A semester in Greece simply cannot be properly described in a blog, but I hope this overview gives readers at least a taste of the Aegean. Its people are friendly, the land is beautiful and the history is overwhelming. Whether it is ancient or medieval, the scenery of Greece is still a wonder for those willing to make the trip to the land of the Olympians.
My semester in Greece started out in Athens, which, thankfully, had a warmer climate compared to the snow storm I dodged. I stayed in Kolonaki, a section of the city based on the side of Mt. Lycabettos.
As part of the class on the archeology of Athens, we took several trips to the Acropolis. I had a presentation to do for the Parthenon.
To the Peloponnese:
We traveled to the Palace of Mycenae, where Agamemnon is said to have ruled. Its lions’ gate warn anyone with ill will to keep at bay. There is a reason why theirs are called Cyclopean walls. It is not the walls’ size, but the very rocks they are made of, that says something about the determination of the ancient Mycenaeans to protect themselves.
Olympic Games, anyone?
We went to all the ancient stadiums. “Just look out for vipers,” my professor told us reassuringly as we walked into the dark narrow entrance of the Nemean stadium. Olympia wasn’t the best preserved of all sites, its importance remains, with its several striking temples (namely the Temple of Zeus) throughout the grounds. Statues surrounded the entrance to the stadium.
Heading North to the land of Alexander the Great
To the North, there is Thessaloniki, and what was once Ancient Macedonia. There is also Roman architecture there, like the Arch of Galerius and what is left of the baths. The White Tower on the waterfront was formerly known as the Blood Tower due to wars with the Turks. The city itself is quite beautiful, especially because of its parks.
Of course, how can I speak of Macedonia without mentioning Alexander the Great? We went to the remains of Aristotle’s school, built with Alexander’s support. As Professor Karavas put it: it is incredible to stand there and realize who stood there thousands of years before: Aristotle and Alexander. We also went to the supposed underground tomb of Alexander in Aigai, then to the first and second capitals of Macedonia (Vergina and Pella respectively). I did a presentation on the latter’s agora.
Honoring the 300: This is madness
On the way back, we stopped at the Hot Gates (so named because of the hot springs nearby), where the 300 Spartans fought the Persians. You know the rest of the story. It smelled of sulfur, but it felt nice when I accidentally stepped into a stream. Strangely, it is still debatable where the treacherous goat path which the Persians used actually was. A monument, on the hill, marks the place where the last 30 Spartans made their stand. The Greek on the Spartan Monument reads: “Come and get them.”
The Greek islands:
A trip to Greece would be pointless if you do not go to the islands. We went to Crete, arriving in Heraklion. We first went to Knossos, legendary palace of King Minos and the Minotaur. While mostly gone and partly repainted by Sir Arthur Evans, I can see why outsiders would call it a Labyrinth. The place was a maze on the outside. I only wish I could have gone inside.
Going East: From Lesbos…
For spring break, we visited the islands to the East. Our first stop was Lesbos, where we stayed in Mytilini. There, we visited a massive castle filled with both mosques and Greek Orthodox churches. The roads provided good scenic views of the ocean, which redefined the word blue. We climbed the mountains and walked along the beautiful fields.
A brief stay at the island of Chios:
This was the island that Homer is said to have been born on. The inn we stayed in had a nice rustic feel, despite being in the city, and the owner was a gentleman named Alex (sadly, I have pictures of him). He was in the Navy and had all sorts of stories to tell. He told us of his visits to the Soviet Union and other countries. It was a fitting encounter for the home of Homer.
On Rhodes, we visited the medieval section of the city: a massive castle, stretching to the ports from a central part of the Rhodes. Then a monastery, atop a mountain (which was covered in peacocks). On Greek Good Friday, we went to another monastery, on the island of Symi. It was dedicated to St. Michael, and was crowded. The procession went around the sanctuary, its line stretching to shore.
Frank Curley ’11