greece 6: post-byzantine monasteries of meteora and thermopylae

Kalabaka—Meteora

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16th Century monasteries perched atop the towering peaks of Meteora

Kalabaka, known in Byzantine times as Stagi, is a small town and starting point for a visit to Meteora, a group of precipitous towering rocks in the centre of the plain of Thessaly. This unique geological phenomenon was created by a series of upheavals in the earth’s crust millions of years ago. The untrodden rocky peaks of the Meteora, totally isolated from the rest of the world, were a refuge for hermits from as early as the 11th Century. Continue reading

greece 5: roman patras and delphi, navel of the earth

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Church of St. Andrew in Patras

Patras

Today, in the early morning hours I left for Patras. My final destination was Delphi. Patras is one of the most important harbours for communication between Greece and Western Europe. Ships for Italy leave from here.

An agricultural settlement which took little part in the shared activities of the Greeks during the entire Greek historical epoch (from the end of the Mycenaean civilization to the end of the Classical period), Patras, however, flourished under the Romans and became a centre for commerce and industry during Roman rule. St. Andrew, patron saint of Patras, taught the gospel in this city and was martyred here in 68 AD. I visited the 20th Century church of St. Andrew, an imposing building decorated lavishly in gold on Byzantine lines in the inside. The blue cross in the Greek flag is St. Andrews cross. Possession of Patras alternated between the Venetians and Turks in the city’s later history. Continue reading

greece 4: olympia, home of zeus and the olympic games

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The Palaestra where the athletes trained for the contests in wrestling, boxing and jumping, 3rd Century BC

There was scarcely any city which failed to stage games in honour of the gods, but the attention of all Greece was drawn to the four great Pan-Hellenic festivals: the Olympic Games at Olympia and the Pythian Games at Delphi, both held every four years; and the Nemean Games in Argolis and the Isthmian Games at Corinth, each held every two years. These festivals drew athletes from all parts of Greece who competed as individuals, not as teams, on a passionately amateur basis. Wars were put aside for the Games. Greatest of all the Pan-Hellenic games were the Olympics held at Olympia. Continue reading

greece 3: epidaurus and nafplio, greece’s first capital

Epidaurus, Classical Greece’s centre for healing

In the hinterland of Epidaurus, on green hills enjoying mild climate and plentiful water from healing springs, the Epidaureans founded the sanctuary of Asclepius, the most impressive centre of healing in the ancient world.

The worship of gods of healing in Epidaurus goes back to the prehistoric period. In the Mycenaean period, the hero-doctor Malos, or Maleatas was worshipped on one of the peaks of Mt. Cynortium. After 1000 BC, Apollo displaced the prehistoric deity, and assumed his name, Apollo Maleatas, continuing to be worshipped in his sanctuary until the end of the ancient world. His cult evolved into that of Asclepius, culminating in the 6th Century BC with the building of Asclepius’ major sanctuary of healing. According to mythology, Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis and he learned the art of medicine from his father and Cheiron, the wise Centaur.

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The Theatre of Epidaurus is the best preserved ancient theatre in Greece, 4th-3rd Century BC Continue reading

greece 2: ancient corinth and mycenae

Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal, 6 kilometres long and 23 meters wide, was constructed in 1882-1893 by French and Greek engineers at the narrowest point of the Isthmus. I crossed the canal by bridge as I left Attica and entered the Peloponnese. The decision to build a canal on this spot was taken by many in antiquity: Periander, tyrant of Corinth and one of the seven sages of the ancient world, Julius Caesar, Nero, Hadrian, and Herodes Atticus. But it was only in the 19th Century that the idea received form. Nonetheless, the ancient Greeks had devised other means of bridging the gap between the two gulfs. In the late 7th or early 6th Century BC, they built a paved road called diolcus from the shores of the Gulf of Corinth to the shores of the Saronic, and ships were pulled on wheeled wagons from one side of the Isthmus to the other. Parts of the diolcus can still be seen today on the Gulf of Corinth.

Ancient Corinth

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The ruins of ancient Corinth Continue reading

greece 1: pericles’ athens—an education to [classical] Greece

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I was in Athens. After months of reading numerous books on Classical Greece, I was finally in the city which had given birth to democracy, intellectual freedom, and the concept of individuality. My breath caught in my throat in bated excitement as I took the long drive from the airport to the hotel, amidst much heat, pollution, noise, crowds, and huge run-down buildings lining traffic-laden streets.

Next morning I commenced my exploration of the city’s glorious art and history. The heavy cloak of modern urban Athens slowly parted to reveal the Athens I’d come to see from across the many seas, the Athens of incomparable beauty.

Athens: An education to [Classical] Greece

To fully experience the classical beauty of Athens is to understand the essence of Greek civilization. Athens, the “school of Hellas”, and in Pericles’ words, “the city that was an education to Greece”, was the cultural and intellectual well-spring of Greek life in antiquity. During Greece’s Golden Age, the period commencing with the defeat of the Persians in 479 BC to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war in 431 BC, it displayed a vigour that has no parallel in the history of man. And this golden age glowed brightest during the 30 years it had the leadership of the political genius of Pericles, the city’s first citizen, austere aristocrat, soldier, orator, and statesman. Continue reading