The time has come

It’s hard to believe, but our time here in Greece is almost up. We leave tomorrow morning, flying out of Athens to Rome to begin 13 days of travel through Europe. Along the way we will see Rome, Florence, Pisa, Paris, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London. It’s going to be a lot of fun but very stressful at times. Please keep us in your prayers for the next two weeks until we get back home to Columbia.

I will try to update all about Israel and free travel when I get back home.

God bless.

PS – I added my calendar to the bottom of the blog page so you can see what’s coming up on the schedule and when we’ll be where.

Olympia – as in the Olympic Games

Olympia was definitely my favorite place on the Southern Greece trip. It was extremely beautiful, there were trees that were actually changing colors, and it was really the first time all semester that it actually felt like fall. I loved it there.

We started by going to a really cool museum where we got to see lots of amazing statues (Like Hermes, and Nike) and some really cool artifacts, like weapons and armor dedicated to Zeus. Speaking of Zeus, he was the patron god of Olympia (even though it is no where close to Mt. Olympus). The Olympic games, which were held every 4 years, were dedicated to Zeus. The Temple of Zeus, which is now mostly in ruins thanks to earthquakes, used to house the great statue of Zeus, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Unfortunately, like all but one ancient wonder the Statue of Zeus is now destroyed. We got to see a really nice artist’s rendition of it, though…

The site of ancient Olympia was one of the prettiest places I have been in Greece. It was just a perfect day to tour the site. We saw a couple gymnasiums, the Temple of Zeus, an old basilica dating to the 4th Cent. AD, and the Temple of Hera (Zeus’ wife) where they light the Olympic Torch every 4 years.

At the end of our tour we came to the famous Olympic Stadium…more like dirt track/field. This was not the first Olympic track, technically. This one was built in order to accommodate larger crowds and more participants, but it’s close enough. We were able to race on the track, which was a lot of fun. We ran it like they would have back 2500 years ago…no, not naked…down and back one time – winner takes all. It’s 192 meters one way, and four of us, including myself, ran it in 60 seconds or less. I loved it.

Well that pretty much wraps up the Peloponnese trip. Highlights: Acrocorinth, Citadel of Mycenae, Theater of Epidaurus, and the Olympic Track

Next on the agenda is a recap of our trip to Israel. I can’t wait to share my experiences with you.

Epidaurus Health Club and Resort

Epidaurus (Epidavros in Greek) is basically set up as an all-inclusive health club and resort. This is where wealthy Greeks would come for treatment of certain diseases or just to obtain better overall health. The patron god of this town was Asclepios, the healing god. His priests were also doctors at the resort. I call it a resort because it wasn’t really a town of its own. Very few people actually lived there. Most people only came for short periods of time (a few months at most) and lived in hotel rooms of sorts.

They had everything there – Roman-style baths, gymnasiums, a track, a theater for entertainment (the most well-preserved ancient theater in the world, I might add). The theater was a masterpiece, accoustic perfection. Our tour guide gave a demonstration to show us just how amazingly sound could be carried. I and several others went to the very top of the theater and could hear everything as if our guide were just a few feet away. We could hear him crumple and rip a piece of paper, whisper, even breathe. It was incredible.

If you were sick back in the day, this was definitely the place to be. You would be pampered, spoiled, and entertained until whatever ailed you eventually left.

I do find it interesting that the Greeks had a practice of making plaster molds or small sculptings of whatever body part wasn’t well and they presented that as an offering to the god Asclepios. They have found thousands of stone or plaster eyes, ears, noses, fingers, hands, feet, and certain other body parts which I will leave unnamed. I guess in the days of the early church, “miraculous” healings were promoted by the priests, but it was a big deal when Paul, Peter, and other apostles could actually do it.

Citadel of Mycenae

Yet another fortress on a hill. We see a lot of those in this part of the world, and don’t worry – there are plenty more to come.

Mycenae is one place I had been looking forward to seeing for a long time. Anyone familiar with the works of Homer or the movie Troy will recognize this as the home of the Greeks who waged war on Troy. They were very much a warrior society, with gigantic fortress walls, elaborate tombs full of votive weapons, not to mention being the victorious in one of the most famous battles in history that may not have happened…

Regardless of the accuracy of Homer as an historian, the Mycenaean civilization left behind a lot of good stuff for modern archaeologists to oogle at. The most impressive of which is definitely the Lion Gate in the “Cyclopean Wall”. It is called the Cyclopean Wall because when the classical Greeks first stumbled upon this citadel, they thought that there was no possible way humans could have built such a wall out of such large stones; therefore, it must have been built by the cyclopese (these are the same Greeks which said, “Man is the measure of all things.” How’s that for irony…). The famous Lion Gate is named such because for the two large bodies of lions carved into solid stone and placed above the lintel piece in the gate. I was impressed with this even after seeing the Great Pyramids.

The Mycenaeans also had interesting burial chambers. They were basically gigantic underground domes. The pressure of the soil above the dome actually held it in place. In fact, the dome of King Agamemnon’s Tomb (which actually pre-dates him by a couple centuries) was the largest dome ever built until I think the time of the Romans.

When all is said and done, I would not want to be on the side against the Mycenaeans in a battle. They ruled, and they ruled well. They were not afraid to raise up an army in a moment’s notice. They were also the main civilization ascribed as ancestors to the mainland Greeks, and were responsible to developing and passing on their religion and theology (mainly through the Homerian tradition). I really enjoyed walking around the citadel of this great civilization.

Nafplion – another fortress on a hill…I’m sensing a trend

Nafplion and the Fortress of Palimidis:
To be honest, although this is one of the more interesting hilltop fortresses which we have visited, it has absolutely nothing to do with ancient Greece or anything biblical (the two main focuses of all our tours thus far). The fortress itself was not even constructed until the middle ages and saw a lot of action during the skirmishes and quarrels between the Ottoman Turks and the Venetians.

This fortress, also called Acronafplion, would be a great setting for a giant game of paintball, or even hide-and-seek. The structure sits atop a hill overlooking the Sea to one side and the city of Nafplion to the other. This was a very strategic location for a fortress like this because it is basically on the other side of the isthmus from Corinth, a major trade route from Southern to Northern Greece.

It was really nice to just be able to have about 30 minutes of free time to walk around this gigantic structure exploring all the side rooms, prison cells, etc. The view from the top was absolutely beautiful. Coming down, though, was not so fun. The main way down from the hill is a series of nearly 900 steps to street level. Awesome workout for the quadriceps…

What Happens in Corinth Stays in Corinth

Well, I have completed my recap of our journey through Egypt. Some of the highlights: Abu Simbel, Great Pyramids, Luxor, Nile Cruise, breakfast at our tour guide Osman’s home. Some of the not-so-highlights: night trains from Cairo to Aswan and then Luxor to Cairo, the nasty Zoser Hotel. I know there is much more I could write about, but I feel like I have hit the main protions of our trip and must move on to tell about our trip down to the Peleponnese.

Our first stop on the excursion through Southern Greece was the famous (more like infamous) city of Corinth. Honestly, this has been one of my favorite ancient Greek cities…go figure. Corinth is a town where Paul spent 18 months evangelizing. It was a thriving port city located on the narrowest point between two Seas. Amazingly, before the canal was built they had a system set up to actually pull large merchant vessels out of the water, drag them across the 10-mile stretch of land, and deposit the ship on the other side. These days they have a canal built between the two where several from our group bungee-jumped.

Anyway, we got to see several cool structures in Corinth, like the remains of Apollo’s Temple, the bema where Paul gave his defence before the men of the city, the ancient road leading down to the Sea, and Acrocorinth.

Acrocorinth was a fortress/temple area situated on a moutain overlooking the city. We were able to hike to the top and see the gorgeous view from the old fortress walls. We also ate lunch on the foundations of the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, who was the main goddess of the city. Her priestesses were also temple prostitutes. It was explained to us that the prostitution/worship did not actually take place on top of Acrocorinth, but rather in the cult centers throughout the city. This was a sailor town, so think Amsterdam mixed with Las Vegas. To quote Obi-Wan, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scumb and villainy.” It’s amazing to me that even in a town with as little moral conscience as Corinth, the church thrived. Albeit, they most certainly had their share of problems, but the letters to the church in Corinth make much more sense in light of the moral compass (i.e. paganism, fornication, etc.) of the city.

Thermopylae – yes, like in the movie 300.

Just imagine, 250,000 Persians gathered on those hills raining arrows down on the 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians.

This is the monument built in honor of King Leonidas of Sparta.

Ok, so everyone probably knows the story of this battle site, but I still find it amazing that 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians defended the pass from 250,000 Persians for 3 days while the rest of Greece was able to gather their forces together and eventually send the invaders back home with their tales tucked between their legs.

This is the site of arguably the most important battle in the history of Western civilization. It is theorized that if the Persians had broken through any sooner, the rest of Greece would not have been able to regroup and drive them out. If the Persians had simply swept through Greece as they were intending, the rest of Europe would have been in danger of falling under Persian control as well, and Western Civilization as we know it would have been completely destroyed.

So that wraps up our tour of Northern Greece. We did make quick stops in Kavala (ancient Neapolis where Paul entered Europe for the first time) and Berea, but we didn’t really spend enough time in either of those places to write much about.

Next up is our trip to Egypt. We leave this Tuesday, so keep us in your prayers. I may not be able to update until we get back because I’m not sure if we’re taking our laptop with us. So it may be a little over a week before I get back to this.

Thessaloniki – in the shadow of Olympus

The remains of the Roman forum in downtown Thessaloniki

Monument in honor of Alexander the Great, the founder of the city.

Looking down on the city from the Acropolis. You can see Mount Olympus in the background.

You may not realize it, but Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and had pretty much always been about as important as Athens. At many times throughout its history, Thessaloniki has acted as a sort of second capital. It was established by Alexander the Great in honor of his sister.

There aren’t as many historical excavations taking place in Thessaloniki simply because it is difficult to excavate a city which has 2million people living on top of it. They are working hard to dig up the places they can, like the Roman forum in the top picture.

It was amazing to see how close Mount Olympus is to the city. I never realized where exactly the mountain of the gods was. It is a beautiful range of mountains directly across the bay from the city, and on a clear day it can be seen towering majestically over its surroundings.

We really didn’t get to spend as much time in Thessaloniki as I had hoped, but it was still cool to see how much the city has continued to flourish throughout its history of over 2000 years.

Philippi – I think the Macedonians are calling.

This is the possible location of the River in which Lydia and the Jailer were baptized.

To the right of those steps is the traditional site of the jail in which Paul and Silas were held overnight.

This is really the main part of the city. This is all that remains of the Roman forum and the Agora. In the background you can see the remains of a gigantic basilica that was built ca. 400 AD.

When we first got to Philippi, we started at the river which would have been located outside the western wall of the city. This is the traditional cite where Lydia and other Jews were meeting for worship regularly. It could possibly be the river in which the first European converts were baptized, but it is certainly the river in which thousands of Christians have been baptized over the last several centuries. This is a place of pilgrimage for thousands of Christians of every denomination. A formal baptistery has been built into part of the river with a small theater on one side for people to witness the baptism. It was incredible being able to wade around the river and sing songs like “As the Deer”.

The main city, as you can see, is still in ruins. Very few parts of buildings are standing. It is mainly just foundations and rubble. The coolest structure still partly standing was one of the basilicas, which still had its four corners standing at least 50 feet high. But this was only one of three or four gigantic church buildings in the ancient city.

As you may know, the famous Via Egnatia runs straight through the city. It was a road built by the Romans that stretched about 350 miles or so, from the port city Neapolis, through Philippi, and on through Berea and Thessaloniki. We got to walk along the road which we know for a fact that Paul walked along as he traveled through this part of Europe.

The city also has a pretty good size theater which is undergoing a massive restoration effort. In this theater people would watch everything from plays and choral performances to gladiatorial battles and executions. I guess that’s all part of being a free Roman colony.