Day 34 – Thermopylae

(7-20-14)

Today was basically one long bus ride. We drove to Thermopylae in the morning for a student report, but it’s incredibly hard to imagine the famous battle because the topography has changed so much. We did, however, get to see the hot spring for which the site is named, which was pretty cool, if very smelly.

After another long bus ride, we arrived at the Neolithic sites of Sesklo and Dimini. Our speaker, Nick Blackwell, is the assistant director of the American school and a really great speaker, but Neolithic stuff just isn’t my thing, on top of trying to revive myself after a long bus ride. It was cool to imagine people living there 6,000 years ago, but there’s not much on the group to look at.

After the sites, we went to a great museum in Volos, a nearby town. The layout was really informative, and the finds were really cool. They had a ton of painted grave stelai which you don’t see a lot of in other museums. Paint from the ancient world doesn’t survive too well, so it was awesome to see so many nice examples of it.

The evening was spent in Nea Anchialos, which was a small town on the beach. We were all eager for a swim, but were disappointed to discover that the water was full of trash. We hung out on the beach for a bit, though, so it wasn’t a total disappointment. Tomorrow we have our earliest departure yet – 7:00 am, so it’s time to get some sleep!

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Day 33 – Delphi

(7-19-14)

Today was probably one of the best days of the entire trip. We spent the day in Delphi, and the location of the site alone is incredible. Surrounded by mountains, Delphi sits on a slope, which means that to explore the site, you must hike ever upwards. It’s beautiful, and we were blessed with extraordinary weather. I didn’t know too much about Delphi, so it was cool to learn all about the religious aspect of the site – it’s a sanctuary to Apollo and most people came to see the oracle there, though there were the Pithian Games held here every four years. Like any other aspect of human interaction, there was a political charge as well. Cities would build treasuries along the main road to house the offerings of the dedicants from that city. It became a sort of competition to see who could build the most lavish, and of course, the Athenians won with a huge structure made out of marble with beautiful sculpture. The island of Siphnos, however, gave them a run for their money, though in my opinion there was a bit too much happening on their treasury.

So, we spent the morning hiking around the site and hearing student presentations. Just as we were coming down for lunch (which was the only unpleasant part of the day – we had to eat at the site café, which did not have anything very palatable), it started to pour, but luckily, we were already seated under the café’s umbrellas. After lunch, we walked through the museum, where most of the sculptures from the treasuries, as well as tons of votive figures, are housed. There is also an amazing bronze sculpture of a charioteer, so detailed you can see the eyelashes around his eyes.

After the museum, we explored the other side of the site, a bit further down the slope. There was another student presentation about the sanctuary of Athena there, and we all marveled at the huge rock that had fallen during a rockslide during a Persian invasion.

Because the other side of this part of the site was closed, a group of us decided to spend our rare afternoon off hiking up Mt. Parnassus, on whose slope Delphi sits. It was really fun, if totally exhausting. We hiked for about an hour and a half up the mountain, but unfortunately we were not able to see the site from where we were on the top. The views of the rest of the valley were more than enough to make up for this disappointment however, and I was really glad I had decided to go.

Dinner was another fun affair – it was Lee’s birthday (Lee is one of the leaders of our trip), so we all met at a nice restaurant in town to surprise him. We ate and drank and were generally merry later into the evening than usual, but a good time was had by all.

Day 32 – Thebes, Chaironeia, and Hosios Loukas

Today was the first day of our northern Greece trip. We started off by driving to Thebes, where there isn’t much to see, unfortunately. It’s a very important site, but the modern town is built essentially directly on top of the modern town, which means that the government has to buy the property in order to excavate and there simply isn’t enough money for them to do so. We learned a lot about the complications of the process, and the resentment that can develop when money for a project doesn’t come through.

After Thebes, we drove to Chaironeia, which is were the decisive battle between Philip of Macedon and the Athenians, with their Theban allies, took place. Philip was able to crush the Greek soldiers because of his superior military skills (including his use of cavalry) and after that battle, all of Greece was basically his. It was neat to see the battlefield, as well as the lion monument built for the Theban dead.

We had lunch in a small town called Levadeia, where there was an oracle associated with the beautiful springs. It was almost like being back in the US, with the copious amounts of flowing water and so many tall trees! It was truly a tranquil spot.

Our last spot for the day was Hosios Loukas, a monastery dedicated to St. Luke (not the Evangelist). It was truly a marvel of Byzantine art, with beautiful mosaics all over the walls and ceilings. The entire complex was so serene, which made it all the more interesting to watch a thunder-storm roll in over the mountains. It never made it to us, though, and we had sun the rest of the way to Delphi, where we just got back from a delightful dinner. I’m looking forward to seeing the site tomorrow!