Wine & Sunset at Santorini


While at Megalochori, we visited Katsoyannopoulos Vineyard for wine tasting.  The vineyards of Santorini date back almost 5000 years and are believed to be the oldest in Europe.  Volcanic eruptions left behind a mixture of volcanic ash, pumice stone and pieces of solidified lava and sand, which together make up the soil of Santorini.   This soil, rich in essential minerals, result in wines with low pH level or high acidity.


About 1400 hectares is under vineyard cultivation in Santorini.


Lack of rain coupled with constantly blowing sea-winds has resulted in vines being grown in the “koulara” method, that is, they are woven into continuous circles to form a basket.  This protects the vines ion from the strong winds and the harsh summer sun.


After viewing the vines, we visited the Wine Museum showcasing history of wine and the life of vine-growers in Santorini from 1660 to 1970.  It was followed by wine tasting where we tasted four vines – two red and two white.  The white wines from Santorini are bone-dry with a distinct aroma of citrus combined with hints of smoke and minerals from the volcanic soil.   The dessert wines are sweet with aromas of crème, chocolate and dried apricots.


From Megalochori, we drove to the northern tip of Santorini and reached the village of Oia (pronounced ia).  It is considered to be the best sunset viewing location on the entire island. Oia is one of the most beautiful and picturesque villages of Santorini, situated atop an impressive cliff.  It offers a spectacular view over the volcanoes of Palia and Nea Kameni and the island of Thirassia.


Like the other Greek villages and cities, cobblestone paved lanes led us through the village to its Western end.  Both sides of the lanes are lined with shops selling jewellery, paintings, gifts, etc.  There are many taverns, cafes, and restaurants too.

We visited the Church of Our Panagia Platsanis located in the village centre.  It was originally constructed inside the walls of the Castle of Oia. The church was rebuilt in the village center, on higher and more stable ground following the earthquake of 1956.


As the sun was setting, the area was getting crowded.  Every parking space was occupied and also all the seats in the cafes and restaurants were taken by tourists – all awaiting the sunset.


We too took up a vantage position at a cafe to enjoy every single moment of that spectacular natural phenomenon.


As minutes clicked past, the sky appeared to have been painted with various colors like yellow and orange in striking contrast to the blue dome of the church.


The sun then turned to myriad shades of pink and purple as it went down into the Aegean Sea. Sunset over water is often both spectacular and sublime. It’s just that we often wait until we reach Greece or some such similar destination to realize how incredibly beautiful it is. After watching the sunset and dinner, we retired to our beds after a tiring day of walking in the hot sun.

Santorini -An Island on a Volcano


On June 13, after breakfast, we sailed from Mykonos to Santorini Island in a high-speed ferry.  The voyage lasted over two hours.  The ferry offered comfortable seating and a few restaurants, but the menu was expensive as seen in all ferries in Greece.


Crescent-shaped Santorini or Thíra in the Aegean Sea, is a group of islands consisting of Santorni, Therasia, Aspronísi, Palea and Nea Kaméni.  Santorini, the youngest volcanic land in the Eastern Mediterranean, is still an active volcano and probably the only volcano in the world whose crater is in the sea.  The islands that form Santorini came into existence as a result of intensive volcanic activity.  12 huge eruptions occurred, one every 20,000 years approximately, and each violent eruption caused the collapse of the volcano’s central part creating a large crater (Caldera). The volcano, however, managed to recreate itself over and over again.

The last big eruption occurred 3,600 years ago during the Minoan Age, when ash, pumice and lava stones covered the islands.  The eruption destroyed the thriving local prehistoric civilization, evidence of which was found during the excavations. The solid material and gases emerging from the volcano’s interior created a huge vacuum underneath, causing the collapse of the central part and the creation of today’s Caldera– with a size of 8×4 km and a depth of up to 400m below sea level.


Eruption of the submarine volcano Kolúmbo, located 6.5 km North-East of Santorini, on 27 September 1650, was actually the largest recorded volcanic eruption in Eastern Mediterranean during the past millennium.   The most recent volcanic activity on the island occurred in 1950.  The whole island is actually a huge natural geological/volcanological museum where you can observe a wide range of geological structures and forms.

Caldera is a lagoon of sea water surrounded on three sides by the steep cliffs of Santorini and on the fourth side by the island of Thirassia, which was part of Santorini before the eruption. The currently active volcano on the island of Nea Kameni sits in the middle of the Caldera.  It is active but presently not at risk of erupting.


As our ferry pulled closer to Santorini Island, we could see the steep escarpment of Santorini Island formed due to volcanic activity.


The colours of different layers of rocks up the escarpment is due to lava deposited during various volcanic eruptions.  The upper crust is mostly pumice and below it is red and black granite.


We  checked into our hotel and post lunch set out to explore Santorini.  Our first halt was Pyrgos, a medieval settlement that is nestled at the highest spot of the island. We drove up to the entrance of the settlement by taxi.  As the village lanes are narrow and cobblestoned, we had to walk up to the castle and churches atop the hill.  On to the left of the image above is the castle, which is well-preserved despite the serious damage caused by the earthquake of 1956.  It was built to protect the people from marauding pirates.


Pyrgos is said to be the first capital of Santorini, before the onset of the 19th century. It is built on top of a hill overlooking the Aegean Sea, which makes it an exceptional observatory.


As we walked up the track, close to its entrance to the castle lies the church of Agia (Saint ) Theodosia.  This church was built in 1639 and renovated in 1857, but it collapsed in the earthquake of 1956. In its place, the present church was built in 1965.


Further uphill we walked and came to  the church of Christos.  The bell tower of the church is visible from a distance. This is the only church on the island with an octagonal cupola while the rest have a round cupola on top.  The bell tower and the yellow flag of Greek Orthodox Church resembles that of old Syrian Orthodox churches of Kerala.


We walked downhill and drove to the village of Megalochori.  Here we all for the first time saw a Pistachio tree with fruit.  The debate that erupted amongst us was as to whether Pistachio is a nut or not.  Pistachio, though known as a nut, the fruit of the Pistachio is botanically a drupe, a type of fleshy fruit (like a coconut), the edible portion of which is the seed.


Megalochori  offers a nice mix of white Cycladic (Cyclades –a civilisation that existed in the Bronze Age)  houses, several churches and narrow alleys.  A prominent feature of the historical homes and mansions are the high walls, inner courtyards and solid wooden door entrances, built for privacy and for safety against pirates.


In the center of the village, stood a wonderful traditional square with taverns, restaurants with bougainvillea-covered patios and trees providing shade for a quick cup of coffee. The square is the heart and soul of Megalochori, a gathering place for the locals to play a game of cards


Megalochori has two well-known bell towers spanning the street. This one is part of the Panagia church and is characterised by the clock on top.

Megalochori is famous for its winery and wines and we went ahead to visit a winery, covered in the next part.

 

Exploring Mykonos Island


June 12, Tuesday, was spent exploring Mykonos Island.  After breakfast, we boarded a bus from Chora to Paradise Beach, a 10 km trip. We walked about a kilometer to reach Paradise Beach.  Here we rented a canopy with sun-beds.  We enjoyed a swim in the cool, crystal-clear, blue green coastal waters. The setting simply forces you to adopt a laid back attitude and let the rhythm slow down under the warm and bright sunlight. A local Greek cocktail played its part too.


The famous Paradise beach is a nice, flat, white-sandy beach of impeccable beauty, dotted with a number of popular bars.  It is a getaway, mainly for the young and also for the not so young.  It is now Greece’s number one open-air seaside clubbing venue.  There is live music playing from all the restaurants.  Sun-beds with grass canopy are available on rent. It has to be seen to believe.  The place comes alive mainly with the hep crowd, young, wild and rich. Glamorous parties and endless entertainment in the infinite sunshine with a picturesque landscape as a backdrop.


After lunch, we returned to Chora.

Located on the island’s Western harbour is Chora.  It is a very beautiful old town, which in the past was visited by merchant fleets from all over. Today it has become a popular tourist destination.  There are whitewashed houses, windmills, a multitude of chapels, busy back streets with balconies full of flowers and multi-coloured fishing boats in the port.  It becomes very crowded after sunset as tourists throng this luxurious marketplace, restaurants, bars and discos.


We got off from the bus and headed towards the windmills on foot.  From as early as the 16th century these windmills have been the classic landmarks of Mykonos. Due to its geographic location, Mykonos being situated on major sea trade-route, traded in grains. The need to grind grain flour and then ship it out to distant lands, must have made Mykonians to set up windmills, as there was plenty of regular wind all the year round.  To facilitate easy access to the harbour, these windmills were positioned in or around the main port.

The windmills of Mykonos must have contributed to the economic prosperity of the island in those days.  In 1700 AD, about 11 windmills were in operation around the port.  With the advent of modern technology, especially after World War I, these windmills ceased their operations as more efficient flour mills were commissioned. Today these well preserved windmills stand as iconic landmarks of a medieval period, sentinels of simplicity to balance the surfeit of all round glamour!

Though the Greek islands have been blessed with strong dry winds that blow from the Aegean Sea all through the year, we did not come across any wind turbines in any of the islands we visited.  There were no solar panels either to be seen.  May be the Greeks did not want to displease Anemoi – the Geek God of wind – and Helios – their Sun God.


From the area of the windmills, narrow and endless cobblestone paved alleys lead us to Little Venice.  It is a charming little area looking into the sea.  Buildings with balconies that overhang the water and the windmills in the background make this area the subject of many paintings and is a photographers dream.


Little Venice is an area that lines the waterfront with rows of Eighteenth century fishing houses with balconies that jut into the sea. These houses originally belonged to shipping merchants which gave them direct access to the sea. Being built right on the water, it resembles Venice of Italy, hence the name ‘Little Venice’.


The old fishing houses have been converted to house cafes, restaurants, bars and shops. Taking advantage of the beautiful view both by day and especially at sunset, restaurants have been set up all along the sea front, to give diners a unique experience.  It is quite peaceful during the morning but afternoon onward, you will be jostling for a seat. This area becomes a beehive of activity at sunset as thousands of people throng here to watch the enchanting sunset

Most of the cafes will start putting out reserved signs on the tables that are right on the edge of the sea as these are the prime tables. You may not find fine dining here but it is all about the experience of sitting beside the seawaters for a special dinner, a once in a life time experience.


Like in Venice, the balconies of houses here are interconnected over the lanes at many places.  It is to facilitate the residents to move around in rains without getting their feet and shoes wet and muddy.


Surrounded by the boutiques and bars in Little Venice stands the flower-bedecked Church of Panagia Paraportiani (Our Lady of the Postern Gate). This church is a cluster of four whitewashed chapels, topped by a further bright white chapel on the upper storey, reached by an external staircase. Built between the Fourteenth and Seventeenth Centuries, the church once guarded the entrance to the town’s castle, long since destroyed.


The multi-layered nature of the church gives it a unique shape, rising from the squared-off white chapels on the ground level to the domed church of the Virgin Mary on the top.  The church has no windows or doors as seen from the sea.  Rather from the seaside, it does not resemble a church.  It was constructed this way not to attract attention of attacking pirates.


From Chora, we took a bus ride of 10 kilometres to Elia Beach.  Elia is the longest sandy beach of Mykonos, offering a wide choice of taverns and bars as well as water sports facilities such as water-skiing, parasailing and windsurfing.   There are comfortable lounge beds and umbrellas lined along the sand.  We enjoyed the views of the Aegean Sea and the nearby island of Naxos on the horizon, obviously with a cocktail in hand.  Elia is one of the most popular nudist and gay beaches in Mykonos.


We returned to Little Venice in the evening, well before sunset to take up our reserved seats at the restaurant at the brim of the sea.  The area was thronging with tourists as everyone comes here in the evening, to watch the magnificent sunset.  As the sun goes down, the sky shows off some brilliant colours of red, orange and pink.  The reflection on the water is awesome. The expression “picture perfect postcard” some how seemed be so very apt. At sunset, we watched a profusion of colours ever so slowly leak out of the Aegean sky, enjoyed a sumptuous Mediterranean dinner, mainly of seafood and Greek salad and then returned to our hotel, quite exhausted and a lot more contended.

 

Mykonos Island- A romantic Getaway


Early morning on June 11, we checked out of the hotel and drove to Piraeus Ferry Port and boarded the high-speed ferry operated by Hellenic Seaways.  The journey of about three hours was very comfortable, more so because it was a large ferry and hence more stable.  Food in the restaurants onboard was pretty expensive. Luckily our hotel had provided us with packed breakfast.  I would recommend travellers to read a book or watch a downloaded movie during this journey.


After three hours of sailing on the Aegean Sea, Mykonos Island with its prominent whitewashed buildings with blue windows and doors came into our view.    As per Greek mythology, Mykonos was formed from the petrified bodies of giants killed by Hercules. The island took its name from the grandson of Apollo, ‘Mykonos’. Some how, all these Greek deities still seem to be hanging in the air.


It is mandatory in Greece for the houses to be whitewashed with blue painted windows and doors – the colour of the Greek flag.  In 1974, the then military government made it a law that all houses must be painted in the beautiful Greek colors of white and blue as a patriotic gesture to represent the colours of the Greek flag.  The law remains in place although some island authorities have begun to permit other pastel colours.


Mykonos is one of the islands of the Cyclades and is one of the most beautiful sites, very popular with tourists traveling to Greece. It is a relatively small island, measuring 85.5 km2; inhabited by about ten thousand people.  Tourism is their mainstay and they receive visitors from all over the world with open arms.  Mykonos has a rich night life with many restaurants and cafes which attract famous performers and the not so famous ordinary people and lots of young couple in love. Add white sandy beaches, crystal clear, blue green sea and breathtaking cliff-side views, make it a romantic paradise.


Myknonian landscape is dotted with many churches and many more little chapels.   It appeared that every household or family had a small chapel attached to their homes.  Roof of these small chapels were painted blue, red or white, depending on the family occupation.  Red indicated that the chapel belonged to a farmer family, blue meant the owning family are seafarers, sailors or fisher-folk, and white indicated that the family were migrants.  .


As per Mykonian customs, the bones of a person buried in the church is excavated by the priest after six years and is handed over to the family.  The family then place the bones in their family chapel.


98% of Greek population is Greek Orthodox Christians and the rest two percent is Muslims, Catholic and Jewish. Greece and Russia are the only countries to have such a great proportion of Orthodox Christians. Even though Catholics  and Orthodox  believe in the same God, they differ in that for Catholics deem the Pope as infallible while Orthodox believers don’t.   Catholic priests cannot marry, while Orthodox priests can marry before being ordained as a priest.  Latin is the main language used during Roman Catholic services, while Orthodox churches use native languages.  Catholics venerate statues as much as  Orthodox believers venerate icons.

Our family belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church of Kerala, India.  It is believed that Saint Thomas, disciple of Jesus, spread Christianity in Kerala in the First Century.  These Christians received episcopal support from Persian bishops, who traveled to Kerala in merchant ships through the spice route. Hence they are called Syrian Orthodox Christians and use Syriac and Malayalam – language of Kerala – in their services.

After checking into our hotel, we travelled to Ano Mera, a village about seven kilometers away to visit the 18th Century Monastery of Panagia Tourliani.


The church looked almost similar to many of our Syrian Orthodox churches in Kerala.  A marble bell tower with intricate folk carvings was a standout point of the church building.


The altar screen, like those seen in our Orthodox Churches, has small icons carefully placed amid the wooden structure’s painted green, red, and gold-leaf flowers.  At the top are carved figures of the apostles and large icons depicting the New Testament scenes.


Most liturgical instruments used during prayers looked similar to those in our Orthodox churches.


After lunch, we walked to the jetty at Mykonos Port to board a boat to the island of Delos.  According to Greek mythology, Delos is the birthplace of Apollo, God of music, and his Moon-Goddess twin sister Artemis, Goddess of hunting.  In 1100 BC, Delos was inhabited by the Ionians who worshiped God Apollo. (The Ionians were one of the four major tribes that the Greeks considered themselves to be divided into during the ancient period; the other three being the Dorians, Aeolians, and Achaeans.)  The Ionians also managed to develop the island into a powerful commercial and spiritual centre (7th century BC).  Thereafter, the Roman period was the most prosperous and wealthy period for Delos which turned the island into an important port.  In 88 BC, the King of Pontos who was against the Romans completely destroyed Delos and Mykonos.


History of Delos remains completely unknown after this period as there are no historical records. The excavations that brought to light rich archaeological finds in Delos started in 1873 and continue to be carried out by the French School of Archaeology.


The island boasted of many temples, market places, living quarters, theatres, gymnasium, etc, all to cater for traders, sailors and locals.


As trade prospered, rich merchants, bankers, and ship-owners from all over the world settled in Delos.  They attracted many builders, artists and craftsmen to build luxurious houses, richly decorated with statues, frescoes and mosaic floors. This well preserved house has an atrium with a mosaic floor which portrays Dionysus seated on a leopard.


The houses in Delos varied in size, layout and construction based on the requirement and wealth of the owner.  Most houses looked inwards and the rooms were built around an open square to allow air-circulation and to receive light.  Ground floor rooms did not have windows making the houses cooler, safer and quieter.  These houses had separate kitchen and latrines and drainage system.


This is a theatre in ruins.


Rainwater was collected in drains connected to a large reservoir.

In the evening, we returned to Mykonos island, after spending over three hours at Delos.

Historical Landmarks of Athens


After lunch, we set out on foot to explore the city of Athens to visit other important historical landmarks.  Our first stop was at the Panathenaic Stadium.


Panathenaic Stadium or Panathinaiko, is also known as the Kallimarmaro, which means ‘beautifully marbled’ and is the world’s only stadium made entirely of marble.  It was built in 1896 for the first modern Olympics on the ruins of the ancient marble stadium that was built in 329 AD for the Panathenaic Games, replacing an even older stadium made of wood.  In 140 AD it was enlarged and renovated and it seated 50,000.  During the 1896 Olympics it accommodated 80,000 spectators.


The stadium was excavated in 1869 and hosted the Zappas Olympics in 1870 and 1875. After being refurbished, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for four of the nine contested sports.  In the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, archery contests were held here and was the finishing venue for the Marathon race.


We then walked to the Zappeion Exhibition Hall, or the Zappeion as the Athenians call it.  It has witnessed the history of Athens for the past 130 years. A major scene for some of the most significant moments in the country’s history, it has always been integrally linked to the Olympic Games.    It was built by Evangelis Zappas, a rich businessman living in Romania, who participated in the Greek War of Independence (1821–1832).


From the Zappeion we moved to the Greek Parliament Building.  This building was erected between 1836 and 1842 as the royal palace for King Otto I, the first king of modern Greece. After a fire damaged the palace in 1909, the king moved to a nearby building (now the presidential palace) and the original palace became known as the ‘Old Palace’. In 1929, after the monarchy was abolished, the Greek government decided to move the parliament from its existing building (now the National Historical Museum) to the old Palace. The parliament has resided here ever since 1935.


In front of the Parliament Building is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The monument, with a large relief depicting a nude, dying hoplite (citizen soldier of Ancient Greece, quite different from a professional soldiers), was inaugurated on March 25, 1932, on the Greek day of independence. On either side of the tomb are excerpts from Pericles’s famous funeral oration inscribed on the wall.

The Tomb is guarded by the Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades. A pair of soldiers guard for one hour and throughout these 60 minutes, they stand perfectly still until it is time to switch with another guard


We were impressed by the ceremonial uniform the guards were turned in.  The uniform consists of the Phareon -a hat – made from red baize with a black tuft, white shirt with loose sleeves, Phermeli, a handmade waistcoat with many shapes wrought on it, Greek kilt made of 30 meters of white cloth, Tsarouchia, traditional leather shoes of Evzones with a small tuft in front, (each shoe weighs three kilos) and a leather belt.


As we stood there at 3 pm, we witnessed the elaborate drill associated with the changing of guards, very similar to such ceremonies worldwide.  The only difference here is that most drill movements are carried out in slow-motion.  The change of guard takes place every hour and it attracts many tourists.


Since 1914, Greece (Hellenic Republic) has mandatory military service (conscription) of nine months for men between the ages of 16 and 45, quite in tune with the practice in ancient Greece.  Citizens discharged from active service are normally placed in the reserve and are subject to periodic recall of one to ten days at irregular intervals.  That could well be the reason that we hardly ever came across a Police Officer or a Police Cruiser.

Our next stop was the Athenian Triology, three buildings, the Academy, the University Building and the National Library, located next to each other.


The Academy is the most magnificent of all the neoclassical buildings, constructed in Athens during the nineteenth century. The Academy is the most acclaimed of the three buildings.  It was constructed in marble between 1859 and 1885.


The design of the central temple, with a large Ionic portico, was based on the East side of the classical Erechtheion at the Acropolis. Relief sculptures atop the entrance symbolise the birth of Goddess Athena.

Flanking the main temple are two tall Ionic (the Ionians were one of four major tribes of ancient Greece) columns with statues of Athena and Apollo. Athena, the Greek Goddess of wisdom, arts, civilization, warfare and justice is shown dressed in armor, holding a shield and a spear. Apollo, God of music and poetry, is depicted holding a lyre in his left hand.  On either side of the main entrance leading to the Academy are the statues of the famous Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates, shown seated.


The next building was the University.  It has functioned as a university ever since its establishment in 1837 and is the oldest institution of higher education in modern Greece.  Today it is one of the largest universities by enrollment in Europe, with over 100,000 registered students.

To the left of the steps leading to the building stands a statue of John Capodistrias, who founded the University after declaration of Greek independance in 1821.   On to the right is the statue of Alexander Korais, a Greek scholar credited with laying the foundations of Modern Greek literature and a major figure in Greek Enlightenment.


The frieze (wall decorations) inside the portico shows King Ortho with great Greek arts and science personalities of the time.


We then moved on to the National Library of Greece.  This library building was built at the end of the nineteenth century, as the last of the neoclassical trilogy of Athens.  In front of the building is the statue of Paul Vallianos, one of the Vallianos brothers who helped fund the construction of the building.  The library’s collections include more than half a million books, with many dating back before 1500 AD.  It boasts of the largest and best-kept collections of ancient Greek manuscripts.


From the National Library we took a taxi to the base of  Lykavittos hill.  Lykavittos is the highest hill in Athens, rising 277 meters, and is visible from all over the city. We then boarded the funicular (cable based) railway, operating every 30 minutes, to reach the top of the hill.


Perched on top of Lykavittos sits the whitewashed chapel of St George. This Greek Orthodox chapel was built here in the nineteenth century and replaced an older Byzantine church dedicated to the Prophet Elias.


The hill top offered many a scintillating view over the Acropolis and the city of Athens, especially the Acropolis, the Temple of Zeus, the Panathenaic Stadium and the Parliament Building.  We returned to the base of the hill by the funicular railway, though there were many tourists walking downhill.

By now we were all well and truly exhausted and we decided to return to the hotel as we had to catch the early morning ferry to Mykonos island.

Athens – A Historical City


On June 10, we set out to visit the Acropolis Museum. Voted one of the best museums in the world, with a total area of 25,000 square meter, the museum showcases Greek history through its three floors.  The museum was inaugurated in the summer of 2009.


The Museum is built above a large urban settlement on the Makriyianni site dating from Archaic to Early Christian Athens.   This discovery is being integrated into the Museum and is yet to open to public.  As we walked on the glass floor, we could see excavation and restoration process of the Makriyianni site.


On the ground floor, the ‘Gallery of the Slopes of the Acropolis’ houses exhibits from the sanctuaries that were established on the slopes of the Acropolis, as well as objects that Athenians used in everyday life from all historic periods. ‘Archaic Gallery’, on the first floor, hosts the magnificent sculptures that graced the first temples on the Acropolis.  Photography is not permitted in these two floors.


Third floor, ‘Parthenon Gallery’, where sculptures of the Parthenon period are exhibited in continuous sequence along the perimeter.


The most impressive among the exhibits is the Caryatids.  A Caryatid is s a sculpted female statue, used as a column or a pillar, supporting the structure on her head. This Greek term literally means ‘maidens of Karyai.’   These original statues once supported the roof of the North porch of Erectheion.  Five statues of Caryatids are in the museum.  Statue on right-rear was smashed by a Turkish canon-ball in 1687, when the Parthenon was shelled during a battle between the Turks and the Venetians.  The sixth is installed at the British Museum in London, which acquired it nearly two centuries ago after Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.  He had it sawed off the Erechtheion’s porch, along with shiploads of adornments from the Parthenon to decorate his mansion in Scotland before selling the pieces to pay debts.  Cast reproductions of six Caryatids now support the porch of Erectheion.


After spending about three hours at the museum, we walked to the iconic Acropolis.  An `acropolis’ is any citadel or complex built on a high hill. The name derives from the Greek language meaning ‘High City’ or ‘City on the Edge’ or ‘City in the Air.  Most famous being the Acropolis of Athens, built in the Fifth century BC.

Acropolis is the most characteristic monument of the ancient Greek civilisation. It symbolises democracy and the beginning of Western civilisation and stands as an icon of European culture.  More than half of the sculptures and artifacts from the Acropolis are in the British Museum in London and their return to Greece is a cultural and a political issue between the two nations, yet to be resolved.  The Brits claim that Lord Elgin saved the marbles from destruction, and acquired them fairly.


As we walked up the hill, we come across the Propylaea, meaning a monumental gate or entrance to a specific space, usually to a temple or religious complex.


As we climbed up the Propylaea, on the Southern flank stands the Temple of Athena Nike.  It was a place of worship for deities associated with wars, ‘Nike’ Gods or Goddesses.  The Nike statute had no wings, as it was customary for Nike statues of the time, the temple acquired the name Apteros Nike (wing-less victory). It is said that the statue was deprived of wings so it could never leave the city of Athens.


Propylaea stands as an impressive building that surrounds the natural entrance to the plateau.


After walking for about five minutes on the plateau, we were at the Parthenon.  The Parthenon is a former temple dedicated to Goddess Athena, considered the patron Goddess of Athens. Construction began in 447 BC and was completed in 438 BC, although decoration of the building continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece.  The temple was built to shelter the monumental statue of Athena that was made of gold and ivory.

In 1975, the Greek government began a concerted effort to restore the Parthenon and other Acropolis structures and these efforts are still ongoing.


Walking around the Parthenon, we came to the Erechtheion.  This temple was built to house the religious artifacts that the old temple housed. Construction of the Erechtheion began in 420BC.  It is an intricate temple designed to accommodate the uneven ground on which it stands.  The need was to build a temple without disturbing sacred shrines like the altars to Poseidon and Hephaestus, and the spot where Poseidon is believed to have hit the Acropolis with his trident. Other shrines that needed to be accommodated included the sacred olive tree, a well containing sea water and the tomb of Kekrops.


The temple faces East and its entrance is lined with six long Ionic columns.


To the North and West, the wall of the temple drops dramatically to almost twice the altitude of the front and South sides.


The temple is unusual in that it incorporates two porches; one at the North-West corner which is supported by tall Ionic columns, and one at the South-West corner which is supported by six massive female statues, the famous Caryatids.  The Caryatids (replica as the original is in the museum) have become the temple’s signature feature, as they stand and seem to casually support the weight of the porch roof on their heads.


Acropolis also provides an excellent view of Athens and some important historical monuments adjacent to it.


The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built at the base of the Acropolis is an ancient amphitheatre.  This ancient theater, with a capacity of about 5,000, was built in the Roman times, about 161 AD. by the Roman philosopher, teacher and politician Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Aspasia Regilla.  It was destroyed in 267 AD and was in ruins until restored in the 1950s.  Since then it has been the main venue of the Athens Festival, which runs from May through October each year.  Many world renowned musicians have held concerts here and was the venue for the Miss Universe 1973 pageant.


This is the facade at the entrance to Odeon of Herodes Atticus


Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, also known as the Olympieion, is located on the South-East of Acropolis.  It was built over several centuries starting in 174 BC and completed by Roman emperor Hadrian in 131 AD. Its unusually tall columns and ambitious layout made the temple one of the largest ever built in the ancient world.


The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus is considered to be the world’s first theatre, built at the foot of the Acropolis, cut into its southern cliff.  Dedicated to Dionysus, the God of plays and wine, the theatre could seat 17,000 people.  It was the location for ancient Athens’ biggest theatrical celebration, the Dionysia.  It was an engineering marvel with perfect proportion of depth/circumference. Here is where the great masterpieces by Aeschylus and Sophocles were first performed. I tried to imagine the great  Greek tragedies being enacted with 17000 spectators, seated all around. The thought quietly transported me into a bygone era.


So time for first impressions. Great food, great people and an immense sense of history in every nook and cranny, all together a great getaway.

Greece – The Cradle of Western Civilization


(Image Courtesy Google)

Greece was our destination in the Summer of 2018.  Greece is a country in South-Eastern-Europe with thousands of islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas with Athens as its Capital.

First traces of human habitation in Greece appeared during the Paleolithic Age (120000 – 10000 BC). During the Neolithic Age that followed (7000 – 3000 BC), many buildings spread throughout the country.  The beginning of the Bronze Age (3000-1100 BC) is marked by the appearance of the first urban centers in Greece.


Conquest of Greece in 146 BC by Romans ended Greek dominance.  Christianity was propagated in Greece by Apostle Paul during the First Century.  By the Third Century, Greece became part of the Byzantine Empire.

The Ottomans empire expanded to engulf Greece from the Fourteenth Century.  Around four centuries of Ottoman domination ended with the Greek War of Independence in 1821.  The Greek State took its current form after the end of World War II.  In 1974, after the seven-year dictatorship, a referendum was held and the government changed from a Constitutional Monarchy to a Presidential Parliamentary Democracy, and in 1981 Greece became a member of the European Union.


We landed at Athens on June 09 and drove straight to our hotel.  We were briefed by our Tour Coordinator at the hotel


After completing our  check-in formalities at the hotel, we walked to ‘I Kriti’ Restaurant nearby as recommended by our Tour Coordinator.  The restaurant served a sumptuous Cretan food consisting of fish, lamb in a pan, pork ribs and Greek salad.   Crete is the largest island of Greece and every Cretan village has its own signature cheese, which form part of every Cretan cuisine. They are usually made from sheep or goat’s milk, or a combination of both and each cheese variety has its local interpretation.  We were also entertained by a local musician playing his accordion.


After lunch we walked to National Archeological Museum housed in the old parliament building.  It is an imposing neoclassical building of the nineteenth century which earlier served as the Greek Parliament.  It houses over 20,000 exhibits, providing  a panoramic view of the great Greek civilization.

Some of the museum exhibits of extraordinary splendour  that caught our attention are:-

 
Dipylon Amphora
. This is a large Ancient Greek painted vase, made around 750 BC.  Such large sized painted vases were used as grave markers.  The vase was made on a potter’s wheel in three sections that were joined together to form a single large vessel,  over five feet high. The base has a hole to allow offerings to be poured for the dead.


Kauros
. A marble statue of a naked youth (530 BC), erected on the grave of Kroisos, who fell in battle, according to the epigram carved on the front of the pedestal.  He is represented standing frontally with his left leg forward and fists clenched.  He symbolises youthfulness, beauty, power and hope.


Kore (Maiden)
. This marble statue of a maiden (550-540 BC), stood on the grave of Phrasikleia. The Kore is depicted by the sculptor wearing a wreath on the head, jewellery and a long gown.

Statues depicting men had their left foot forward and women were depicted standing with their feet together.  This could also prove my observation of ‘Left Foot First’.  Please click here to read my earlier post.


Sphinx
. This marble statue of a Sphinx (570-550 BC) is one of the earliest known Archaic Sphinxes and it was set above a grave.  Sphinx is a mythical creature with the head of a human and the body of a lion.


Bronze statue of Zeus or Poseidon. This statue (460 BC) was recovered for the seabed is still debated as to whether it represented Zeus or Poseidon.  The statue is over two meter tall.  The God is depicted with left leg forward in a  great stride, with His left arm forward, while throwing the thunderbolt or the trident held in His right hand.  Notable feature is  the exquisite rendering of motion and anatomy.


Funerary Stele
. This marble piece (400 BC) was found in 1870 in an ancient cemetery. It shows a lady seated on a chair, looks at a piece of jewellery held in her raised right hand. Opposite her, a sorrowful standing attendant holds an open jewellery box belonging to a dead woman.  The sorrowful expressions on the face of the two ladies, their hairstyles and rendering of their jewellery and dress is all very impressive.


Artemision Jockey
. Bronze statue of a horse and a young jockey (140 BC) retrieved in 1928 and 1937 in pieces from the seafloor. The word Artemision comes from Cape Artemision, the site of the shipwreck. The young jockey, probably of African origin, holds the reins of the galloping horse in his left hand and a whip in his right. The contractions and furrows in his face, especially on the forehead, reveal agony and passion.


Statue of Hermes
. This marble statue (27 BC-AD 14), is probably a funerary and was found in 1860. Hermes was the  Greek God of trade, wealth, luck, fertility, animal husbandry, sleep, language, thieves, and travel.  He is depicted standing, wearing a short cloak that is wound around his left arm. In his right hand he is holding  a purse and in his left the Caduceus, his staff.


Bronze Statue of a Youth
. A bronze statue (340-330 BC), recovered in 1990 from  an ancient shipwreck on the sea floor.  It depicts either Perseus, who would have been holding the head of Medusa, or, more probably, Paris, with the ‘apple of Strife’, ready to award it to the most beautiful Goddess, Aphrodite.  Outstanding feature of this statue is the strongly modeled muscles and the expressive face.

National Archeological Museum with its numerous and outstanding exhibits give the visitor a peep into Greek history.   Unique treasures displayed with detailed captions and signboards will mesmerise you and it is really worth a visit.  The sculpture collection depicts the evolution of ancient Greek sculpture from 700 BC to the Fifth Century AD.  It requires plenty of time to read through various information boards and enjoy the artistic value of the statues and artifacts displayed.


We returned to our hotel rooms by dusk.  We had dinner at the roof-top restaurant of the hotel which offered a stunning view of illuminated Acropolis.

I felt a fleeting sense of awe and humility. Looking at the brilliance of what is left of a more than 2000 year old structure, i couldn’t help but feel that despite the ravages of time, here is where history stands tall, with elegance and poise.