byron believed in the Greek cause and died in the war. Shelley and Keats also were involved as philhellenes. Eugene Delacroix painted his massive “Massacre of Chios” to show the barbarous treatment of Greeks by the Turks. To this day, 25 March is a national holiday in Greece, and we celebrate it as well.
Although the southern part of Greek (Peloponnesus and Attica) gained independence and formed the Kingdom of Greece in 1832, they were joined by the Ionian Islands that were ceded by Britain in 1864 (most of us will visit the largest of these islands, Corfu, from 14 to 18 September); Thessaly in 1881; Epirus, Macedonia, Crete, and the northern Aegean Islands after the Balkan Wars in 1913; West Thrace in 1923 as one of the spoils of World War One from Bulgaria; East Thrace and Ionia that came to Greece with the Treaty of Sevres in 1920 and then lost to Turkey in the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 (the horrible slaughter of Greeks in 1922 around Smyrna has never been admitted by Turkey as well as a large Greek colony on the Black Sea coast – don’t get me started on that!); and finally the Dodecanese Islands of the southern Aegean, including Rhodes in 1947, territory ceded by Italy. I found an interesting map that shows the territorial gains in a Wikipedia article, “History of Modern Greece” (Go to section Transition & Democracy, 1973-2009) that you can access
World War One and later
The kingdom of Greece declared its neutrality in the early part of the World War but joined the Allied powers in 1917. As Turkey and Bulgaria had joined the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary, and Greeks lived in territories controlled by both Turkey and Bulgaria, the Greeks were able to gain additional territory at several of the treaties at the end of the war, as listed above.
The period between the wars was a chaotic time for many countries in Europe. Greeks disputed whether their country should be a monarchy (the first royal family was from Bavaria) or a republic. In 1940, after the rapid collapse of France at the hands of the Germans, one of the additional Axis powers, Italy under Mussolini, issued an ultimatum on 28 October demanding that Italy be allowed to occupy Greece peacefully. The Greek response was Όχι! (no). To this day, Ohi Day is celebrated in Greece. The mechanized Italian army entered Greece from Albania. In just six weeks, the poorly armed Greeks with rifles and light howitzer cannons drove the Italians out of Greece, through Albania and into Yugoslavia. Hitler had to delay his invasion of the Soviet Union and diverted six Panzer divisions to quell the Greek advance. The German delay into Russia eventually put German troops into Russia much later than the original plan and the two greatest Russian generals, General Frost and General Snow, worked with the Russian army (largely supplied by the United States) and eventually defeated the German juggernaut.
Earlier, however, when the Germans entered Athens on 27 April, they ordered one of the Evzones (the elite soldiers who were the guardians of the flag flying over the Acropolis) to remove it. The soldier obeyed, then wrapped the flag around his body and jumped from that spot to his death.
There was a fairly large community of Jews in Thessaloniki, who like those in other European countries, were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. First they were isolated from the Greeks, then kicked out of their homes and businesses, then beaten and humiliated, and finally were deported beginning in March 1943 to death camps.
Resistance groups antagonized the German occupiers the entire period of the Occupation. Of course, the Germans retaliated by going into the village where the resisters were from and selected several Greeks and killed them. When this did not quell the anti-German actions, the number of Greeks killed was 10. A Greek government in exile worked with the British and Americans and by 1944, the Germans were forced out as their control over all of Europe began to collapse. On 12 October, the Greek government in exile returned, but unfortunately, it was not a happy reunion.
Some of the Resistance had been supported by the Soviet Union and their goal was to ally freed Greece to the Soviet Union. Greek Communist party members boycotted national elections in 1946 and resisted the British post-war influence. Then it was the Communist National Army of Greece against the National Army. Over the next three years, the Civil War led to the death of over 100,000 Greeks. The salvation for Greece was the combination of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine.
For an excellent description of that period, Nicholas Gage in 1983 wrote Eleni. This is a very personal account of what happened to his mother in the northern part of Greece.
When I first went to Greece in 1951, I remember bullet holes in buildings and also the busses. But Greece wisely joined the newly-formed North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO).
The war-torn nation suffered with continual economic crises that were answered by “the man on horseback” (a typical response to miasma when a strong-man enters the scene to restore order). This was the military Junta (Régime of the Colonels) that took over in 1967 and lasted until 1973. The economy stabilized both during the Junta and the post-dictatorship, known as the Third Hellenic Republic, that has continued to this day.
Recent economic issues have arisen as Greece entered the European Community. Originally organized as the European Economic Community (Common Market) in 1957, following the Treaty of Rome, it transitioned to the European Union in 1993 with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and was renamed the European Community (EU). In 2009, they were absorbed into the European Union.
The good things about the member nations is that there is a common currency, the Euro €, and no border guards or customs delays crossing from one member nation to another.
The bad things:
- currencies like the Drachma, which traces its lineage back millenia, has been superceded by the €.
- Common borders are indefensible against illegals, making capture of criminals much more difficult.
- The bureaucracy in Brussels (basically controlled by Germany with some French and Belgian involvement) makes extensive policies for all member nations, such as the quantity and quality of goods produced and what prices can be charged.
- There is not yet a “common” language, but that may appear in short order.
- Greece, along with Italy, Spain and Portugal, are considered as lesser states and their economies have suffered at the expense of the northern European nations.
In 2011, reluctant richer members of the EU agreed on a proposal to write off 50% of Greek debt owed to private creditors in return for extreme austerity. You will probably see the effects of this austerity: well-coordinated short boycotts and strikes as well as the horrible graffiti that appears everywhere, mostly signed with that dreaded anarchy symbol combined with both red and black flags.
Arrival in Athens and private tour
Most of our group of 20 will arrive in Athens early in the morning of 4 September, after our overnight flight from the United States. Coming from several different American jumping-off cities, we will not arrive together but if you made arrangements for Collette-provided air, that company will provide transfer for us to our hotel. Those who made their own air arrangements can make other transfer arrangements to our hotel, The Crowne Plaza Athens Hotel on Michalakopoulou Street. This hotel, located about 1 ½ miles from Syntagma (Constitution) Square, is in a quieter area of the very busy city. Athens is divided unofficially into districts, and our hotel is in Alsos Ilision district, named for a park just south of the hotel.
There are several decent restaurants nearby. The closest is the Everest, which is about 1 ½ blocks further northeast on Michalakopoulou and is very casual. Beyond Everest is Gyro Restaurant. There is also Canteen Mihalakopoulou, about two blocks southwest of the hotel. There is even a Mini-Mart which is two blocks southeast of the hotel on Antifilou Street. The hotel concierge can probably provide other establishments.
It is interesting that in the small park across the street from the hotel is a statue of José Marti. As far as I can tell, he never went to Greece, but as a member of the Cuban Revolutionary movement who died in the war against Spain in 1895, he mirrored the Greek revolutionaries of two generations earlier. He is considered Cuba’s greatest poet.
Hopefully, our rooms will be ready for us, but I have made arrangements to have our checked luggage carefully stowed if the rooms are not ready. After lunch in mid-afternoon, I will lead as many who want to join me in a 1.1 km walk to Syntagma Square. (This might be the opportunity to hop on the Metro and take the Blue Line to Syntagma Square) This expansive area has many shops. The north end has Athens’ two premier hotels, the Grande Bretagne and King George. To the east is the National Palace which is our destination because in front of that sandstone building is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The hourly ceremony of the Changing of the Guard is worth our time there. The soldiers are dressed in the Evzone costume and, because we will be there on a Wednesday, they probably will be wearing khaki uniforms instead of the bright white many-pleated skirts, but they will be wearing the shoes with pompons on them. They walk with a high kick and you have to see it to appreciate it.
Changing of the Guard at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of National Palace
From there, we will be picked up by a coach at about 5PM and taken to the foot of Mount Likavitos. The word “lykos” means wolf, so this is the Hill of the Wolves, located several miles north of Syntagma Square. The last time I was in Athens, we walked to the foot but it is uphill all the way. When we get to the Funicular Station, we board and go up 277 meters in a closed tunnel to the top. Once on top, we have time to walk around. Visit the small church of Agios Georgios (St George). A crowd will be gathering, because, assuming we have decent weather, we can see all the way to Piraeus and the Saronic Gulf area. Sunset that day will be at 7:50 (1950 everywhere in the world except the United States). Watch the lights come on all over Athens, but particularly on the Acropolis that we will be visiting the next day.
Sunset from Likavitos with Acropolis and Saronic Gulf and Piraeus in distance
We reverse our way, taking the funicular down, board our coach, and return to the hotel, where you will be on your own for dinner. Remember that Europeans tend not to eat at 5 or 6, but later.
Those who choose not to join me on this venture might like to go to Kolonaki area for some great shopping. Again, the hotel concierge can let you know what stores might appeal to you.
Today, after breakfast in the hotel, we board our motor coach and meet our local guide who will take us first to the fairly new Acropolis Museum. A temporary exhibit, “Archaic Colors,” is a study of archaic statues with the original coloration that added to the aesthetic quality of the sculpture. Gods are portrayed with blond hair, athletes and warriors have brown skin, while korae have white skin.
But the exciting permanent collection will astound you. Originally located in a small structure on the Acropolis, this fantastic building just east of the Acropolis was built in 2009 and gives visitors a close-up visual series of images of the sculptures protected from the elements. Here is a nine-minute introduction that you can access
After several hours of this glorious introduction, we go to the Acropolis. This is on one of the other prominent hills in Athens, rising about 150 meters above sea level. The name Acropolis means “high city” and typical of many early settlements, was the location where the locals could flee when invaders attacked the city. On the south slope of the Acropolis we should pass by both theaters (Herodes Atticus and Dionysus. Dionysus, seating 17,000, was the first stone theater ever built and it might have been where Greek tragedy began. In 2003, Connie and I saw a French ballet in Herodes Atticus, which has been restored).
Theater of Dionysus
It is relatively flat on the summit of the Acropolis — but watch your step! — and spans about 7 ½ acres. Our upward path will take us to the Beulé Gate on the south side goes past Athena’s Tree. Not the original – obviously – but the myth states that Zeus offered a contest between Athena and Poseidon to determine who would possess the city. Poseidon struck his trident into the ground of the Acropolis and a salt spring opened up. Athena produced an olive tree, groaning with ripe fruit. The city wisely residents chose Athena’s gift. Olive leaves are used to crown the heads of victorious athletes, the lumber was used to construct homes and boats, olive oil was used for illumination and as a body lotion, as well as added to food dishes (Mediterranean diet?), and the fruits are ubiquitous and exported today. If you see any olives on trees, do not pick and eat because olives need to be processed to be edible.
As I am researching and writing this section on 17 April, I note that a lightning bolt struck the Acropolis today, injuring several people but no buildings were damaged. The site was temporarily closed as a result.
Construction of what you will see began around 448B, under the instructions of Pericles, who coordinated the construction, with the assistance of Phidias as the lead architect. The Propylaea (a monumental gate) has a series of steps which we must climb (although there is an elevator if you want to use that which is on the northwest side of the Acropolis). Most people just go through the Propylaea without really looking at it as it might be currently under reconstruction, begun for the Athens Olympics of 2004. It is more than a gate as it includes a ramp, massive doors flanked by six Doric columns and six smaller ones. Then we climb four marble steps to enter a narrow central hallway with three Ionic columns on each side that held a marble roof. Then there are two wings on either side. Note these details, because there will be some mirroring when we get to the Parthenon (Doric columns around the periphery and Ionic columns in the interior.
Here is a short article on Greek architecture and the three Greek column orders
Now we are in the main part of the Acropolis. Refer to the above article for drawings and the names of parts of the Doric order. Ahead and to the right is the Parthenon. This building is full of optical illusions that deceive the eye. Its purpose was to house the 12-meter high statue of Athena Parthenos (Virgin) which was sculpted by Phidias. It was carved in wood and covered in ivory and gold. The number of columns (eight on the ends and 17 on the long sides) provides an ideal ratio. In addition, the height of the columns is in a 9:4 ratio with the distance measured from the center of one column to the center of the next. This same 9:4 ratio is seen in the distance from one end of the north and south sides to the other and the height from the base (bottom of the stylobate) to the outside edge of the pediment.
As the outer ring of columns are Doric, they are fluted and there is a ratio between the width and height of the column to the number of flutes that encircle it. The columns on each corner are slightly larger and lean in very slightly so it doesn’t appear that the architrave is too heavy and instead seems to float on the columns. Each column is not totally straight but has a slight bulge (entasis) just below mid-height to give the impression that it acts as a spring. The center of each of the four stylobates is slightly higher than the end which is mirrored in the roof. Otherwise, the building would appear to sag in the middle as seen from a distance.
As we approach the building from the southwest, there is a sense of rhythm. The fluting creates a light-dark, light-dark pattern which is repeated by columns and the spaces between them. You are automatically drawn down the west side to the north end where the ceremonies were performed. Lay persons generally did not enter the Parthenon but observed what the priests did from the outside. (But that is so typical of Greece even today; the weather is fair all year except for the extreme heat in August and much of the entertainment and eating is done outdoors.)
So you will not be able to enter the building. Besides the statue of Athena, there was an enclosed area behind her that housed the Athenian treasury. The first time I was on the Acropolis was in 1951 and much of the reconstruction had not even begun. We were allowed to climb into the Parthenon. (Those of you who were with me in Sicily and the Amalfi Coast may well remember entering some of the temples and we even took a group photo from one.)
Travel With Chardoul group at Paestum
This structure withstood centuries of alternate use: early Christian church beginning in the 6th century AD and a Muslim mosque from 1458. In 1687, the Ottoman Turks converted the Parthenon into an ammunition depot and shelter. It was bombarded by the Venetian attackers and the ammunition blew up, destroying much of the structure that had withstood several strong earthquakes. In the early 19th century, Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, removed the marble friezes and several other sculptures and shipped them to London, where they remain on display in the British Museum. The side of the Acropolis Museum facing the Acropolis has been designed to fully display these “Elgin” Marbles and we wait breathlessly for the English to relinquish them to their rightful location.
If you want to see a fairly authentic reproduction of the Parthenon, complete with the statue of Athena as she was described in later Roman portrayals, go to Nashville. The marble in the Athens Parthenon was originally not white but was painted in vivid colors to show off the frieze and other sculptural details. (I like to consider the Parthenon as a sculpture and not a building.)
On the other side of the Acropolis to the north lies the Erechtheion. Construction began in 420BC, during a break in the Peloponnesian War. Then the Athenian army suffered a major defeat at Syracuse and although the building was completed in 406BC, Athens was defeated by the Spartans (allies of Syracuse) in 403BC. Because the erection site had an uneven surface, the Parthenon symmetry is not present here. Under the southeast corner was the Rock of Kekrops, which was the place where the mythical king of Athens was buried. Some early reconstruction added cross walls in 477BC and additional repairs in 27BC. It was converted to a Christian church in the 7th century AD.
The most famous part of this structure is on the south end of the western cella, where an L-shaped staircase leads to the higher Porch of the Maidens (Caryatids). These six columns that look like women appear to be holding up the roof of the porch. The originals are elsewhere (several are in the Acropolis Museum where I will point them out to you and the other three are in the British Museum – sigh!)
We probably won’t have a great amount of additional time to inspect everything, but if you have a chance, walk to the flagpole at the far end of the Acropolis to get a good view of the entire area and then look down the steep slope to see modern Athens (Monastiraki and the Plaka – where we will be having dinner later in the evening).
We are not through for the day yet. We walk back down through the Propylaea and head for the Agora. In all ancient Greek cities, this was an open space serving as an assembly area and a place for commercial, civic, social, and religious activities. The Athens Agora was used since about 600BC. Democracy was practiced in the Bouleuterion (Council). It was here that Socrates was tried and executed in 399BC. As much of the area has not been excavated yet, I just want to take you to two structures. The first is the Hephaisteion which erroneously was called the Theseion for many years. Hephaestus was the Greek god of blacksmiths and fire and the Roman name for him was Vulcan. Although smaller than the Parthenon and without the sophistication of the optical illusions, you can get a sense what the Parthenon looked like in a more complete state.
The other building I want to visit is the Stoa of Attalos. Its reconstruction was completed in 1956 and it now contains a small museum. I intend to walk its length past the many artifacts on view there. Look for the ostraka there with such famous names as Themistokles. These were pottery voting tablets with names inscribed which could lead to an individual being ostracized.
I am bypassing the Areopagus Hill, Pnyx Hill, and Filopappos Hill as we will be spending some time there with our larger Collette group on 13 September. Our next stop will be the Roman Forum, as we work our way around to the north base of the Acropolis.
The Roman Forum (or agora), built during the reign of Julius Caesar and his successor Augustus, is a large quadrangle where most of the city’s business was conducted when Athens came under Roman control. We will enter it from the west, marked by a gate with four surviving columns. Maybe we can see the stone with the engraved edict that announced the rules and taxes relating to the sale of olive oil. When the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, they converted it into a grain market.
From here, we walk to the Tower of the Winds (Pirgos Ton Anemon or Πυργος τον Ανεμον). This eight-sided structure is just outside the main market area. It was designed by Andronikos of Kyrrhos, a Syrian astronomer and served as a compass, sundial, weather vane and water clock. Each side has a relief of one of the eight winds. At the top was a bronze weather vane in the form of the sea god Triton.
Here is an interesting video of the Forum and Tower
It is here that we will be picked up by our transportation and returned to our hotel to freshen up, meet the remainder of our group – that I am not responsible for – and then go to a welcoming dinner somewhere in the Plaka.
We will leave our hotel in Athens on Friday, 6 September after breakfast, and be driven to the port of Athens, Pireaus. A typical port city, our driver knows where our ship, Celestyal Olympia, is docked. We board that ship and then the fun begins as we find our specific cabins in this medium-size ship (1664 passenger capacity). Refreshed in 2015, this ship will definitely get you in the mood of Greece.
Listen carefully as announcements over the ship’s PA system will be in several languages: first will be English, then Greek, then the language of the next largest nationality (probably Italian, Spanish, or French).
I do not like living out of a suitcase, so I move my stuff into the available stowage and then slide my suitcase under the bed. Then it is time to wander around the ship to get your bearings. Obviously, one of the destinations will be to find the dining room (on Deck 4 is the Aegean Restaurant, which is open 16 hours a day. The food is truly authentic and the service will be very good. Open seating here. Breakfasts and lunches are buffet-style and there is even an “Asian Corner” for breakfast where you can get congee and vegetables. Dinner is served in three or four courses.
If you want a quieter setting, just off the Aegean Restaurant is the Galileo Room. Same food served there.
On Deck 9 (Hera) is the Leda. Here is a self-serve buffet which is at the ship’s stern (the back). As it is semi-open to the elements, you should be warned. It is also open later than the Aegean Restaurant. Breakfast: 0600-0930, Lunch: 1200-1430, Afternoon tea: 1600-1700, Dinner: 1930-2130.
Also on Deck 9 is the Aura Grill, which is only open when we are steaming. Here is a buffet lunch close to the pool, serving burgers and fries.
On 7 September, there will be an outdoor BBQ served on the pool deck (Deck 8) with live music.
Although wine is not included in our package price, the price is deeply discounted. An alternative is to pay 11€ per person per day for a Gold Package, which includes champagne and premium brand liquors.
Hopefully, you intend to do more than just eat and sleep aboard the ship. Deck 8 (Ouranos) has the two-deck high theater called the Muses Lounge with a dance floor and location for entertainment including music reviews, live, music, acrobatic performances. There is also a small casino on this deck. The Amalthia Restaurant has buffet service for breakfast and lunch and waiter service for dinner.
On Deck 9 is a Sauna Spa and Fitness center as well as a Beauty Salon. There is also a small swimming pool and sunbathing area with loungers, chairs and tables.
Deck 10 (Zeus) has an observation area (staircase accessible) forward (the pointy end of the ship); sunbathing area on the Hera Deck, the Horizon Bar at the stern with a cocktail bar and karaoke at night.
It appears that our first stop, after we get settled aboard our ship, will be Mykonos. The main town is called Hora (which in Greek means “town”). Famous for its windmills, we will probably get a walking tour up the hill to observe them up close. I am not sure how long we will be here on this charming island with its whitewashed buildings and great little cafés, but the ship should be able to dock as it is a relatively deep-water port. Look for a bevy of very large yachts!
You will notice the distinctively white and blue everywhere. Houses and shops are whitewashed. This is a plaster put on the stone buildings and it is longer lasting and cheaper than paint. Since 1974, every building has to be painted white and blue. These two colors reflect the Greek flag with its 9 stripes, alternating blue and white, representing the number of syllables in the Greek phrase “Eleftheria H Thanatos” (freedom or death) while the white cross in the upper left corner depicts the Greek Orthodox church.
Do NOT miss movement! Keep a close watch on the time, because when the ship departs and you are still on shore enjoying that second cup of Turkish coffee or a small glass of ouzo, you will have to find your own way to our next beach excursion.
After an overnight trip, we land at Kusudasi, Turkey. After we debark, we head the 19 kilometers to Ephesus. This city was the capital of the province in Asia Minor called “Asia.” Here, around 360BC, Ionian Greeks had settled during the colonization period (sometimes called “Diaspora”). A commercial center, Ephesus flaunted its wealth, its splendor, its power, its Jewish synagogue, its Temple of Diana (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) and its church. So the confluence of Jews, Christians and pagans was what Paul was up against. Pagans, although possessing beautiful architecture, sculpture, painting, and poetry, also had what I will call a voluptuous culture centered around Diana. Paul’s task for three years was to wean Ephesians from this by having the pagans repent from their sins. Paul’s presence and success in converting many basically destroyed the business of making and selling silver statues of Diana (Artemis in Greek mythology) as well as dispelling the influence of magicians and soothsayers.
We will see what is left of the Artemesium, an Ionic temple. Unfortunately, some of the relief sculptures are in the British Museum today. There is also a circular structure that allegedly is the grave of St. Luke, a contemporary of St. Paul, who wrote his Gospel and also Acts of the Apostles.
Probably the most iconic structure here is the Celsus Library that was built in 117AD. With its double walls to protect against moisture, more than 12,000 scrolls were stored here, making it the third richest library in the ancient world after Alexandria and Pergamum.
Look for the copies of statues in the niches: Wisdom (Sophia), Knowledge (Episteme), Intelligence (Ennoia), and Valor (Arete) which are the virtues of Celsus.
Celsus Library at Ephesus
Hopefully, we will have time to leave through the Magnesian Gate and visit the House of Mary, a couple kilometers outside Ephesus. This dwelling was built by the Apostle St. John for her and she lived the remainder of her life there. The ruins were not discovered until 1881 and the restored parts are distinguished from the original stones by a line painted red.
Based on what I remember from past trips here, we will be shunted back to Kusadasi and on the dusty main street, we might be directed to a line of rug shops. It is an interesting process the way the salesmen roll out the various rugs which can really be impressive. If you need a rug, shop around. The last time I was there, one very honest salesman at another rug store told me that the best bargains are in Seattle in Pioneer Square! It just so happened that two of the Oriental rugs in our home came from a store that was “going out of business.” That was in 1995 and that store is still selling on Pioneer Square!
Then we board our ship again and sail around the southeast side of Samos on our way to Patmos. As both of my parents were born on Samos, I manned the rails when I made a similar voyage in 2003 trying to recognize familiar landmarks. My father’s birthplace in Pythagorion (yes, it was named after Pythagoras because he was born here as well around 569BC) has a very distinctive statue in the harbor honoring its namesake.
Pythagoras Statue in Pythagorion, Samos
Patmos has been called the “Jerusalem of the Aegean” since the 5th century. It was here that St. John the Theologian was exiled between 95-97AD and was inspired to write the Book of Revelation (Apocalypse) which is the 10th and final book of the New Testament. Allegedly, he wrote this in the Cave of the Apocalypse, which we will visit – watch your heads! We will also visit the Monastery of St. John.
Chora on Patmos
This was built in the 11th century. Hopefully, we will have time to peruse the Museum of the Mediterranean Sea (Treasury), located within the Monastery because there is a treasure trove of icons, ritual vessels, priests’ clothing, manuscripts, and many archeological items. Icons are very stylized paintings of specific saints or themes and the figures are readily identifiable because of the artistic conventions which have remained static for 1500 years. To this day, iconographers paint when they are inspired, possibly while listening to hymns which were written 1000 years earlier. They originally were painted on wood pallets and the rich colors have been preserved to the present day. Most icons have a gold background, signifying eternity.
From Patmos, the ship will steam westward to the northern coast of Crete, the largest Greek island. There is a good chance that as we enter the harbor of Herakleion, the capital and main port, we might see dolphins playing around the bow of our ship. (Remember that the Greek word for Hercules is Herakles) We will dock near the Venetian fort. When we debark, there is an optional excursion (this has been included in your overall fee) south into the interior about 6.5 kilometers to the ancient site of Knossos. This Bronze Age archeological site has been called Europe’s oldest city. Settled as early as the Neolithic period (around 7000BC), the palace dates back to around 1900BC. The site was excavated by Sir Arthur Evans, beginning in 1899, and he unearthed many Neolithic and Bronze Age artifacts, which predate the Mycenaean settlements.
Evans also found many clay tablets written in Linear A and Linear B. Our interest is the Minoan period. Early palaces were destroyed by earthquakes, but they were rebuilt by 1650BC. Restored today (some authorities think that this restoration was excessive – and you be the judge of that, after we visit).
Palace at Knosson on the island of Crete
Homer, in his Odyssey, said: “Among their cities is the great city of Knossos, where Minos reigned when nine years old, he that held converse with great Zeus.” We know that the Minoan civilization was destroyed by a great catastrophe – possibly a fire, but more likely by a tsunami or earthquake following the horrific volcanic destruction of Thera (Santorini) — that we will visit later this day.
If you remember any stories about the Labyrinth, this allegedly was this very intricate Minoan palace. Add to this the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (half man-half bull and note the partial word “Mino”). A fresco that were found on the wall shows the sport of bull-jumping where the male athlete became one with the bull as he jumped over the bull’s horns.
Bulljumping fresco in Knossos
This island has a unique culture. Because of the trade with Egypt, it developed differently from the other islands in the Aegean as well as from the mainland. The weather here is decidedly more tropical than the remainder of Greece, and even in September, you will feel the warmth. Even the folk clothes are different. the men do not wear the “foustanela”(like the uniforms we saw at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens), but instead the men wear a blousy shirt, dark pantaloons, and black boots. Almost all the men have elaborate mustaches which they are very proud of.
At the heart of Herakleion is the plaza named for Eleftheriou Venizelos (remember the name of the Athens airport?) who was from Crete. Near this plaza, auto traffic is forbidden and you can visit the shops, tavernas, and kafeneia without fear. Nearby is El Greco Park, named for Crete’s most famous artist.
What to shop for? Crete is renowned for the embroidery and other fabrics so you might want to catch some shops that specialize in that artifact. Gold jewelry is also very evident here, with true craftsmanship in 18 karat works.
That afternoon of 8 September, we head north about 140 kilometers to the island of Santorini. Make sure that you are outside as we approach the giant caldera and the crescent harbor on the west side of the island. Just a reminder: a caldera is a large depression formed when a volcano erupts and collapses. Crater Lake in Oregon is one domestic example and there are several in Yellowstone National Park.
The harbor is too shallow for our ship to make a landing, so to get to the island, you will have to board lighters that will come alongside our ship. The ship has gates at the water’s edge so you won’t have to climb down a rickety accommodation ladder. Once ashore, there are several ways to get to the top of the caldera.
The Dorians, who settled here in the 8th century BC, called the island Thira and it was renamed Santorini by the Venetians who conquered the island in the 13th century AD. The capital is called Fira (as distinguished from Thira) and overlooks the caldera; you will marvel at the terraces clinging to the cliffs with their home, restaurants, hotels, and tavernas. Sunset is the best time to be there because the island is oriented north to south and Fira is right in the middle facing almost due west. On 8 September, sunset at Santorini is 7:36 (1936 on the clocks everywhere else in the world).
Sunset at Santorini
Of course, you don’t have to go to the top of the caldera. You might want to just stay down at the waterside port of Skala fira and just look up the 900 feet at Fira. (Skala is Greek for “ladder” or “staircase.”)
Santorini Caldera from the water looking up at Fira with donkey path on left
The traditional way is to rent a donkey and ride up. Keep in mind that the donkeys tend to scrape alongside the protective walls. Ask Connie about her experience! Groups like PETA think that this is animal cruelty. So another alternative is to walk up (I counted 580 steps!) but watch out for the ungawa from the donkeys as you will be on the same path. The third alternative is to take a gondola ride both up and down (because you are going to have to return to the lighter).
Gondola ride up the side of the Caldera at Santorini
Those of you who were with me in Queenstown, New Zealand, may remember the spectacular ride for our final dinner. At the upper terminus is the Archeological Museum which has examples from Akrotiri (the working archeological site south of Fira). If we were to have several days on this fascinating island, a walk through this partially reconstructed town (every time I have been there, the pathway is different because new areas are uncovered) under the protective metal roof would show the definite influence of Minoan culture – as the island was connected with Crete economically. And because Crete had trade connections with Egypt, you sense some sameness with that culture as well.
You will have some time to do some shopping. On one of our trips there, we purchased one of our travel tiles that line our kitchen.
At the top is Fira, where you have a great vista. Note the small hotels perched on the caldera edge – where you go down to your room (like we did in the Lloyd Baia Hotel in Vietri Sul Mare).
You might want to check out the Byzantine Castle ruins.
To get an even more spectacular view of the caldera, we will have some free time and you can grab a cab – or if you are adventurous, hike to Oia Village, a small town further up along the rim of the caldera. I can attest that it is a long walk and you are going to have to return to hop on the lighter in time for our return to Piraeus the next morning, so my recommendation is that you use wheeled transportation.
Another place to visit, if we have time, is the Museum of Prehistoric Thera or the Archeolgical Museum.
If you get out of Fira and climb into the hills going east, notice the vineyards. Rather than supported by trellis-like structures, here they are low to the ground and in a circular pattern to protect them from the wind. Try the wine here as it is different from anywhere else in Greece.
Once back on the lighter that will take us back to our ship, we spend the final night aboard relaxing and packing our suitcase for the remainder of the trip as a land adventure as we will make a final disembarkation on Monday, 9 September in Piraeus and board a cross-country motor coach to head north, skirting Athens.
The Battle of Thermopylae
After we debark from our ship and load onto our luxury motor coach, we will travel around Athens to the north and then get on E-75, the major north-south highway. Our first stop will be at the famous battle site of Thermopylae.
A History Channel computer-generated video in the form of a Youtube
Welcome to Thessaloniki
Short History of Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki was founded in 315BC by King Cassander of Macedonia. He named the city after Thessaloniki, his wife who was also the half-sister of Alexander. Because of its prime location at the northern end of the Aegean Sea, it became the gateway not only to northern Greece but into Central and Eastern Europe as well. The influence of Philip II and his much more famous son Alexander III (known as The Great) is apparent all through the city.
This statue of Alexander is near the White Tower on the eastern part of the Central City.
The Kingdom of Macedon fell in 168BC when it became part of the Roman Empire and the trade function increased even more, including the entire Roman Empire as well as continuing the conquered areas of Asia (all the way to the Indus River!)
During the 1st century AD, the city became one of the first early Christian centers after St. Paul preached here and laid the foundation for a new religion.
With the decline of Rome, the Emperor Constantine moved the capital to Constantinople (that he called the New Rome) and Thessaloniki became even larger and more important as the second largest city of the empire after Constantinople.
In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, the city fell into the hands of the Crusaders but was recovered by the Byzantines in 1246.
In 1430, the city and environs were conquered by the Ottoman Turks who held it until 1912 when the Greek army liberated the city during the First Balkan War. Although the city had suffered several major conflagrations between those years, it returned to prosperity as not only a trading center but also an industrial center. Another great fire in 1917 destroyed almost ¾ of the city.
Today, Thessaloniki is a modern city with many universities, a trade and transportation center, and nominated as the Cultural Capital of Europe in 1997. Many monuments are included the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 2004, during the Athens Olympics, the city hosted a number of athletic events. In 2011, the city was selected as the European Youth Capital of 2014. The population of Thessaloniki in 2011 was 315,000.
View of Thessaloniki
Our Stay in Thessaloniki
We will check into Capsis Hotel when we arrive in Thessaloniki. It is at the other end of the city center from the best attractions, but cabs are plentiful and relatively cheap. Public busses are also available. Of course, the entire system was destroyed in World War II and only old trams served the city. In 1957, the Organization of Public Transportation of Thessaloniki (in Greek ΟΑΣΘ) was created by the government. There currently are more than 600 busses which operate from 5AM until 1230AM, passing every 5 minutes on major routes and 20 on less-used ones. Look for the screen to see the next bus.
Thessaloniki Bus Stop. Note the word “ΑΦΙΞΗ” that translates to “arrival” and the time is in minutes.
Our hotel has a rooftop pool, so bring your swim suit. Great breakfasts.
- Ilkos George, Tantalou 17, Thes 54627
- Caffe 13, Afroditis 15, 54629
- O Kostas (Psitopoleio Ola Sta Karbouna). Esopou 11, 54627
Thessaloniki is 520km north of Athens and is the second largest city in Greece. It is a modern metropolis with a varied history.
The ancient forum (from late 2nd and early 3rd century AD) with squares porticoes, and a great odeum. The palace complex of Galerius Maximianus from 4th century AD, the hot baths, the hippodrome, temples and other monuments. See also the Stoa of the Idols, the Triumphal Arch of Galerius from 305. The Rotunda is from the 4th century that was converted into a Christian church. Probably the iconic image of Thessaloniki is the Rotunda.
Thessaloniki Rotunda interior. Was a church, a mosque, and back to a church
Thessaloniki also has a strong Byzantine background. Many churches and basilicas, the city walls, a bathhouse, Heptapyrgion castle.
Ottoman monuments include the White Tower from the 15th century, various mosques, a distinctive bathhouse.
Thessaloniki White Tower
Some of you might want to spend some time in the Archeological Museum. The cost of admission is 8€ but this museum has exhibits dating to the 4th century BC, including Macedonian armor in great condition.
Other things to see:
The Old City (Ano Polis) with more Ottoman and traditional Macedonian architecture. This was generally increased in size after thousands of Greeks were driven out of Asia Minor in 1922. The historical quarter called Ladadika, which is being revived. This most popular part of the city and truly a hotspot with jumping bars nightclubs with lots of music, and restaurants. For more information and a detailed map, click here
Also check out: On The Edge: facebook.com/ontheedgecafebar which sums up the ethos and consider an absinthe cocktail (absinthe and champagne for 7€ — but remember absinthe makes the heart grow fonder.)
Here is a short four-minute video of Thessaloniki
On Aristotelous Street which is a car-free promenade, is the city’s shopping heartland. Such things as music CDs at Stereodisc, great jewelry at Gofas.
For food, go to Modiano Market — which has been there since 1922 – for cheeses, olive oil, and wines.
I don’t know how much time we will have to venture on our own, but in Ladadika area, one of the recommended eating places is Picanha: facebook.com/picanhameatandmore for steak dishes that go for 11€ and other Brazilian menu items.
For local fare, Ergon Agora where you can get a porkchop with pancetta for 12€ and spaghetti with feta and pesto for 8,20€.
On 10 September, we take a day trip of approximately 150 kilometers (80 miles) from Thessaloniki to Kavala and then to Philippi. We will travel on highway 2 that follows the northern shore of the Aegean Sea at least one of the ways. Hopefully, we will see the Néstos Delta, that is one of the finest wetlands in Greece with many species of birds, particularly herons and egrets.
Kavala’s history goes back to the 6th century BC and became part of the Roman Empire in 168BC. It was here that St. Paul first set foot on European soil as he finished his voyage north across the Aegean Sea in 50 (possibly 51) AD on his way to Philippi. This city became an Ottoman center early in the Turkish conquest of Greece (1371-1912) and they built the 16th century aqueduct. The Pasha of Egypt in the mid-19th century, Mehmet Ali, was born here. There are several museums here, an Archeological Museum and a Tobacco Museum. (yes, tobacco is grown in uplands areas all through Greece. It is a very strong variant which I can attest to!)
We then travel the 16 kilometers to Philippi. This city, originally called Datum or Crenides (which means “fountains”), was founded 360BC by settlers from Thasos, although there is evidence of Neolithic involvement because of the local rock art. The inhabitants turned to Philip II of Macedon for protection when they were attacked by Thracians who were intent on taking over the local gold mines. Philip renamed the city Philippi in 357BC. He added fortifications and theater and drained the swamp.
Philip was succeeded by his son, Alexander, who attempted to conquer the known world. With his death came the Successor Wars to take over the valuable gold mines and the good harbor of Neapolis (now known as Kavala).
The Roman period began in 168BC following their success in the Battle of Pydna. In the 2nd century BC, the Romans constructed a major 1120 kilometer road called Via Egnatia
going west to east that connected the Adriatic to the Dardanelles and the city of Byzantium (later called Constantinople and today Istanbul). This road connected to Via Appia (“all roads lead to Rome”). St. Paul walked this road from Philippi to Thessaloniki. It was then about six meters wide paved with large polygonal stone slabs or covered with a hard layer of sand. It was named for Gnaeus Egnatius, the Roman proconsul of Macedonia, who ordered its construction. The Romans also built their standard Forum and a basilica.
Two important battles were fought in Philippi in 42BC, resulting in the defeat of Cassius and Brutus, two of the conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar. That date also generally marks the end of the Roman Republic.
After we leave Thessaloniki, we will probably hook up to the Highway E-90 – that is the modern version of Via Egnatia or in Greek, Egnatia Odos — as we motor into the interior of Greece. Our route might take us past Vergina in Central Macedonia.. This was the first capital of Macedon. It was there that Philip II was assassinated in 336BC under conditions that have not been fully explained and Alexander was proclaimed king. The ancient tombs were only discovered in 1976 and have not yet been looted.
On our trip, we might be able to see Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, and one of the highest peaks in Europe in terms of topographic prominence, as it only 80 kilometers southwest of Thessaloniki. There are 52 peaks and deep gorges. This was the home of Greek gods.
We will cross from Macedonia into Thessaly as we approach these great sandstone protuberances from the North. It will be a fantastic experience. They are a series of slender monoliths that appear out of the mist of early morning. Often the visitor can see the monasteries of Varlaam with its two little red-tiled cupolas, Great Meteora, spread out on Flat Top on the left, and Roussanou on another peak.
Meteora in the morning
We might have a clear view of the sites or they might be covered in clouds. Sometimes it is noon before the mist burns off. You probably have already seen several pictures of this and might think that the pictures are more spectacular than reality. As we approach the rocks on the bus from Trikala, we should become quite curious. Where else have we seen this apparition? Then you will remember a James Bond flick. Give up? It was “For Your Eyes Only.”
“These famous monasteries, suspended in the air, are aptly named Meteora. How have the monks inhabited the pockmarked caves of these rocks like bats? Seeing the site from Kalambaka (one writer compared the town to an anthill lying amid a herd of elephants), you soon realize that this town is becoming one of the most popular sites in Greece. You will find pizza houses, hotels, and sweet shops.
“We will try to describe this site variously as cones, pyramids, obelisks, a labyrinth of pillars, a landscape of Mantegna, the Land of Gogottes (Babar lovers will understand this), gigantic tusks, rotten molars, and sugar loaves.”
“Nothing can be more strange and wonderful than this romantic region, which is unlike anything I have ever seen before or since,” wrote Robert Curzon on a visit in 1834. He had written his account of his visit but did not dwell on the ascetic life of the inhabitants. “All Greek saints are painfully ugly, but the hermits are much uglier, dirtier, and older than the rest; they must have been very fusty people besides, eating roots and living in holes… They wore out the rocks with their knees in prayer; the cliffs resounded with their groans; sometimes they banged their breasts with a stone, for a change; and some wore chains and iron girdles round their emaciated forms; but they did nothing whatever to benefit their kind. Still there is something grand in the strength of constancy of their faith.”
Pagan Greeks found revelation in sacred groves, and the followers of Dionysios sought out mountains like Kitharion on which to stomp out their ecstasies.
Pillar cults go back to Minoan times at least, but anyone with the slightest bent for stylitism must be overwhelmingly attracted to the Meteora, those mammoth pillars formed by Nature—or by God. The grandest wall-painting still extant in the Meteora is the Dormition of Saint Ephraim the Syrian, in the monastery of Saint Nicholas Anapafsas, himself a stylite and his figure standing atop a column is centrally placed. (Stylites were ascetic pillar dwellers who lived as hermits, thinking that if they mortified their bodies, their souls would be saved.)
The physical attraction of the Meteora to the human spirit has been a violent force for over 1000 years. Tradition has it that the Meteora were already a haven for hermits in the most vacuous period of the Christian era, the ninth century.
The first person connected with the Meteora was Athanasios, who had been abducted twice by pirates and attempted to get as far away as possible. He started near the bottom but eventually climbed to the top of Flat Top, also called Platylithos (Wide Stone) and gave it its name ‘Meteora’ which means up in the air. To this day he is called St. Athanasios the Meteorite.
How the early monks got up there is still a matter of conjecture; some think that they paid climbers to assist them. They might have built scaffolds or swung from nearby trees. One professor suggested that they flew man-carrying kites or gliders in which they rose in the updrafts and then they descended to their roosts by ropes. If you have ever watched a cliff-climber find almost invisible hand and foot holds, that might be the answer.
The importance of Athanasios is that he ‘unionized’ the hermits and gave them group purpose. He founded the Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration in 1390. At the peak involvement there were 3000 monks and 24 monasteries. But petty jealousies brought down many of the monks and the monasteries entered a period of decline. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Greece in the 15th century, the decline continued so that by the time of independence in the 19th century, the Meteora was in a state of anarchy.
The monasteries and their treasures were plundered by the andartes. After World War Two, a convent for women was established and now some of them sing hymns with the men. A restoration of Saint Nicholas Anapafsas has been done and the single monk at Aghia Triada is proud of his one-room museum and points out the donation box for further improvements.
At Great Meteora, the refectory has been transformed into a lovely, modernly-lit museum; across the way is a tourist shop and a folk museum also there displays the instruments of monkish life. Getting there is a great part of the fun. You will see that.
We will stay overnight at Hotel Famissi in the town of Kalambaka at the base of Meteora and leave the next morning (12 September) for Delphi. (This is one of the few times that we will be in a hotel for just a single night.)
When we leave Kalambaka (where we stayed overnight near Meteora), we will board our luxury motor coach and travel south for a little more than three hours (210 kilometers) through the central part of Greece primarily on highway E92. Because of the mountains, it is not a straight shot and – as I see the route – we will go through Thermopylae once again. We then go on E65 to EO48 that takes us to Delphi.
As we approach Delphi from the north, you will definitely notice Mount Parnassos, the limestone mountain that stands over 8000 feet.
Athens was the residence of Athena and Delphi was the home to Apollo and the most famous oracle of antiquity. As this is still considered sacred territory, we will be “hoteled” between Delphi and the nearby town of Arachova, about 12 kilometers from the ancient site, but we will be actually closer to Parnassus.
I am assuming that we will tour the Delphi site before we check in to our hotel (currently scheduled to be Domotel Anemolia Mountain Resort), but on our way there, please note the great twin cliffs, known as the Phaedriades (the Bright Ones) because at sunset – according to one source – the cliffs glow red with the reflection of the sun’s rays.
Delphi, Temple of Athena
So why is Delphi so important and on the “must see” list?
Let’s turn on the retrospectroscope to some time between 1100 and 800BC, when the area, then called Pythia, which was sacred to Gaia (the mother goddess) now turned to the cult of Apollo. Some time during that period at the end of the Dark Ages, a shepherd noticed that his flock appeared discombobulated when they passed a certain cleft in the rocks. He himself “lost” it but was coherent enough to begin issuing prophesies (maybe the first weatherman??). Other villages did the same and picked several young girls from the village to attempt to understand or interpret the pronouncements. As one of the young girls was abducted (no idea who was involved here), an older woman who sat on a three-legged stool placed over the chasm began to interpret the prophesy.
This woman then gave up her normal life and forever lived in seclusion, sort of like a hermit. On “oracle day,” which was the seventh of every month, the woman (Pythia) prepared herself by a ritualist washing which involved a purification routine involving barley leaves and laurel leaves. (It makes one wonder if TCP was involved!). She then entered the Temple of Apollo and sat on the tripod, chewing laurel leaves, and sank into a trance. Her answers to questions often were strange and garbled, leaving interpretations to be very vague and subject to decisions that didn’t always make sense. For example, King Croesus of Lydia asked if he should attack the Persians and the answer: “Croesus, having crossed the Halys River, will destroy a great realm.” This encouraged him, but he found out that it was his empire that was destroyed.
Why here? In mythology, Delphi was the meeting place of two eagles which had been released by Zeus and sent in opposite directions. Where they met indicated the center of the earth. (Those of you who were with me in Peru may remember the “center of the universe” in the plaza of that church in Cusco. The Chinese also have an earth center.) The Greek word oumphalon which translates as navel (not naval!) comes to mind. Apollo, the son of Zeus, displaced other gods vying for control here and became the guardian of the Oracle.
Our schedule has us walking along the Sacred Way to see the Doric Temple and the Sanctuary of Apollo, the Treasuries, and the Archeological Museum with its collection and the incomparable “Charioteer.” Make sure that you look at his eyes.
By 582BC, the Pythian Games, held every four years, like those Games held at Olympia, but on alternate years, brought athletes and important people from all over the known world. Those of you who are adventurous – and if we have time – may want to leave the main area of Delphi and climb up to the stadium area and even race from the starting blocks to the end. But please keep your clothes on!
Delphi and the 178 meter track at the Stadium
We will gather for a dinner at a local restaurant.
If you look at a map of mainland Greece, you will notice that the majority of the land is strongly connected to the Balkan Peninsula, but there is an appendage to the south that almost makes that area an island. This southern area is called the Peloponnesus (the word Nisi means “island.”) and is connected to the northern area by an isthmus. So the location of Corinth is very important. Add to that geographic feature the fertile plains in the vicinity as well as natural springs, and you can see why Corinth was so important.
Corinth was not a major Mycenaean center (unfortunately, our itinerary is not going to Mycenae on the Argos plain) so it lacks mythological heritage that other cities had, including involvement in the Trojan War, but supposedly this city was founded by Sisyphus. (Remember him? He was eternally destined to push the heavy rock up the hill. His grandson Bellerephon had a winged horse named Pegsasus that has, to this day, been the symbol of Corinth.)
Because of its strategic location, the area was a Neolithic site and began to grow about 1000BC. One of its kings (the tyrant Cypselus) funded the building of a treasury at Delphi (we will see this when are at Delphi the day before) and founded colonies at Corcyra (Corfu – that some of us are going to visit 14-18 September) and Syracuse in Sicily (that many of us visited several years ago).
Those of you who make it to our home for the pre-deployment gathering should note the Corinthian bronze helmet that I have displayed in one of my shelves. Be careful: it is extremely heavy! Corinth was famous for its innovative pottery in the 6th century BC.
Corinthian vessel with Protome (a bust, usually of a human or an animal)
Again, look a map of Greece. It would make sense to allow trade to cut across the Isthmus of Corinth rather than go around the south of the Pelopennesus, so the first attempt was a paved road that connected the Gulf of Corinth on the west with the Saronic Gulf on the east. The Emperor Nero tried to dig a canal, but after his death, the project was abandoned until 1881.
Another site for games! This was at Isthmia, held every two years in the spring. They were established in honor of Poseidon and were known for their horse and chariot races.
During the Second Peloponnesian War (431-404BC), as Sparta’s naval ally (remember that Sparta had no water access), did not do well, other than defending Syracuse from the Athenian invasion. But the worm turned and Corinth dropped Sparta for the league formed by Athens (Argos, Boeotia, and Thebes) and fought Sparta in the Corinthian Wars (395-386BC). The ignominy of being forced to accept a Macedonian garrison on the Corinthian Acropolis that we will see overlooking the city.
When Paul arrived in the 1st century AD, the city was under Roman control and the architecture reflected that: a temple to Octavia, baths, the Asklepeion temple, fountains, propylaea, theater, odeion, gymnasium, and stoas. Look for the remains of three basilicas as well.
Timeline of Paul’s ministry
|Date||Life of Paul||Contemporary Events|
|37||At Damascus||Death of TIBERIUS and accession of GAIUS (Caligula)|
|38||Flight from Damascus to Jerusalem, then to Tarsus||–|
|39 – 43||Paul preaches in Syria and Cilicia, making his headquarters in Tarsus.||Death of Caligula; accession of CLAUDIUS. Judea and Samaria given to Herod Agrippa I. Invasion of Britain by Aulus Plautius.|
|44||Paul brought from Tarsus to Antioch; stays there one year before the famine.||Death of Herod Agrippa I. Cuspius Fadus, procurator, succeeds to the government of Judea.|
|45||Visits Jerusalem with Barnabas to relieve the famine.||–|
|46||At Antioch||Tiberius Alexander made procurator of Judea.|
|48||First Missionary Journey – from Antioch to Cyprus, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe||Agrippa II (Acts 25) made king of Chalcis.|
|49||… and back through the same places to Antioch||Cumanus made procurator of Judea|
|50||Paul and Barnabas attend the Council of Jerusalem||Caractacus captured by Romans in Britain; Cogdinus, father of Claudia (? 2 Tim. 4:21) assists the Romans in Britain.|
|51||Second Missionary Journey – from Antioch to Cilicia, Lycaonia, Galatia||–|
|52||… Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth (writes 1 THESSALONIANS)||Claudius expels the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2).|
|53||At Corinth; writes 2 THESSALONIANS||Tetrarchy of Trachonitis given to Agrippa II; Felix procurator.|
|55, 56||At Ephesus||–|
|59||At Caesarea||Nero murders Agrippina|
||Felix is recalled and is succeeded by Festus|
|61||Spring: Arrives at Rome||Embassy of Jews comes from Jerusalem to petition about the wall.|
||Burrus dies; Albinus succeeds Festus as procuratory of Judea; Nero marries Poppaea.|
|63||Paul acquitted at Rome; goes to Macedonia and Asia Minor||Daughter Claudia born to Poppaea|
|64||Paul goes to Spain (?)||Great fire at Rome; Roman Christians blamed and persecuted by Nero.|
|65||In Spain (?)||Gessius Florus made procurator of Judea; conspiracy of Piso and death of Seneca.|
|66||Summer: from Spain (?) to Asia||Jewish War begins.|
||Death of Nero in middle of June.|
This was taken from http://christianityinview.com/paulstimeline.html
When we leave Corinth, we drive the 44 miles and return to Athens. We will have a short tour of the city, different from the one that I led you on. We will see the hill of Areopagus (sometimes called Mars Hill). It was here that St. Paul gave his famous Men of Athens speech
We will be taken to our final hotel stay at the Holiday Inn Attica, which is not far from Venizelos Airport. Our Farewell Dinner is where we say “Adio” to those who were with us who were not part of the Travel With Chardoul group.