Following the Footsteps of the Apostle Paul
Some of my friends are convinced that I return to Greece every year, but in fact I had not been there since 2010 when Connie and I took her brother and sister-in-law there. The last group trip I led to Greece was 2003. So this trip would be an adventure for us as we had not been to northern Greece and the itinerary that Collette Vacations had created did just that.
I have found that if I create an itinerary from “scratch” that the cost can be excessive, so I like to modify a previously-designed trip working with a supplier. This gives the trip the advantage of better pricing, the availability of a seasoned guide, often “head of the line” privileges, and superior choices of accommodations.
The changes that I added were an additional day prior to the start of the planned itinerary. This would give my group one more day to get everyone into the seven-hour differential in their circadian rhythm as well as adding some important places to visit in Athens. I had decided that my group needed to see the very impressive Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the National Palace and also to watch the lights come on over the city from the vantage point of Mount Likavitos the day we arrived. The next day, I would lead them (with the support of a guide) to the Acropolis Museum, the Acropolis, the Agora, and the Roman Forum.
But “the best laid plans of man and mouse” can be disrupted. I had received an email at 0930 on 3 September (our scheduled departure date) from American Airlines that our flight from Grand Rapids to Chicago has been canceled because of weather. My travel agent, Lynne Erikson, used her “magic fingers” to find an alternate flight for us so that we would not miss that all important first day. My threesome from Manistee and my two some from Free Soil were already on their way to Kent County Airport. I had to cancel the Athens plans for 4 September and compress what we were scheduled to do for 5 September.
The alternate flight schedule that Colette had set up for us on 4 September had the small group fly from Grand Rapids to Philadelphia, rather than to Chicago O’Hare, which is an hour closer to Athens, but still an overnight flight from Philadelphia to Athens.
So Connie and I left for Ford International Airport (Grand Rapids) on 4 September, compliments of a very good friend. The American Airlines clerk was wondering why there was a flurry of people heading for Athens. I didn’t realize that there was a “Group 8” for boarding, but there we were. The flight to Philadelphia (AA5190) and from there to Athens (AA758) — an overnight flight, getting us into Venizelos Airport (Athens) at about 0845 on 5 September.
Thursday, 5 September 2019
Arrival day for everyone in Athens! Our Tour Manager, Kerri Michael, met us at the airport and transferred us to our hotel. The rooms at the Crowne Plaza Athens were ready when we arrived, so we had a chance to relax for a few minutes. Then I rousted everyone – the group that had traveled with me from Grand Rapids,
as well as all the others who had come several days previously – and Dimitrios drove us to the Plaka Taverna for a light lunch. (Knowing Greek habits, Connie and I ordered light, whereas most of the others had large portions of food on their plates when the food was placed in front of them.) After lunch, Rita met us and we walked the kilometer to the Acropolis Museum. This building replaced an old and less than adequate museum that was just behind the Parthenon and which could not do justice to the artifacts that had been collected.
As we approached the museum, Rita stopped us and showed us the archeological work that was being done literally beneath our feet on the glass approach to the museum. As Athens is an ancient city and traditionally, newer parts of the city are built on what is already there, there are layers of civilization; this area went back to Neolithic times but most of the “digs” were of the Classical period.
The Museum is laid out at the foot of the Acropolis (which literally means “high city” and is present in most of the ancient Greek cities as a place of protection from marauders). As this building, unlike the former one, has the temperature and humidity controls necessary to preserve artifacts, such objects as the Caryatids can be displayed and preserved. Note that you can see five of the original figures as the sixth is in the British Museum, probably missing her five sisters.
The crowning glory of the Museum is on the third floor, which has been shifted so that it is not in line with the two floor beneath it so it is exactly parallel with the Parthenon, as there is exactly room for the “Elgin
Marbles” (the pediment statues from the Parthenon that were removed ‘for safe-keeping’ by Lord Elgin and currently residing in the British Museum). There are two reconstructed pediments, one at the west end and one at the east end of the Acropolis and when it was constructed, it looked like this.
From the large window, one can see the Parthenon in its ruined splendor.
After our all-too-short time in the Museum, we walked to the coach and Dimitrios took us on a volta to see some of the main sights of Athens. We passed the Arch of Hadrian, the Temple of Zeus (both of which are right downtown and with no parking available), the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, then to Syntagma Square which fronts on the National Palace. At the small square in front of the Palace is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and I had wanted the group to see the hourly Changing of the Guard, but our timing was off and all I got was a picture of the relieved guard marching in their khaki Evzone uniforms back to the barracks. So here is one of the videos that I took of the Changing of the Guard in 2010. The shoes are called “tsarouchia” and each one weighs 3 kilos!
We then drove through the University area and down Vasilissa Sophia street past the American Embassy and then back to the hotel to get together for the Welcome Dinner.
As Collette Vacations had designed the majority of this trip, our 20 guests met the other 22 as we boarded our coach to return to the Plaka for dinner. Located in the western part of that party area, we had to climb stairs to get to our restaurant. We were greeted by a small music group with a bouzuki (a uniquely Greek stringed instrument), a guitar, and a clarinet. After dinner, we were treated to a dance group of three who demonstrated a few typical Greek dances (there are at least 20 different dance steps with each region having its own dance).
Only Kerri, Connie, and I had the guts to demonstrate yet another dance after the dance troupe had left. We then walked back down the steps to the bus, but I noticed an interesting building when we made our right turn – the Tower of the Winds that I was hoping to take our group to the day before.
If you are interested in learning more about this building in the Roman Forum area of Athens, click here
Connie and I were surprised that it was 10:15 on a Thursday night and people were just sitting down to eat. Lots of music, even parents pushing baby carriages at that time.
Friday, 6 September
Kerri met us in the hotel lobby and we boarded the coach and traveled first to Paleo Faliro. (Old Port)
It was here, theoretically that Paul made landfall on his way to Athens. We then went to Piraeus where we worked our way through the Customs House and then boarded the ship. We then went to lunch. One of the first things we did was to go through a totally wasted Abandon Ship drill before the ship left the pier. Finally, we were underway just before noon, heading for our first port of call, Mykonos. Up on Deck 9, a group of passengers passed the time by dancing what appeared to be a “Zebetiko,” a free-form dance that one can do individually or with a single partner.
We arrived in Mykonos around 6PM. Kerri warned us that it would be windy – and she was absolutely correct. She took us to her favorite haunts, including a great place to observe the iconic windmills just before sunset.
I am always impressed with the different colored balconies that seem to set off the whitewashed buildings.
Connie and I returned to the ship to eat aboard in the Deck 9 Leda Buffet.
Saturday, 7 September
We awoke as the ship had docked at 7:30AM in Kusadasi, Turkey. Our morning goal was first the House of Mary that is seven kilometers outside Ephesus. Our guide, Farouk, chose to start our trip here because it would become crowded later and we could appreciate it more. What we saw was not the original but a reconstructed building. The belief is that Mary, mother of Jesus, was taken to this house by Saint John and lived the remainder of her life there. Unfortunately, photography inside the structure was not allowed, so we had to rely on our memory. But we could photograph the exterior.
We then drove to ancient Ephesus where Farouk walked us through the city, showing us where Paul spoke to certain individuals and got into trouble. Farouk showed that Elvis was in the building.
The most famous spot here is the Library of Celcus, that was built by the Romans in 117AD. It held over 12,000 scrolls and maintained almost constant temperature and humidity through some innovative architectural techniques.
Severely damaged by an earthquake in the 10th century, the façade was reconstructed beginning in 1910.
The Grand Theater where Paul spoke (and upset the silver merchants) was under construction, so we could not get too close to it.
After that, we went into Kusadasi (like after going through a museum, you exit through the gift shop) and first visited a silk factory and then a rug making shop, followed by the obligatory showing and selling of beautiful silk and wool rugs.
We then returned to our ship, Celestyal Olympia, left at 1PM and sailed around the southern end of Samos (where my parents were born). My father’s village is named after a famous mathematician/philosopher who was also born there, Pythagoras.
Our destination was the island of Patmos, where Saint John wrote Revelations. Unfortunately, even though after we left the ship on a lighter after 5PM and visited both Grotto of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of John, we were forbidden from taking any pictures of the interiors. Our guide, Nicholas, explained the split between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Catholic) churches in 1054. Note that Greek churches generally do not have campaniles or bell towers, but rather the bells are at the highest point of the church and rung by ropes reaching all the way to the ground.
Sunday, 8 September
We left Patmos around sunset on Saturday and sailed west to the island of Crete, docking around 7AM at Herakleion, the Cretan capital. Our goal was to get to the many-roomed Palace of Knossos early, and we did beat most of the crowds there, but it was still fairly crowded. Built around 1700BC by the Minoan civilization, this five-acre building complex was filled with tombs, palaces, throne rooms, storage rooms, and it demonstrated the wealth and power of this Bronze Age culture. Unlike most other columns found in post-and-lintel construction, the Minoan ones, originally made of wood, were tapered at the bottom.
The writing, known as Linear A, has been deciphered, so we know a lot about the everyday activities of this culture. We also know that Knossos, which had been inhabited for several thousand years, was abandoned after its final destruction (after a series of earthquakes) in 1375BC. There is a possible connection with the major volcanic eruption on the island of Santorini 150 kilometers to the north. Wall paintings have been recreated to lend an air of authenticity but much of the reconstruction was done in concrete, a material totally alien to the Minoans.
Our guide then took us back to Herakleion and dropped us off at the Lion Fountain where some of the group had the chance to sample the typical snack of the area, Sarikopitakia (cheese pie) but I don’t think that anyone tried raki, the distilled residue of wine-making.
Underway shortly after noon and next stop was the island of Santorini, where we dropped the hook at about 4:30PM. Again, because of the depth of the water and the size of the ship, we had to use lighters to get ashore.
Our small group of 22 who elected to go to Akrotiri on the southwest part of the island got the first lighter that took us ashore. Connie and I had been here in 2001, but the improvements were absolutely amazing. To see what is involved here, click here Akrotiri What had been a small temporary “dig” site covered with tarpaulins and sheet metal was now a very substantial building that I can only guess at its size as being somewhat larger than a football field – and all enclosed! As costs for doing the excavation are considerable and the admission ticket for visitors cannot come near the overall expenses, work is limited to just several months a year. Look at the architectural members holding the roof up!
Of course, like most archeological digs, the further down one goes, the further back in history s/he explores. Some of the buildings were three stories high and all the material is carefully analyzed and documented.
As Thera (the real name of the island as Santorini is the Italian name) was a trading community, located conveniently between the Near East, Egypt, Crete, and other parts of Greece, artifacts found are not just local.
We left there and Georgia returned us to Fira in time to get some great pictures of the sunset.
I also got a great picture of the cathedral.
The ship weighed anchor at 9:30PM.
Monday, 9 September
This was a travel day. We debarked at Piraeus after 7AM, met our coach driver Vasili, and all 42 of us loaded onto the mauve-colored coach (significance: hue of decadence, youth, and renewal, romanticism). Kerri wisely had instituted the policy of having each guest put his/her name, along with partner, on an ancient Greek index card and each evening, she rearranged the cards so that the same people would not be in the prime “hot seats” in the front of the coach. Our destination was Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. However, the traffic jams getting out of first Piraeus and then Athens delayed our trip north. Our original schedule of stopping at Thermopylae was postponed until our return along the same route a few days later. We might have seen Mount Olympus, the highest peak in Greece and renowned in mythology as the home of the gods.
Thessaloniki has been called “The Queen of Northern Greece” as it is has been the principle seaport of eastern Macedonia. Its prominence goes back to at least 168BC as the Via Egnatia passed through the area. We traveled either on this roadbed or near the route of this primarily east-west paved road that connected Byzantium (later Constantinople and now Istanbul) with Rome – as the Appian Way was a north-south route connecting cities in Italy with Rome. Thessaloniki has traditionally been a truly international city. For example, the 1913 census found a total of 158,000 people: 61439 Jews, 40,000 Greek Orthodox, 46,000 Turks, 6263 Bulgarians, and 4364 “foreigners.” The Great Fire of 1917 destroyed much of the city (leading to urban renewal) but miraculously, there were no deaths, even though 70,000 were made homeless.
See the article I sent to my 20 guests a few months ago for more information on Thessaloniki. Welcome to Thessaloniki
We checked into the Capsis Hotel for two nights, had lunch at Palati and went to the Museum of Byzantine Culture; we also walked along the Limani (waterfront) on a brilliant afternoon. Of course, I saw some graffiti: ΤΣΑΚΙΣΤΕ ΤΟΥΣ ΦΑΣΙΣΤΕΣ! (Crush the Fascists!) that was followed with the Anarchist symbol.
And I had to take a picture of the victorious Alexander the Great
That evening we went to the party district of Thessaloniki (Ladadika) for dinner. Here is an interesting article describing this fun area.
Tuesday, 10 September
After breakfast, we boarded our coach for a day trip to Philippi and Kavala. Our guide, Fotini, (her name means “light”) took us to several places where Paul had visited in 49AD and even to the ancient archeological city to the exact spot where Paul and Timothy spoke to the multitudes.
This so angered the local authorities that they arrested the duo and threw them in jail. That night, they experience an earthquake that opened the doors of the jail. When the jailer saw the open door, he attempted to kill himself, but found Paul and Timothy sitting in their cell. Paul complained that he was a Roman citizen and could not be imprisoned without a trial, so they were released.
Paul was appalled that the religion practiced in Philippi was a combination of Roman and Egyptian gods. In searching for a place to hold a service, Paul spoke to a group of women who were at a river (possibly Zygaktis River) to purify themselves for the Jewish ritual. One of the women was Lydia, who opened her heart to Paul’s teachings and was baptized along with other members of her household.
We visited the Baptistery of St Lydia (built in 1975) and observed the mosaics and the beautiful architecture.
We also stopped at the spot where Christians are still baptized in the waters of the Zygaktis River.
Gary remembered to get a water sample here.
Philippi’s history goes back hundreds of years prior to Paul’s arrival. Philip II of Macedon, Alexander’s father, took over the city in 356BC and named it after himself. His interest was the nearby gold mines. In 168BC Philippi became part of the Roman Empire when the Roman army defeated the Persians at the Battle of Pydna. In 42BC, Mark Antony and Octavian (who in 31BC took the name of Augustus after defeating Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium) rebuilt Philippi and then defeated Brutus and Cassius (the assassins of Julius Caesar).
We then traveled the seven miles on the Via Egnatia roadbed to Kavala. Our first stop was for lunch at Zafeira Restaurant to sample some typical northern Greek cooking. Here is part of a page from the menu. Note the mis-spelling:
One of the places we visited was the Church of St Nicholas and the Monument Apostle Paul with its striking mosaics.
Afterwards, we saw the Kavala fortifications and the Roman aqueduct.
The original name of the city was Neapolis (New City). There is some dispute how the name “Kavala” came into being. In Latin, cavalla means ‘the horses.’ The city was on the route of Via Egnatia and the Roman fortress there had a “post” where imperial couriers had a chance to rest and change horses – similar to the way stations for our own short-lived Pony Express. The existing and visible fortifications were begun by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th century AD and expanded in the 9th century and again in the early 14th century. I am not sure what part of the fortifications we see here.
As I write this, Turkish aircraft are bombing Kurdish communities in Syria as Turkey is attempting to destroy the Kurd power in both Syria and within Turkey. In Kavala, I saw the following highway sign.
In 1983, Turkey invaded the very richly endowed island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, displacing a large number of Greek-speaking Cypriots. Turkey created the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, and amazingly this “nation” has only been recognized by Turkey. The remainder of the island is the Republic of Cyprus and is a member of both the European Union and Eurozone.
Here is a mine, probably silver, on Mount Pangaeus – this was a reason why Kavala became a target for so many different invasions.
We then returned the 160 kilometers to Thessaloniki and saw the Arch of Galerius that had been created to commemorate the victory of Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus, the Eastern Roman Emperor over the Persians. Galerius ruled in the early 4th century AD. Although an opponent of Christianity, he issued an Edict of Toleration in 311. Locals call this arch “Kamara” that translates as ‘arch.’ This highly inscribed structure is near remnants of the Palace of Galerius.
I am making a sad prediction here. Based on my knowledge of geopolitics and international relations, I see a sad future for this part of Greece. Several months ago, against the wishes of the Greek government, the area immediately north of Greece that tried to call itself Macedonia and claim Alexander for itself, finally achieved a partial victory. As Macedonia is a part of Greece and Philip and Alexander spoke Greek, not a Slavic language and Alexander’s mentor was no other than Aristotle; while those to the north speak several different Slavic languages, after the breakup of Yugoslavia between 1989 and 1992, the United Nations temporarily called this northern region the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and did not allow it to join either NATO or the European Union. In June 2018, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with the FYROM Prime Minister and announced that the region would be called Republic of North Macedonia (in Macedonian: Severna Makedonija).
As this land is landlocked, there is now pressure to give it access to the Aegean Sea. Look at a map and you will see that would entail Greek territory. The most logical seaport would be either Kavala or Thessaloniki. Luckily, the current Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has a greater backbone than Tsipras, and will not give in to this growing pressure.
Wednesday, 11 September
After breakfast, we boarded our mobile home away from home and headed southwest into the interior of northern Greece. Known as the Thessalonian Plain, this area has abundant cultivated fields; we also saw some sheepherders with their flocks, but luckily, none of them impeded us on the roads as I have experienced previously. Such crops as cotton, corn, beans, lots of small watermelons (I can attest to their sweetness!), alfalfa, rice, and possibly barley. Again, we were traveling on the path of Via Egnatia. How could we not stop at Berea? Kerri had Vasili stop in this historically significant town that Paul visited and we saw the area near where Paul spoke to the local population on the Bema. Now there is a small memorial.
There also was this sign: “Paul in Berea accepted the Word on a daily basis in the daily interrogation of writing. (Acts: 17.11) God’s Word is a powerful blessing on the lives of those who worship it.”
Some of us sampled the water that came out of the spring there.
We traveled south parallel to the Pindus mountain range that forms the backbone of central Greece. We saw some interesting waterways.
As we approached Kalambaka, we started to see unusual rock formations that looked like the rock had been poured in place.
When we passed through Kalambaka, we could easily the group of monasteries perched atop the rocky crags. Geologically, it is not clear what the origin of these unusual formations was. Some had thought that they were volcanic uplifts, but in fact they are composed of a mixture of sandstone and conglomerate. Both rock types are initially underwater sedimentary, so there must have been a tectonic uplift followed by weathering through the effects of water and wind. The natural caves became a home first for Neanderthals and then by Homo sapiens as detritus has been analyzed showing human presence going back 50,000 years.
In the 9th century AD, hermit monks climbed the summits (up to 1550 feet) to avoid contact with others. Then in the 11th century, monks occupied some of the caves and began to build the monasteries in the 14th century, in part to get away from marauding Turks. Access was by removable ladders or windlass.
Today, only six of the original 24 monasteries are occupied. We were able to visit two of them along with our guide Katerina.
Following are some glimpses of the monasteries. Think about how the monks raised the building materials to that height – and in one instance, the government forced the entire building to be completed in 40 days!
Here is a shot from on top overlooking Kalambaka.
We then checked in to our hotel in Kalambaka, Famissi Eden Hotel, several miles away and ate dinner.
Thursday, 12 September
Our destination was Delphi, but we first made a stop at Thermopylae (Hot Gate) near the border of the regions of Thessaly and Boeotia to see the monument dedicated to the 300 Spartans and the 700 Thespians (no, they did not perform a play there) as well as some other Greeks. The entire Greek force was led by King Leonidas and they met the Persian army in a very narrow passage that limited access to only a few. As there were somewhere between 100,000 to 250,000 Persians, only a few could fight at a time, giving a distinct advantage to the Greek defenders.
The statue complex features a typical Spartan warrior with upraised spear and shield, flanked by two reclining figures: Taegetus and Evrotas. Taegetus is the mountain overlooking Sparta and Evrotas is a stream that begins in the small mountain village of Skortsinou (my father-in-law’s home town) and flows through Sparta, emptying in the Laconian Gulf as the second largest river in the Peloponnesus.
At the base of the Spartan warrior is the phrase «ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ», Literally “just take it” but the implication of ‘come and get it if you dare!’ This might become the rallying cry of those who support the Second Amendment.
Kerri thought that this pass was where Thermopylae might have been.
We got to Delphi and met our guide, Effy. The first stop was a great museum. How impressive was the Sphinx of Naxos?
Effy took us through the museum and made stops at such exhibits as the bull made of silver and gold.
Or the Dancers of Delphi
Or the most iconic figure of all, the Charioteer
It is always good to check out the museum of any archeological area first, because it gives the viewer a lot of more information than just the blur of seeing one damaged structure after another.
Delphi is a large site, built on the side of Mount Parnassus, so there is a fair amount of climbing involved – not particularly difficult, but a bit tiring. We were lucky that we had great weather and didn’t have to experience this in rain, or even drizzle.
I found this Oracle observing the surroundings as she explained what I was doing.
For more information on the significance of Delphi, access this Delphi for web
We followed the Sacred Way, working our way up, stopping at several of the city-state treasuries: Athenian, Spartan, Corinthian, Theban, Argos. These treasuries were places to store valuable offerings. The city-states competed with each other to make theirs the finest. Coincidentally, these were probably the first Greek buildings to be made entirely of marble. The Athenian Treasury is, in my opinion, the most completely reconstructed and because I am particularly interested in some of the finer details, I noted the metopes (the level above the lintel which is directly above the columns and below the roof) on the east side depicting the fight of the Amazons. Although we could not enter this building, inside was a platform where the Athenians put the spoils from the Battle of Marathon (490BC).
I noted this interesting bronze column standing by itself.
Additional research found that it was erected to commemorate the Greek victory over Persians at Plataea in 479BC and dedicated to Apollo. It probably was cast from the captured bronze weapons, according to the historian Herodotus. However, the original was later removed and taken to Constantinople in 324AD by Constantine, so what we saw was a copy made in 1980 and kept in the Delphi Museum until recently. The column was three serpents intertwined and their now-missing heads supported a golden cauldron, that the Phocians melted to fund a war. (Only one of the heads has been preserved in the Archeological Museum of Constantinople.)
Although we did not get the opportunity to get down there, the Temple of Diana is often portrayed as the “typical” structure at Delphi.
To bring Delphi to the present, a cousin of mine from Greece sent the following that I translated into English. Modern Delphic Oracle
When we got to our hotel, Domotel Anemolia Resort Arachova, I got my key to Room #501 and was told that I had to go down a flight of stairs to get there! I thought that I was in Santorini. I did get one sunset picture overlooking the mountains nearby.
Friday, 13 September
Arachova, our one-night stand connected to Delphi, has been called “the Balcony of Parnassus,” and also “Snow Queen” as Mount Parnassus is a desired ski location. Located at an altitude of 1000 meters, there is great night life (which we did not partake in, unfortunately).
We left after breakfast after we played “musical chairs” on the coach and headed further south and then west to Corinth. In ancient times, this was one of the most important cities in Greece, and at the time of Paul’s arrival, was considerably larger than Athens. Our first stop, a comfort one, was at the famous Canal.
Although only 6.4 kilometers long, it saves the entire trip around the Peloponnesus for small ships. The first attempt to do something to reduce the length of the voyage (185 nautical miles), was in 602BC when the tyrant of Corinth built a “railroad” that moved boats overland on wheeled platforms from the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf (this leads to the Aegean Sea). It was not until 1893 that ships were able to use the 25-meter wide canal. Take a look at this short video about a ship using the canal very recently. Cruise ship in canal
From there, we drove to Ancient Corinth. This was one of the most important cities in Greece, with a 400BC population of 90,000, primarily because of its location (while Athens was about one-fourth its size). When the Romans arrived in 146BC, they destroyed most of the city, but rebuilt it in 44BC. Corinth was truly “Sin City” for many years. Peopled with temple prostitutes who serviced the wealthy and other women who were available to the commoners, Horace said: “non licet omnibus adire Corinthum” (not everyone is able to go to Corinth). Maybe a modern parallel might be: what happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.
This is what Paul was up against as he was like an historic version of Carrie Nation, attempting to keep the recently converted Christians on the true path. To see a detailed statement of what he attempted to do, click here Paul at Corinth
We actually got on the Bema where the local Tribunal tried Paul.
We then walked through the Agora and had lunch on a balcony overlooking the site.
We then reboarded our coach and headed for Athens. As it was a Friday, there was a fair amount of traffic so that delayed us. All the while, Kerri was explaining what we would see. Dimitri parked the coach and after we met our guide, Sophia, we began our walk towards the Acropolis. She took us first to
Mars Hill (called by the Greeks Areopagus – Areopagitis is a Judge of the Supreme Court) and explained its significance as it was here that Paul spoke of the altar that had the words inscribed “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD”. The Greeks had feared that in addition to the twelve main gods and the innumerable lesser deities, they worshipped a deity they called Νὴ τὸν Ἄγνωστον. For the complete details, see Paul at Areopagus (Acts 17:22-31)
We then began the long slow walk to the entrance, up the marble steps, through the Beule Gate and the Propylaia.
Kerri told us that the elevator was no longer available to any who wanted access to it, but only to severely handicapped.
From the other side of the Propylaia, it looks like this.
We walked carefully to the Parthenon, approaching it from the west end and walking around it on south side near the drop-off to get a good vantage point of the two theaters on our way to the east entrance. This is a birds-eye view of Odeon of Herodes Atticus, where a rock band was tuning up for a concert later that day..
The wind was unbelievably strong and with the uneven and very slick marble pavement walked on by literally millions over the past two and a half millennia, we had to be careful we would lose our footing.
I have been on the Acropolis five different times, the first time when I was 11 — and we could actually climb up into the Parthenon, but no longer. The possibility of damage to the structure or falling on the loose footing is too great a liability. The trips there in 2001, 2003, 2010, and now have shown great progress in reconstruction.
I have been asked: “why bother spending time and money on an old building when there are so many other pressing issues that must be solved?” It was built between 447-32BC of Pentelic marble and was dedicated to the goddess Athena Pallas or Parthenos (virgin). The building housed a huge statue of Athena made of ivory and gold, designed by Phidias. The order of the columns is Doric and as the people passed from the west end to the east, there is a rhythm of dark-light-dark-light with the columns providing the light and the space between them as the dark. In addition, each column was fluted, so there is an additional dark-light sense on each column. The columns supported beams (called “post and lintel” architecture).
There are no straight lines in the Parthenon as it appears to float on the limestone base. The columns taper slightly and there is an almost imperceptible bulge (entasis) about a third up each column. The end columns on each corner are very slightly thicker (about 6 centimeters) than the others and lean slightly in. The roofline is higher in the middle than the ends, otherwise it would appear that the building sags in the middle.
The Parthenon withstood several earthquakes after its construction. Athens was occupied by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire in 1456AD and the Parthenon was converted into a mosque and the Erechtheum became a harem. The Turks had attempted to take Vienna in 1683 and in retaliation, a combined Western European army (often called a “Venetian” army) landed in Athens in 1687 as the Turks fortified themselves on the Acropolis. On 26 September 1687, a Venetian mortar shell hit the Parthenon that was being used as a gunpowder magazine by the Turks. This explosion blew the long sides of the Parthenon out.
Not much was done until the British Ambassador, Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, received authorization from Ottoman Sultan Selim III in 1801 to survey the Parthenon, take casts of the sculptures, and remove pieces of interest. In 1803, a large part of the frieze as well as many capitals, metopes, and one caryatid were packed up into 200 boxes and by 1806, they were exhibited in Elgin’s house in Park Lane. The Marbles were moved to the British Museum in 1832. The Greek government has been petitioning for their return and placement in the new Acropolis Museum (opened in 2009) but all requests have been denied by the British government. (The preceding gleaned from National Geographic on the Parthenon )
Here is a view of the Acropolis Museum from the vantage point of the Acropolis. Note that the third story is not set at the same angle as the first two stories; instead it is exactly parallel to the south side of the Parthenon.
In the left distance, you can also see the Temple of Zeus and the immediate foreground below the precipice the Theater of Dionysus Elephereus (the world’s oldest theater).
Currently, reconstruction is concentrated on the interior and here is a view of one of the new lintels, recently placed.
The restorers, intent on making the finished product as authentic as possible, have returned to Mount Pentelus where the original marble is from and quarried pieces from there. As that marble has a lot of iron in it, after a few years (I have no idea how long), the newly inserted pieces will weather and match those that were original.
We then walked to the Erechtheum to see the “porch” with the caryatids (none of them are original as five of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum and the sixth is in the British Museum.) These female figures functioned as supports holding up the roof.
We then returned to ground level to take the only group picture that I could manage as I could never get our whole group of 20 together previously.
Our last trip together with all 42 was to the final hotel, Holiday Inn Athens Attica, that is much closer to the Eleftherios Venizelos airport. If you are curious who he was, click here
For the lucky dozen who added four additional nights on the Ionian island of Corfu, see the article that I am still working on: “Corfu in Four Nights.”