January 20: In Retrospect

We started with a trek to the Roman forum, an open square that would have been at the centre of the city in antiquity where there would have been temporary markets set up for bartering. The economic nature of the site prompted a student presentation on the current economic crisis in Greece by Catherine. She gave an extensive recent history that opened our eyes to the deeper causes of the crisis.

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We continued our walk to the site of the tomb and church of Aghios Dimitrios, a local saint and martyr. Because the church is active, we passed through a Greek Orthodox service as we made our way down to the crypt. Even underground, we could hear the chanting that was taking place above our heads. We saw in the museum underground, a stone slab with Arabic script from the Ottoman period which indicated that the church was once utilized as a mosque.

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Pavithra gave her presentation on Sephardic Jews at our next stop at the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki. It was stirring to see all of the artifacts that remained from the elimination of what was the largest and most concentrated Jewish community outside of mordern-day Israel. The gravestones we saw told the stories of the customs and lives of a people connected closely to their ancestors. The cemetery which was destroyed a few years before nearly all the Jews in Thessaloniki was an omen of the eventual destruction that was to occur shortly after.

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We finished the day with a walk up to the Upper city where we saw the oldest church in Thessaloniki, and arguably Greece. Morphia (our kind guide of the church) gave us details of the truly beautiful and unique mosaic depicting Christ and the four Evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We were impressed at its excellent condition considering that it has endured for approximately 1600 years! We were happy to have seen so much of the city in just one day that wrapped up our stay in Thessaloniki quite nicely!

Sarah, Mädchen and Hadley

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There And Back Again: Return to Athens

Today we embarked on a journey south, our first stop at the base of Mount Pelion in Volos. We visited the Archeological Museum there, where we got to see firsthand some of the research that Professor Salowey has done on specific grave stelai. The collection of stelai in Volos is remarkable due to the enduring preservation of pigment on the marble gravestones. We witnessed the original inscriptions of poetry and general life stories of those passed. One woman was remembered with particular regard due to her struggles during childbirth. The inscription on her grave stele raised her to the status of a Homeric hero through emphatic praise. The museum also boasted an extensive Neolithic collection that displayed a massive amount of figurines, pottery, tools, and other materials used in daily life. 

We trod in the footsteps of the ancient, they mythological, and the cinematic at our stop in Thermopylae. Thermopylae may call to mind the movie 300 and screams of “This is Sparta!,” but in reality, it is thought to be the site of a somewhat ambiguous battle. The Persians did indeed have a larger army than the Spartans, and we learned that the brave Spartan soldiers taunted the formidable forces with the phrase, “Come and get it,” in reference to the shield that would indicate surrender. 

Just adjacent to the memorial commemorating the Spartans, our hearts melted as we encountered a puppy. He was with a band of marauding animals, all of which we wanted to take on the bus with us. Demetri, our driver, probably wouldn’t have approved.

Thermopylae also hosts hot springs, which are famous for their healing powers. We were able to cure our ailments, up to about knee-level, in the steaming waters. We were however interrupted by an eye-full of another tour group. We were glad to have had the opportunity to at least sample the water, but we welcomed the fresh air on the bus as the hot springs caused quite an odor. 

We stopped for lunch in a seaside town with a makeshift picnic on the beach. It was incredible to breath in the fresh salty air one last time before our return to bustling Athens. We only have five more days left in beautiful Greece and already our hearts are longing to return. 

-Hadley and Cassie

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January 18, 2013: Mt. Olympus and Thessaloniki

After a superb breakfast at our hotel in Litochoro, we went adventuring on Mt. Olympus! We saw the trails used by hikers trying to reach the peaks, walked along the aqueduct, and saw a vividly blue waterfall that flows from the Aegean Sea. We even found some wild thyme! We also heard a presentation from Madchen about the gods of Greek mythology, who made their home on Mt. Olympus.

 
We made a stop at Dion to check out temples of Zeus and Isis, as well as some villas and even a communal toilet! We also saw some mosaics, pottery, and some really nice statuary in the archaeological museum in Dion. 
 
From Dion we trekked onward to Thessaloniki. It’s the second largest city in Greece, and as Professor Richter told us in front of the White Tower soon after we arrived, its location has caused various empires to fight over it throughout history. Even today, Thessaloniki and its White Tower are sources of controversy and political turmoil.
 
 From the White Tower, the port on the beautiful Aegean Sea is right in front of you, and behind the tower the city is clearly visible on an upward slope. Though the tower was quite lovely when we saw it today, it used to be called the Red Tower due to its reputation as a home for torture chambers. 
 
We’ve only been here for a few hours, but even our hotel is very different from other places we’ve stayed. Thessaloniki feels much more cosmopolitan than Athens, being a college town, and appears to have a younger and more diverse population. Most of us can’t wait to go shopping!
 
– Brittany and Shoshana 
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Following the Road to the Gods

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Our third day on the road, we woke up in Kalampaka. We met our guide, Dominique, for breakfast and she joined us on the bus up to Meteora. We learned that the area surrounding Kalampaka, including the rocks of Meteora, used to be part of an ancient seabed dating back to 60 million years. The flow of the water created the giant sandstone spires of the rock and formed natural caves. In the tenth century AD, many caves were inhabited by monks in order to isolate themselves from society. Later, they were joined by others who created monasteries, some of which are still standing today.

The word meteora derives from a Greek word meaning "a place without a base." The monasteries are perched atop mountains that are often covered with fog, so they look as if they are floating without a base.

We visited the Holy Monastery of the Great Meteora, which is an active Greek Orthodox monastery. Because the monastery was all male, we ladies had to wear skirts before entering. In the sanctuary, we saw very well-preserved frescoes dating to 1400-1600AD depicting the martyrdom of saints and other scenes from the life of Christ. After 300 stairs back down to the bus, we began our drive to Mount Olympus.

We settled into our hotel and wandered the quaint little town that lies in the shadow of the mountain of the gods.

– Cassie and Angel

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On the Road (Again)

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Keeping to the theme of our trip, today was a day of travel.  However, before departing from Delphi we stopped at its museum.  Arranged chronologically, it held artifacts from the Mycenean to Roman periods.  We experienced first-hand the masterful workmanship of the friezes of the SyphnianTreasury.  It was created in the Archaic period, and we were able to recognize it as Ionic due to its continuous frieze.  Three sides represented scenes from the Trojan wars.  We were also able to identify the various gods baed on their identifying features throughout a frieze depicting the battle of Ajax and Memnon. Zeus sat in a chair complete with back support while Athena wore her aegis and Ares was simply antisocial in full armor.

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In conclusion to our museum tour, we viewed the famed Charioteer. The Charioteer is a cornerstone sculpture since it marked the shift from archaic to classical periods of ancient Greek art. It is a rare find since it is one of the most intact example of ancient Greek bronze statuary.

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We spent the rest of the day on the road to Kalambaka. We passed over the mountains that Xerxes’ army didn’t want to cross before the famed battle of Thermopylae. This conflict was unavoidable since that one pass was the best way to move the massive army through the region without becoming stranded in the mountains.

As we entered the Thessalian Plain we saw a herd of  the famed Thessalian horses.  We stopped briefly for lunch at a Greek rest-stop. There many of us took the leap and ate at Goody’s, a Greek fast-food restaurant which served gyros, burgers and salads.

After arriving in Kalambaka, a few of us went on a hike to better view “Meteora”, or the famed monasteries built into the cliff sides. Today also turned out to be the feast day of St. Anthony. We were in for quite a treat when we heard chanting coming from the monastery. It was also wonderful to see that the monasteries were still in use despite their age and inaccessible they appear to be.

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We had dinner at a fabulous restaurant where we were served yogurt topped with rose-water for dessert!

Tomorrow we will continue to explore these Meteora before heading to Thessoliniki.

-Stephanie and Katherine

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Delphi: The World’s Belly Button (It’s an Outie)

After an early start to the first leg of our 8-day trek through Northern Greece, we arrived at the Monastary of Hosios Loukas. Hosios Loukas was a local saint who was believed to have healing powers, so a few of the more daring members of the group sipped the mountains’ spring waters in the hopes that any of their ailments may be cured. Inside the ornate monestary, we saw a relic hand of the saint as well as small, tin dedications that people have offered to the saint in order to receive his blessing of good health. We were all very impressed by the intricate mosaics in gold leaf depicting various biblical scenes including the Pentacost.

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We then made our way to Delphi and set up our picnic lunch which we purchased the supplies for yesterday in the central market of Athens. We were surprised by a number of feline visitors who were keen to eat our food. The cats of Delphi ate like little kings today.
After lunch, we ventured up the mountain to consult Apollo’s famed Oracle at Delphi. One by one, we crawled on our hands and knees through the depths of the temple from which the Oracle would have emerged in antiquity.

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In addition, we had two student led presentations by Sarah and Angel. Sarah provided background on the Oracle, its history, and its mythology. Angel talked about the Treasury of Athens in which the spoils of war were stored and displayed during festivities.

We made a new canine companion today, affectionately dubbed Apollo.

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He playfully followed the group to our last stop at the site from which Delphi draws its nickname: the Belly Button of the World. Delphi really did feel like the umbilicus of the planet. Professor Salowey joked that it was obviously an outie.

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Hadley & Pavithra

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National Gardens, Panathenaic Stadium & the Olympieion!

Today we woke to sunny, clear skies and we enjoyed a walk through the National Gardens, which are a park in the middle of Athens that contain ancient ruins and a zoo! During the Ottoman Empire, Otto von Bismark’s wife Queen Sophia attempted to get a tree from every country in the world with the intention of setting up an arboretum. Because of this there was a lot of interesting foliage to look at. We were also able to see various animals such as peacocks, rabbits, ducks, and a special type of goat native to Crete known as the kri kri.

There were many creative uses for ruins from antiquity in the park. One thing we noticed was that the remnants of a Roman bath (columns and capitols) were now recycled into permanent park benches!

We continued our walk out of the gardens and stopped at a building called the Zappeion exhibition hall. This was built during the neoclassical period by german architects who copied the building after the previous classical style under Otto von Bismark. Today this area is populated on weekends by many Greeks who are in search for entertainment.

One of the highlights of the day was our visit to the Panathenaic Stadium, also known as the Marble Olympic stadium that was the host of the 1st modern Olympics in 1894. We were able to go on an auditory walking tour where we stopped at 12 various stations around the stadium to learn of our history, providing an abundance of information. Some of us also took a jog around the track and then enjoyed taking celebratory pictures on the podium.

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Finally we finished off our day with a visit to the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. This was an Ionian greek temple that had several layers of columns surrounding the building before you actually entered the temple. The building was never completed and was left half done for around 800 years until it was completed during the Roman empire. While we were there we also saw the arch of Hadrian, that has an inscription on one side of the arch that faces the acropolis which says “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”, and on the reverse, “This is the city of Hadrian”.

We ended the day all together with a dinner in a lovely restaurant called la Pasteria, where we enjoyed an Italian family-style meal and talked about our time in Athens while looking forward to our journey to Delphi tomorrow. As the greeks say, herete (goodbye)!

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