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Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's all Greek to Me!

Looking up at the Acropolis from the Plaka 

If you are a faithful reader of my blog, you'll recall that I was inspired by the Greek art at the British Museum to book a trip to Greece for my midterm break.  I arrived in Athens late on Saturday and set off at once to explore the city by night.  I took a walk through the streets and alleys to find the Plaka, the historic neighborhood where I was assured I could find a good Greek dinner.  Good Greek food was not hard to find, nor was the Acropolis as it watches over the Athens day and night from it's perch on a rocky outcrop above the city. In the morning, I climbed the hill to get a closer look.

A Blustery Day at the Parthenon

It was amazing to have a chance to walk among these ancient ruins!  The Parthenon was constructed between 447 and 448 BC as a temple dedicated to the goddess, Athena, the patron of Athens.   I was especially interested to see the the Erechtheum with the 5 maidens, called Caryatids, holding up the roof of the porch.  It is said that you can hear the maidens wail for their lost sister at night, as she has been taken far away (see her in my previous "Bright Side of Life" post).   Large portions of both these buildings are now in the British Museum and there is a major controversy over whether or not they should be returned to Greece. 
On the way down the hill I stopped at a huge well-worn rock, called the Areopagus.  It was on this site that the Apostle Paul spoke to the people of Athens.  Evidently, he was not too impressed by the temple and the statues on the hill above him, according to the 17th chapter of the Book of Acts:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[a] As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[b]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill."

Plaque with Paul's speech at the Areopagus

Evidently not too many of the Athenians at the time listened to Paul, but 500 years later, Athens was under the rule of the Byzantines and the buildings of the Acropolis were converted into churches.  To learn more about this period, my next stop was the Byzantine and Christian Museum.

One of the Icons at the Byzantine and Christian  Museum

On the way back to my hotel I happened to pass by a large building where a crowd seemed to be gathering.   I tried to find out what this important-looking building was by asking an armed guard, but he didn't seem to understand English, so I just hung around to see what might happen.  This is what I saw:
I only wish I had thought to put my camera on video!

These fellows with big pom poms on their shoes went marching around doing high kicks and sometimes touching their outstretched foot to that of their partner.  I came to the conclusion that this building must be "The Ministry of Silly Walks" as in the Monty Python sketch. (Google the You Tube video if you don't know what I mean!)  When I got to my hotel I asked if I was correct in my assumption and I learned that the building was the Parliament and that this was their version of the Changing of the Guard.  Oops!  After inadvertently insulting this time-honored ceremony, I thought I should head out of town as soon as possible, and glancing down on the reception desk counter I saw a brochure for a bus tour of Greek Treasures.   I called the tour company and got on the bus the next morning.  

The first stop on the tour was Mycenae.  This was the ruins of the Mycenaean civilization which dominated the eastern Mediterranean world from the 15th to the 12th century BC.  The Lion's Gate is the main entrance to the citadel.  
Lions' Gate
On top of the Mycenaean World

After the climb to the top of Mycenae, I was ready for the Olympics.  Our next stop was Olympia, the home of the first Olympic Games, which began in 776 BC.   This site is where the torch for the modern Olympics is lit in a special ceremony before it travels around Greece and then around the host country.


There are grooves in the marble starting line for the runners' feet.

Okay, I took over a thousand photos on my trip, and many of them are of statues, but I'm trying to share only one with you.  My favorites is Hermes of Praxiteles, from the 4th century BC which was discovered in Olympia.  Maybe it's because I have 2 boys of my own, but I just love the looks between Hermes and his little brother, Dionysus, as the older boy stops to rest along his journey to deliver the infant to the nymphs.

Hermes of Praxiteles

All this site-seeing has made me a little hungry.  Time to stop for some delicious Greek cooking!  The spanakopita, fish, eggplant, squid, olives, oranges, almonds, feta, yogurt and baklava were all fabulous in Greece!  I have never seen so many olive trees in my life as I did in Greece, and those olives are put to good use with their oil used in almost every delightful dish.
Lovely Countryside

Making "Cheese Pies"

Tranquil Seaside

One place that I was really curious about was Delphi.  I had heard of the Oracle of Delphi, but I had no idea what a wonderful site was in store!  Perhaps it was because it was such a beautiful sunny day, or perhaps it was the magic of the Oracle, but I was just entranced by Delphi.  It was considered by the ancient Greeks to be the "navel of the earth".

Greek Goddess???

This is the end of the  tunnel that the through which the  priests
would  bring the revelations of the oracle.   
Treasury at Delphi

The Theater at Delphi

The stadium at Delphi is way at the top of the site.
I thought I deserved a laurel crown just for making it up
the hill!

The last stop on our tour was Meteora, home of the amazing hilltop monasteries.  As early as the 11th century, monks were drawn to the solitude of the peaks of the unusual rock formations in this area and by the 1500s there were 24 monasteries perched on these peaks.  Until the 1920s, the only was to bring materials and people up was with ladders and baskets that hung from the side of the cliffs.  Now only 6 monasteries survive, one for nuns and the others inhabited by monks. Being here really does feel like being away from the rest of the world.

I ended my trip right where I began, in Athens.  I had purchased a ticket to take a boat out to 3 of the nearest Greek Islands, but after taking an hour-long bus ride to the harbor in thunder and lightning (I kept asking if it was safe to go out in a boat in the lightning, and was repeatedly assured it would be fine)  we got on the boat and sat in the harbor for about 20 minutes before it was announced that the cruise would be cancelled.  I was relieved.  The next morning was sunny and beautiful again.  I had only a few hours before I had to head to the airport, but I couldn't resist one more wander around the city in the sun.  I took the opportunity to visit the Agora.  This space was the center of  commerce and  political life as early as the 6th century BC.

The Hephaisteion at the Agora

At the Agora

The last archaeological site I visited was the Temple of Zeus.  I guess it's time to leave, as I've covered the city from A to Z, starting with the Acropolis with it's Temple of Athena, ending with the Temple of Zeus.  Goodbye, Greece!  I hope to return someday!

Temple of Zeus


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