For our second mandatory school field trip, we spent the past week in the Peloponnese! Now, when you think of beautiful Greece, all attention always goes straight to the islands. Granted, they are beautiful, but I was blown away by the beauty and majesty of the Peloponnese. We went to all the major ancient sites, while getting a taste of their quaint modern cities.
Mycenae: We first visited the ancient site of Mycenae, which was the head of the Mycenaean civilization, which survived from the 16th to 12th centuries. The city is just as impressive now as it must have been back then. We went to numerous Mycenaean gravesites, including the famous Thalos Tomb. In my book, this is one of the most impressive stone structures in all of Greece. It is massive, and not a single stone of it is reconstructed. It stands today the same way it did the day it was built. Next, we went to the citadel of the city, on high bedrock with some of the fortification walls intact. We walked under the Lion Gate, perhaps one of the most famous artifacts from the ancient world, and certainly one that everyone sees in Ancient History textbooks. This was certainly a monumental civilization and the architecture remaining certainly proves that. After all, this was the civilization that launched my favorite war in all history: the Trojan War!
Epidaurus: This ancient site was the most important healing sanctuary in ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology, Apollo’s son, Asclepius the god of healing, is said to have been born here and started a healing center. Greeks would come from all over the Aegean in hopes to be healed here from their infirmities. While now it is a compilation of ruins, there is still an air of peace potent here that most likely added to the idea of healing back in antiquity. However, my favorite part of the site, and actually the whole trip, was the Greek Theatre at Epidaurus. It is the epitome of ancient Greek theatre: mathematically perfect to account for perfect acoustics. The seats are set in a cliff of bedrock with a circular stage in the middle. Naturally, we did all of the typical tourist things to test the acoustics, such as someone going to the highest row and another dropping a coin on the stage, and you bet you could hear it from the top! It didn’t take too long for me to get my theatre bug going. Before I knew it, I was singing in the stage for the rest of my group in the audience: both to test the theatre and to simply put on a good show! I sang “Go the Distance” from Hercules (very fitting), followed by “Look Down” from Les Mis with my friend Davida. However, with some encouragement, I got on the stage and sang my solo song from my high school’s production of Les Mis, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. It meant so much to me. I was stunned I did it, but now I can say that I belted my heart out in an ancient Greek theatre! I ended the song to applause from a new bunch of German and French tourists who came mid-way through. If I had to choose the most rewarding and fulfilling thing I have done so far in Greece, I would definitely say that was it. I dare say it was the pinnacle of my musical career; I was beaming.
Nauplio: Nauplio isn’t an ancient city, but it sure as hell is one of the most beautiful modern ones I have ever seen in my life. Nauplio sits on the water and has a monumental fort on top of a hill in the city. The Venetians built it to protect Nauplio as one of their last port cities before the Ottoman Turks took it over. Also, after Greece gained independence, this was the capitol before Athens. Nauplio is such a quaint city, and I swear has the best ice cream in all of Greece! We spent two nights there, where we ate dinner in tavernas next to the water and drank wine on the docks. On the last day there, we went up top the fort; you can see the entire city and of course gorgeous views of the water. In addition to the high fortress, Nauplio has a fort in the middle of the water that now is a small island to make it even more picturesque.
Sparta: THIS IS SPARTA! While it certainly was Sparta, there unfortunately was not have a lot of archaeological artifacts remaining. The damn Spartans were too concerned with war to consider leaving behind impressions of petty things such as art or architecture around for future generations to behold (note my sarcasm?). Besides the statue of Leonidas, the majority of my time was celebrating Halloween! Yep, I spent the night of October 31 in Sparta. First off, Shea and I have a Holy Cross tradition of dressing up as an Egg and a Bacon for Halloween. Unlike Shea, I forgot my part of the costume in America, so I had to do my best and make my own bacon! That was part one, part two included dressing up as…SPARTANS! A bunch of us downed our togas and had a classic symposium. With such authentic costumes and epic setting, it was certainly a Halloween to remember.
Olympia: This ancient site is not only the birthplace of the Olympic Games, but the home of honor and competition in the ancient Greek world. Athletes from all over the Aegean traveled here to compete for the sole sake of competition. What was the prize? An olive wreath. That’s it. Ancient Greeks didn’t compete for money, or gold, but simply honor and pride. Looking over these games is the Temple to Zeus, who as the god of Justice makes sure all is in order. The statue to Zeus that was once in the temple won its way into the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Inside the Olympia museum, we saw the original pediments of the temple, breathtaking sculptures that conveyed the difference from chaos and order. Also in the museum was the original sculpture of Hermes holding the baby Dionysus. I sat in front of this statue for a good ten minutes just gazing at it. It was so perfect, and evoked so much emotion and sense of peace.
Delphi: Delphi is by far one of the most important sites in all of Ancient history. Known for its oracle, it achieved fame by being the source of a common desire amongst all humans: telling the future. Thousands of Greeks from all over the Aegean made pilgrimages to this site to get their questions for the future answered. It is not an easy one to say the least: it must be reached via boat, and once there must be climbed to since it sits on the side of sheer mountains. The god behind the magic is Apollo, who founded the sanctuary and is known as the god of reason since he known to always work from afar (why most images of him are with an arrow). The remains of the Temple to Apollo are still there, in addition to many treasures. Due to the importance of cult activity, Delphi had the most wealth in all the Aegean. The trend went like this: ask the oracle what you want, when things go according to plan come back to Delphi, give thanks by offering gold, sculptures, or treasuries, then go home and tell your friends. Delphi worked like this for a long time, and even today it still seems mystical. Delphi was a great way to end the trip, and it left me with a little bit of magical desire to come back again.
Now that I have been to all of these cities, I can’t help but feel like I have achieved so much since I have been here. I have seen and studied all of these sites that I have always wanted to go to. I really feel like I’m making the most out of my semester in Greece, and I owe it all to the amazing program of CYA. Now that I have seen what I wanted to of Greece outside of Athens, I am very eager to stay in Athens and soak up the culture and history of my new home.