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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Travelling through the Peloponnese

The sites of Ancient Greece may be quite deteriorated but they still managed to amaze. Contemplate the design, organization and creativity of these ancient civilizations...will anything we make today last 100 years much less 1000. Well, maybe our garbage. The beehive rock tombs of Mycenae (nicknamed the Tomb of Agamemnon by the dubious H. Schliemann) were as impressive as the imposing Lion's Gate were with its gigantic lintel (weighting the equivalent of a B-52).
The strangest stone architectural element is the omphalos of Delphi. Meaning the navel in greek, the omphalos denoted Delphi as the centre of the Greek world. Mythologically, it was the "egg" that Rhea (Zeus' mother) wrapped in a cloak for Cronus to swallow. Cronus feared his children (likely his male children) would become too powerful and kill him. Cronus later regurgitated the omphalos (and the other Olympian gods) after the induction of a emetic by adult Zeus. What followed was the clash of the Olympians and the Titans.
The real discovery was that the much photographed temple at Delphi was not that of Apollo by that of Athena. The oracle of Delphi sat in a dark cavern beneath the Temple of Apollo. It was to this Temple of Apollo that pilgrims journeyed from all over Greece (and beyond) to to hear their fortunes. The temple of Athena and Tholos (that round structure to the left) are where the pilgrims first came to purify themselves before seeing the oracle.
Nevertheless the view from Delphi was spectacular. Perhaps the pilgrims came here for the view too. Another suprise as the discovery of other special games and competitions. The Pythian games, a set of competitions like the Olympic games, were held here every four years as well. The winners in this case received laurel leaf wreaths (emblematic of Apollo) where the Olympic game champions received olive leaf wreaths (symbols of Hercules). The trek up the Delphi site was steep but not overwhelming even in the heat of this Greece summer. But there will be more majestic views of Greece to come...

Monday, July 19, 2010


It has been a whirlwind tour of Athens....actually a more of sunbaked tour. However, the top classical sites have not failed to disappoint. Walking in the footsteps of the ancient Greeks through the Agora and the Acropolis has been (multiple superlatives) spectacular and simply marvellous. Standing in the Theatre of Dionysius where Sophocles and Aristophanes staged their plays, walking on the Panathenic way where Plato and Socrates and standing in front of the Acropolis where Pericles viewed his finest building commission are the highlights of a lifetime.

Known as the crowning jewel of Athenian democracy, the Panthaneon on the Acropolis has endured many trangressions. Desecrated by early Christians, then converted into a church, converted into a mosque, bombed by the Venetians and finally bought over in a fire sale by Lord Elgin, the monument has certainly lost some of 5th century glory. Yet, it's a classical beauty of perfect proportions. The Greeks certainly are working hard to restore here (and other adjacent temples and sites). Certainly the New Acropolis Museum is a modern wonder to behold and also a political plea for the return of the Elgin (Parthaneon) marbles.

It's not all history, ruins and museums though. There was shopping in the Plaka for a pair of custom fit leather sandals at Stavros Melissinos, the poet sandalmaker of Athens and the best souvaki ever at Thanasis. Next stop is a trip though the Peloponnese.