A Travellerspoint blog

Athena

sunny 19 °C

We left Delphi with our heads spinning with historical facts and mythology and had just one night to recover before tackling the mother of ancient Greek monuments; one of the greatest manmade wonders of the world – the Temple of Athena atop the Acropolis of Athens. With only one day left before our flight to London we had asked the Oracle in Delphi for blue skies and clear air at dawn and she didn't disappoint...
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This enormous ancient temple – the Parthenon - sits high above the city and it is a steady climb in the blustery autumnal air. But the stunning views of the city and the Aegean Sea from the top are well worth the effort...
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We were first through the gates and had the whole of Athens laid at our feet while most tourists were still eating breakfast, (and there are still an incredible number of tourists despite the lateness of the season). To us, the Parthenon looks pretty ancient, (after all it was completed in 438 BC), but it's actually a replacement for the one that the Persians destroyed in 480 BC. Although the 'new' one looks pretty good after nearly 2,500 years it has actually been renovated many times. In its time it has been a Christian church and a mosque, and on the 26th September 1687, when it was being used by the Ottomans as an ammunition dump, the invading Venetians blew part of it up. What stories these ancient rocks and soaring columns could tell...
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However, while the Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Western Civilization, the nearby Temple of Hephaestus is actually more authentic because it has never been restored...
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This beautiful temple, built in 450 BC, honoured the god of metalwork, craftsmanship and fire, and it stood alongside Athens' ancient marketplace – the Agora. History so surrounds us in Athens that we find ourselves barely glancing at buildings and ruins that would be major tourist attractions in most cities of the world. The remnants of historic monuments lie scattered everywhere and it's clear that many of them will never be resurrected ..
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However, there are more than enough restored and protected ancient buildings to make Athens one of the finest outdoor museums in the world. This is the ancient Greek Temple of Erechtheum...
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While this is the Roman's Herod Atticus theatre, (circa 161 AD), just one of the many more recent buildings clustered around the Acropolis...
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And these elaborately carved stone seats, with the names of their aristocratic owners engraved on them, are at the nearby Greek theatre dedicated to Dionysus – patron of the arts and god of the onion harvest and masturbation, (Not kidding)...
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Today, we began with a leisurely breakfast in the shadow of the Acropolis and watched the sun rising along the Panathenaic Way, the main road to the Acropolis, that has been trod by countless millions since its building three thousand years ago when this was the procession route for the acolytes of Athena...
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And so, our quest that began in Norway with Odin has ended on the road to Athena's Temple - the Parthenon.
But, what on earth would those road builders have made of the rest of our day as we took the Metro to the airport and flew first to Rome for a light lunch, then to Heathrow for tea, and finally to Central London for dinner?
London welcomed us with warm sunny skies and we'll be spending a couple of weeks here. Maybe we will find some ancient nuggets to blog about in a week or so.
Αντιο σας for now.

Posted by Hawkson 11:46 Archived in Greece Comments (5)

Consulting the Oracle of Delphi

sunny 20 °C

Imagine that the sun is just rising on a warm autumnal day 2,604 years ago and come with us to visit the Oracle of Delphi to discover what the future may hold for us and all mankind. First, we must climb the slopes of the rugged mountain of Parnassus until we can survey the Sea of Corinth and the land of Sparta that lies beyond. And then, above us, soaring high into the clear azure, we glimpse the columns of the Temple of Apollo – the home of the Oracle...
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But first we must stop and pay homage at the centre of the earth. According to mythology, in order to locate the centre of the world, Zeus sent two eagles from the two ends of the world and their paths crossed above Mount Parnassus. He then threw a stone from the sky and it fell here on the slopes of Delphi. where a sacred city was built...
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Temples, sacred buildings, treasuries, shops and a theatre were carved out of the rocky mountainside and the sacred stone, known as the Omphalos, was placed atop an enormous column and held aloft by goddesses dancing on acanthus leaves. Will the intricate carvings on the columns and marble capitals survive the weather for nearly three thousand years?...
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The Oracle, also known as the Pythia, the High Priestess of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi, is a soothsayer who, for a few drachmas or a small piece of gold, with tell us our fortune and will give us guidance. It seems that the larger the donation the more favourable the prognosis may be. In order to ensure that the donations are properly collected, secured and given to the 'right' people, the Athenians built this treasury in the form of a Doric Temple on the main approach road in 490BC...
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And then we come to the Temple of Apollo where the Oracle, the High Priestess, is awaiting us...
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Many of the 'right' people have paid extra to ensure good fortune, and to make sure that everyone knows of their generosity to the Oracle they have their likenesses carved in stone and set on plinths leading to the temple...
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This bronze statue of a charioteer was cast in 475BC and only lost his horse and his left arm in the earthquake in 373..
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We decided that the 6 euro entrance fee was sufficient to bring us good fortune - and it worked. We went at eight in the morning and for more than an hour were free to wander the entire site absolutely alone...it was a truly magical and unforgettable time. We stood at the Temple of Apollo in the stillness of the morning watching the golden sun rising over the mountains and teleported ourselves back more than two and half thousand years when these prayers were carved on the temple walls...
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Delphi is not just the centre of the world, it is also the place which hosts the Delphic form of Olympic Games – The Pythian Games. Athletes from all over the Greek world have come here to the Gymnasium and Stadium of Delphi to take part in various games and trials of strength since 582BC. However, the Ancient Greeks are very civilized and all manner of artistry is performed to enthralled audiences; musicians, choirs and actors all compete for wreaths of laurel leaves at the theatre which stands above the temple...
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Note... rumour has it that this Ancient Grecian theatre will actually become a Roman theatre one day to celebrate the visit of Emperor Nero – only the Oracle knows that for certain.
Anyway, back to today, the 5th of Maimakterion in the Attic calendar, and the Oracle has prophesied distant travels in our immediate future, (but Sheila thinks that the old fraud spotted our Alitalia boarding passes for our flight to London on Wednesday or maybe she has read our blog).

Posted by Hawkson 08:26 Archived in Greece Comments (6)

Zahir the Greek

sunny 20 °C

Who would have suspected that the walk from our hotel to the Acropolis Museum in Athens would have entailed our appearance in a Bollywood movie? Yet, as we strolled through the historic lanes of the Plaka in the shadow of the Parthenon, we were invited to become extras in an Indian movie starring this actor in the leading role of Zahir the Greek...
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With free cappuccinos and unlimited samosas on offer how could we refuse? This is Sanjay, the director, checking out our appearance on his monitor...
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We weren't given any lines, but it was fun just to be involved, (even though we may end up on the cutting room floor).

Another pleasant surprise was to meet friends from home, Steve and Alison, who are on their way to Crete after a week in Athens...
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However, unlike many chance encounters we have had with friends and acquaintances throughout our travels, our meeting with Steve and Alison wasn't entirely accidental.

The temperature dropped a few degrees as we flew north from Rhodes to Athens but the sun has stayed with us and it seems to have brought out the crowds. After a couple of very peaceful weeks in Rhodes we were surprised to find Athens absolutely buzzing until we discovered that we had arrived along with 45,000 runners and their supporters just in time for the Athens Marathon. But this isn't just any marathon – this is the real thing. The course is based on the legendary route taken by Pheidippides who ran from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek's victory over the Persians in 490BC. We will miss the event but we couldn't miss the thousands of runners in their red and orange hi-vis tracksuits who managed to get in almost every picture. This is Hadrian's Arch built in 131AD when the Roman's were here...
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The highlight of Athens is, of course, the Parthenon that sits atop the Acropolis in the centre of the city and this is a glimpse from our hotel...
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We will be visiting the Parthenon in a few days time, but today we went to the Acropolis museum where our minds were blown by the sheer volume of statues and carvings that are some two thousand five hundred years old...
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These marble statues have survived 25 centuries of fires, earthquakes, wars and explosions. And the pottery urns in the Archaeological Museum of Rhodes were made and intricately decorated two thousand six hundred years ago...
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It is almost inconceivable that fragile pottery could have survived for hundreds of generations and still appear as if it was fired yesterday.

The museums of Athens and Rhodes are amazing depositories of antiquities, but the streets of Athens are themselves museums. There are historic buildings around every corner and important archaeological sites are a dime a dozen. This is Hadrian's Library...
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It is only a couple of thousand years old but it is next door to our hotel.
Now, this week's blog question. Correctly name the Bollywood star of the movie we are appearing in and we will give you two tickets to the world premiere. (Airfare not included).

Posted by Hawkson 08:24 Archived in Greece Comments (5)

In Memory of Anthony Quinn

sunny 24 °C

Greece and the islands of the Aegean Sea have given birth to many myths and legends of war and adventure. And these once-proud stones, these ruined and shattered temples, bear witness to the civilization that flourished and then died here and to the demigods and heroes who inspired those legends on this sea and these islands... so goes the prologue to the epic war movie, The Guns of Navarone, starring David Niven and Mexican actor Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca. It was filmed in 1960 on the island of Rhodes in this absolutely idyllic bay...
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The memory of swimming in these warm turquoise waters is something we will forever treasure. It is all the more memorable because this tiny bay is one of the biggest tourist attractions in all of the Greek islands and for much of the year its narrow beach is jammed beyond capacity. But, today we shared the crystalline sea with just three people and lay under the cerulean sky on loungers abandoned by the beach entrepreneurs who charged $30 or more during the summer's crush. And the name of this bay...
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Yes – this bay was named by the mayor of Rhodes for Anthony Quinn, the Mexican film star, in recognition of his roles in both Navarone and Zorba the Greek...and it was great for the Island's tourism too. Another place that is great for tourism is the picturesque town of Lindos that rises above another turquoise bay on the southeast coast...
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The whitewashed stone houses of Lindos are clustered around the foot of a castle mount topped by the ruins of an acropolis...
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The rugged coastline of Rhodes is so dotted with the ruins that eventually we became ruined-out. However, the Acropolis of Lindos stands out in so many ways. Firstly, there was civilization on this rocky outcrop nearly six thousand years ago...
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Six hundred years before Christ the tyrant Kleoboulos built a fortified temple here and as we read about the history while walking around this ancient fortress we were overawed by the knowledge that we were treading on stones that have felt the footfalls of millions throughout human history.
It is humbling to know that the original parts of these columns were here more than two thousand years ago...
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...and that the names inscribed on this stone were to thank the 185 people who donated 4,000 drachmas to buy three gold wreaths for the statues of Athena, Zeus and Nike in the 3rd century BC...
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The Byzantines, Ottomans, Turks, and Knights of St. John, all reinforced this fortress, and were eventually displaced...as were the Italians and Germans who occupied these islands during the Second World War. And that brings us back to the Guns of Navarone; an heroic Greek story – but something of a myth. There are myths a plenty on Rhodes. And then there are cats - everywhere...
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We have just a few more days in Rhodes before we start our trek north to Athens so we are making the most of our time on the beaches and in the sea. However, with winter storms approaching the fishing boats have been dragged to higher ground...
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and some of the resort owners have lashed down their furniture and rolled up their beaches...
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The sun is still shining; the sea is still warm; the locals are still friendly. But we can take a hint.

Posted by Hawkson 10:27 Archived in Greece Comments (6)

The Other Side of Rhodes

sunny 27 °C

A few days ago we left the ancient capital of Rhodes to drive down the east coast past dozens of multi-starred resorts, complete with casinos, strip-joints and bars, catering to the planeloads of holidaymakers who stream here from Northern Europe and around the world for some guaranteed sun. But beyond this fringe of fun there is another world: a peaceful pastoral world of orange and lemon groves; a mountainous world where goats and mouflon scratch a living from the sparse vegetation; a world of olives...
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Petrified olive leaves more than fifty thousand years old have been discovered on these islands and the goddess Athena is said have given the Athenians the first-ever olive tree, the Moria Elaia. So, after travelling south some 5,000 kilometres from the land of Odin, we have arrived here in the mountains of Rhodes to discover the fabled land that gave birth to the the legend of Athena, the olive and the liquid gold that flows from it.

With this summer's temperatures topping 45 degrees, and no rain since February, it has been a stressful year for the Island's grapes and citrus fruits. However, the centuries old olive trees have thrived. But many islanders have abandoned the groves as they seek to harvest greater riches from the Island's tourists. Unfortunately, in their effort to cash in on this bonanza they have seen their dreams turn to dust. There is a side of Rhodes never featured in the glossy brochures and rarely seen by tourists...
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Thousands of abandoned and unfinished holiday complexes litter the island and even the promise of mile after mile of pristine beach along the north coast is not a big enough draw...
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The biggest beach is at the most westerly point of Rhodes where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean and here we discovered the world's largest free parking lot with room for hundreds of thousands of cars...
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Our little hire car was not entirely alone. A small yacht bobbed in the gentle surf just offshore and the owner of a beachside cafe served us coffee while saying that we would be her last customers of the year. But all is not well at this end of the island. In order to power the thriving tourist industry, and keep the casino wheels spinning, the government has built a huge heavy-oil power station just behind the beach which threatens to pollute the water and air. It is an ugly sight so instead we will show you the ruins of Monolithos castle...
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This fortress was built in 1480 by the Knights of St. John and was never successfully attacked due to its location high atop the insurmountable cliffs on the north coast of Rhodes. The view from the castle is spectacular....
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From Monolithos we drove across the mountainous centre of the island and discovered the charming village of Siana on the slopes of Mt. Akrimitis...
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The church of St. Panteleon, a fabled healer who was a martyr of Nicomedia of Bythynia during the Diocletianic Persecution of 305 AD, (Thank you Wikipedia), must be one of the most elaborate and best preserved small churches in the world. Yet the village it serves has all but died. Only 70 people still live in this once thriving community and now survive on producing honey and a potent local drink called souma which is distilled from fermented figs. However, we couldn't help but wonder if the numerous roadside shrines alongside the tortuous mountain roads weren't in some ways connected to this allegedly potent alcohol...
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The mountain roads may, in places, be somewhat scary and potentially dangerous, but the views of this starkly beautiful land are well worth the drive. Equally beautiful is our next stop - the picture perfect castle of Lindos.

Posted by Hawkson 08:38 Archived in Greece Comments (4)

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