This blog is about my travels. At home in New Zealand, in other parts of Oceania, North, Central and South America and in Europe.
From Athens I took the train north to the small town of Kalabaka which sits at the foot of the incredible Meteora Monasteries. The monasteries are built on huge natural rock pillars and some people believe that they should be considered one of the wonders of the world.
The next morning I got a lift on the back of a motorbike to the top of the first monastery. There are quite a few of the Greek orthodox monasteries and convents, each on a different rock pinnacle. You can make a day of walking between them, and then down a winding path back to the village in time for dinner, which was my plan for the day.
Inside the monastery there were immaculately kept gardens, and store houses where the monks used to make wine. There was also a chapel of which every square inch of ceiling and the walls was painted with elaborate biblical frescoes. This is very much a feature of Greek orthodox churches as it turns out. Worshipers also kiss the icons (I remember reading about this in War and Peace), so much so that the faces of some of the figures are worn out and you can't see them anymore!
I headed off to see some of the other monasteries. It was a hot day, but because it is high up there were lovely cool breezes from the valley below. I wandered along the winding path between the monasteries, stopping to take out my packed lunch at a spot underneath a tree with a great view.
The monasteries have been there in some form for hundreds of years and one of the most amazing features are the winches that were used to winch supplies up to the monasteries.
There was also some historic footage of the winches and woven baskets used to winch up the monks themselves into the monasteries!
Although monks and nuns live in the monasteries, during visitor hours there weren't many to be seen (although there was one nun working at a little store selling souvenirs at the convent). There were some photos of the lives of the monks and nuns. It is certainly a very different way to live, but also seems to be a peaceful one. It is another glimpse at the many ways in which people live in this big world!
I headed down to the village following a winding path. I got some great views of the pinnacles, and got back in time for dinner.
The Island of Aegina is a short distance from Athens. I caught the ferry out to the Island. There are a whole lot of very ancient archeologial sites on the Island, including dwellings dating way back to the neolithic period!
The Lyceym, the school founded by Aristotle in 334BC, is a short subway ride away from the centre of Athens. Being so ancient, there isn't much to see left, but it is amazing how much archeologists have still been able to piece together about this school of philosophy and gymnasium. Only priviledged (male) youths were permitted to attend. The school also contained a library containing thousands of parypus scrolls. Some of these were lost, but others were transcribed and translated and some of these are still with us today.
After visiting the temple of Zeus, I wandered over to the Acropolis Museum. After such a hot day it was still a balmy night. It was also free entry to the museum so it was pretty crowded. The museum was full of artifacts from the Acropolis area. It also contained plaster casts of the Parthenon sculptures which were controversially taken to England in the early 19th Century. There was also a model of how the Acropolis would have looked 2,400 years ago. The sculptures are so beautiful, clearly based on detailed studies of the human form and the forms of animals. Ancient Greece was certainly a culture that took art seriously!
After visiting the Acropolis earlier in the day, I went to the temple of Zeus. The sun was starting to set, which was a relief, given it had been an incredibly hot day! It also made for beautiful views of the Acropolis, with the sunset behind it.
High on a a rocky outcrop, right in the heart of what was ancient Athens, stands the Acropolis. You can get there by walking up the winding cobbled path, fringed by olive trees, to the top of the hill. The views across the rest of Athens and the sea are amazing. The weather was perfect and extremely hot (38C) when I was there. Near the entrance is a reconstructed outdoor theatre, they hold shows there, and I am sure it must be quite something to attend a performance in such a spectacular setting!
As I wandered up the path towards the entrance of the Acropolis, I got a better view of the outdoor theatre, as well as the sweeping views of the city. The main entrance is really something, the ancient columns are still standing, and you can walk underneath them. The structure is being reconstructed, so you can see newer bits of marble and scaffolding in place.
The reconstruction work is being carefully done using ultra modern techniques, for instance special lasers to clean the marble blocks.
Once through the main entrance to the Acropolis, there are several main buildings. The most famous of these is the Parthenon, a temple dedicated to Athena, goddess of wisdom. She is the goddess that Athens is named after, and one of the most important deities from ancient Greece. The Parthenon building is nearly 2,500 years old, construction on the building began in 438BC.
The artworks in the temple are amazing marble sculptures depicting a mythical battle between centaurs and humans. The Parthenon was originally constructed to thank the gods for victory in battle over the invading Persians.
The buildings of the Acropolis have been through a lot over their over two thousand year history. In 1687, many of the buildings on the Acropolis were seriously damaged after being hit by a cannonball during a siege. In 1801, Englishman Thomas Bruce decided to chisel the friezes of the Parthenon off and take them back to England. They were sold to the British museum, where they remain. This is still very controversial and Greece wants them to come back to Greece! Although the Parthenon friezes have been removed, a lot of the original detail remains, and it is slowly being restored to something closer to it's original state.
One of the other most famous buildings on the Acropolis, is the temple of Athena. On one side there are several attendants to Athena, which support the roof on one side of the temple. An olive tree is planted nearby, one has traditionally been kept there, because it was believed that Athena brought olives to humankind.
Just down from the Acropolis, is another rocky outcrop, the Aeropagus. This place turns up in ancient Greek mythology, the gods were said to have tried one another for murder. It is also where the ancient Greeks tried ordinary people for crimes. The punishment was being pushed over the side! Yikes!
The Roman Agora (marketplace) was built a bit later than the Greek Agora, when the Romans had taken over. It was built in around 19-11BC to extend on the main shopping area in Ancient Athens (the Greek Agora). Kind of like overflow car parking space.
At one end of the Agora is amazing structure, the Tower of the Winds. Built in 50BC, is the world's first meterological station. This 2050 year old structure contained a combination of sundials, a water clock and a wind vane. The friezes on the outside of the Tower are eight wind gods. It operated as a clock tower and weather prediction service, and was handily located right in the middle of the town shopping centre. There have been a lot of replicas of this building, particularly from the 18th and 19th Century, when many parts of Europe were super obsessed with everything from the ancient world.
The Greek Agora was the main public meeting place in Ancient Athens. From about 1000 BC, Greek citizens would come to this area to hear statements from the King or ruling council.
The Agora was also a marketplace. Kind of the shopping mall of the time, where you could go to get the latest toga or shop for olive oil. The philosopher Diogenes once lived in a barrel in the Agora - as part of his anti-materialist philosophy. Despite Diogenes advice that excessive and unnecessary consumer goods do not make people happy, most people in the Agora ignored his wise words and the fires of commerce burned bright.
One of the first things I went to see was the ancient Hadrian's Library. It was built in 132 AD in the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian. One corner of the building contained papyrus scrolls, there were also reading rooms and lecture halls. This was a culture that valued learning! The building also contained an internal courtyard with a decorative pool. Parts of decorative mosaics on the floor are still visible. It must have been a beautiful building. I'm also always amazed by the skill of the archaeologists who work out so much about what went on thousands of years ago.
From Madrid I traveled to Greece. When I arrived in Athens, I caught the train to the centre, and got my first glimpse of the amazing Acropolis in the evening light. I got settled in and after dinner I went for an evening walk. It was very warm, and there was a full moon shining on the ruins, and the air had the delicious smell of night jasmine.
I am a traveller from New Zealand. My blog is to inform friends and family about my adventures. I hope you enjoy it!