Tuesday 30 June, Wednesday 1 July, Thursday 2 July: It’s all Greek to me.
We have travelled the length and breadth of this very beautiful country by bus and enjoyed its mountains, plains, vast coastline and fruitful crop production. Pistachio nuts, sunflowers, olives and cotton grow in abundance here and Greece has more cotton per total acreage than any nation other than China, India and the US. We were also amazed by its mountainous terrain. Again per total land mass Greece is Europe’s third most mountainous country behind only Norway and Albania and ahead of Switzerland. Greece has a vast ski network in Winter
Highlights of our journey included the amazing Corinth canal cut through the isthmus early in the twentieth century by Hungarian engineers and saving shipping companies vast amounts of time and treacherous coastline shipping. From Corinth we journeyed south to the ancient Bronze Age Myceneaen civilisation remnants including the so-called Tomb of Agamemnon and the Lion’s Gate palace. These remains were excavated with the help of wealthy German entrepreneur Schliemann with the support of the Greek Government. They show a quite sophisticated culture dating back to 1500BC and earlier. Even when excavated many of the tombs found had been already looted centuries earlier but the museums have still collected many beautiful and sophisticated pottery pieces
We travelled further south to the extraordinary theatre of Epidauros which holds up to 10000 at a pinch and still hosts concerts today although the seating is legitimately rock hard. The acoustic quality is world renowned and the setting in a mountainous “bowl” of significant beauty was memorable. We travelled back to Athens following the eastern coastline with many attractive beach resorts.
Travelling north on Wednesday we consulted the Oracle at Delphi amongst the mysterious and gorgeous mountains of Parnassus, home of the Muses. Only the columns of the ruined temple of Apollo, and a small temple of Diana remain dating from the C7th remain along with another smaller theatre but yet again the setting was evocative and stilled the mind. Ancient Greek scientists, philosophers, dramatists, engineers and medical researchers were not content with just living and have left us a rich resource of literature and scientific and philosophical thought. We have dived in deeply and richly, If briefly, into the stories of Homer, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripedes and Aristophanes and our guides were very proud of their ancient lineage. Another insight was the site of the battle of Thermopylae where Leonides, King of Sparta with 300 men held off a massive Persian army in the third century BC long enough to enable the Greek army to escape and regroup and eventually defeat the Persians. We overnighted at Kalambaka at the base of the mighty sandstone rock formations of Metiora in Central Greece.
On Thursday we visited two of the Greek Orthodox monastic settlements built miraculously it seems out of these massive 70 million years of rocks to escape the rule of the Ottoman empire over Greece. Until the 1990s access was only by rope basket but today there is excellent access by road although there were still 154 large steps to the top of the Vaad Lam monastery. Ann’s leg injury was given a real work out here but she made it to the top. We were moved by the iconic chapel, tiny bridges over 2000 foot drops and jaw dropping scenery. The theological discussion was rich and in my limited experience the painting covering every inch of internal space was more Biblical than their Russian Orthodox counterparts with a surprising Old Testament emphasis especially on Noah and Adam and Eve. The playing down of the role of Mary was noticeable contrasting with the intensity of the Mariology evident in Catholic Spain but again as in Russia the closed wall of the iconostasis or covered screen separating priest from people except during communion I find a curious rejection of the torn veil of the Temple.
We visited a second beautifully rebuilt monastery of St Stephen, now a nunnery which was bombed in 1942 by occupying German forces because its Bishop had assisted the allies. The beautiful monastery has an excellent museum which contained many valuable uncial manuscripts of portions of the New Testament including a C6th papyrus mss and a C14th large collection of Aristotle’s works. Althogether there are six operating monasteries in Metiora
It was peaceful and spiritually uplifting to be “up in the clouds” at Metiora away from the incessant chatter and rallies in Athens leading up to this weekend’s referendum. Long queues form at every ATM and there is deep division in the community. The weather has been delightfully pleasant with even some rain in contrast with the heatwave being experienced in Spain.