Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Delphi and Olympia (May 5-7, 2009)

Hello again! So…we begin again with our second multi-day trip, this time to the two great Panhellenic sanctuaries: the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, and the sanctuary of Zeus and Hera at Olympia. These sites were famous for their cults as well as their Games, the two major games of Ancient Greece (Pythian and Olympian) held every four years They were like the Summer and Winter Olympics in a sense, with the Pythian games being held in the middle of each 4 year Olympiad (of course the history is a little complicated, but I don't want to get into it). We got on the bus at around 7:30, and I shocked quite a few people, since I had shaved my beard off, prompting them to wonder what I would stroke while I was in class. But, anyhow, we set off for our first destination, Osios Loukas ("Blessed Luke") Monastery, a Byzantine monastery named not after the Evangelist, but after a local hermit whose relics are still in the church and are believed to exude myron, a healing oil used in miracles. The monastery itself was beautiful, high-up on the side of a valley, and the mosaics and murals were quite impressive. After a tour of the monastery, which included a "priests' movie theatre", we had lunch and were off. A couple hours later, we made it to Delphi (after an epic bus standoff in one of the mountain towns) and we went down to the lower site to see the Sanctuary of Athena Pronaos/Pronoia (either "before the temple" or "forethought"). During our site report, it started to rain, which honestly made the site so much more beautiful. The famous tholos (a round colonnaded structure) only had a few columns standing, but it was so majestic. After it stopped, we walked out past the gigantic ancient legos and headed to our hotel. That evening we discovered this awesome shop in Delphi called "Safeway," which sold these beautiful handmade olivewood objects (picture frames, bowls, salad sets, etc.) and where the owner gave us all sample of Mastic liquor and offered free olives to us all. We came back again later because he was so awesome. I also had a gyro that had ketchup, mustard, and mayo in addition to the normal fixins, and it was surprisingly good. After a pleasant night sleep, we went to the upper, more important site of Delphi. It was actually pretty amazing. Several of us had to do site reports pointing out certain historical aspects and locations of different dedications (I presented the history of the Pythian Games) and that made me feel more engaged with the site. Each important element, from the Siphnian treasury, to the Athenian treasury (where Alain got into a non-verbal confrontation with this serious bitch of a Greek guide), to the Temple of Apollo itself, which had orange columns which were once covered in stucco. Everything there seemed so important (and really everything was, because almost everything had some sort of dedication or decree inscribed on it). Unfortunately the evidence of where the Oracle would have been is arbitrary, but it was fun to sort of imagine how it went from what we know about the Oracle (especially since she was probably on a serious acid trip, and the priests interpreted her murmurs into really ambiguous lines of verse). After the site visit, we ventured into the Museum, which had some impressive pieces and dedications (including the monument of Aemilius Paullus), as well as the "original" navel of the universe. The most impressive piece was by far the Delphic Charioteer, a roughly life-size bronze sculpture of a charioteer likely from a dedication in honor of a Pythian Games victory. The same bitch Greek guide showed up behind us (she was kind of following us, trying to force us out of rooms with her annoying nature) and told her group of American tourists that bronze sculpture stopped with the Greeks, since there are no examples of bronze sculpture outside of Greece. I wanted to tell her she was an idiot, but calmed myself down especially after Paul told me she probably would've been very offended and possibly slapped me or something. After we were done at the museum, we grabbed lunch and headed out for Olympia on the Peloponnese, but of course there was a whole Corinthian Gulf between the two sites, so we had to take possibly the coolest bridge EVER: The Rio-Antirrio Bridge. This bridge is not tethered to either end of its span, but instead totally supported by piers along the floor of the gulf that can shift with the ever-moving nature of the Peloponnese, the fastest-moving landmass on Earth. As a result of these piers, the bridge is reportedly earthquake, tsunami, tidal wave, and terrorist proof. After crossing the bridge, we drove out into the middle of nowhere to Ancient Olympia, a tourist town with one main street lined with novelty tourist shops and jewelry shops that takes ten minutes to walk down. We got there later than expected, got overbooked out of our hotel, but luckily put into a "five-star" hotel right next to the site. We walked around a little bit, did some shopping (I found this shop whose owner's brother had run with the Olympic torch for the Moscow, LA, Seoul, Barcelona, and Atlanta games, and I even got to hold the torch from the Moscow games), and had a group dinner where I had a steak that dwarfed John P's cheeseburger. The next day, we went to the site, which was so beautiful! We started off at the museum, which had some fine pieces, including the Olympian Hermes holding the infant Dionysus by Praxiteles, and the Paeonian Nike, as well as the sculptures from the pediments of the Temple of Zeus. My group presented the temple, which was simply monstrous (see picture of me with column drum), and I focused on the chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Zeus, which was added after the temple was built and was designed inside Phidias' workshop built to the exact proportions of the temple just to see how it would look and whether or not it would fit (apparently it was so large if Zeus were to stand up he would burst through the roof). After a pleasant walk through the site, which was essentially a park, we went to the stadium, where we discussed the Olympic Games and watched as people raced, including some of our girls. We walked out of the archaeological park, pausing a few times to look at the temple of Hera, where they have the torch lighting ceremony for the modern Olympics, the Philippeion in honor of Philip II of Macedon, and the palaestra, which had these unexplainable grooves carved in stone implanted in the ground. After we grabbed some lunch, we boarded our bus for the 5-6 hour bus ride back to Athens. So, until next time…

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