Thursday, February 26, 2015

Exploring the Peloponnese

I had one day back from Istanbul for classes and then we were off again! This time we explored the Peloponnese for 5 days. Day one involved a view of the Corinth canal and a view from the road of Corinth's acropolis before heading out to Nemea for the sanctuary and stadium (the first of the four Panhellenic games locations we will visit over the semester, the other three being the Isthmus for the Isthmian games held at Corinth which we passed by, Olympia for the Olympic games, and Delphi for the Delphic games). It began to snow, but that didn't stop us from lining up on the start line and crossing the stadium. Afterwards we headed over to our home base of Nafplio, and were unleashed upon the Palamidi Venetian Castle to climb and not lean over bastions to get cool pictures of our friends (cough it had sturdy foot holds so it was fine), and get a sense of Greek history beyond the ancient sites we saw. The Castle was massive and overlooked the entire town and harbor below, and likewise almost everywhere we went in Nafplio you could see the castle perched above.
The second day was better than Christmas for me. I love studying the Bronze Age, and following our itinerary we went to Mycenae, and along with some snow flurries which just made everything pretty - there were flowers out too! - we saw the Treasury of Atreus, and the other Tumuli around of Clytemnestra, Aegisthus her lover, and I found the Lion's Tumulus and happily ran down from the citadel to have a look. We wandered the citadel and after studying the site I was able to visualize it more easily and the visit to the museum on site helped place the famous frescoes and objects for me.

My most emotional moment was in that museum, when I saw linear B tablets for the first time. I had learned about linear B, a proto- Ancient Greek language, but seeing the tablets, the small, burned bits of clay with indents dawned on me as so historically monumental that I very nearly teared up. My smile grew even bigger after that with an unplanned stop at Tiryns, another Bronze Age site, very well preserved (you can see me standing in the main citadel in the picture) and which I have wanted to see for some time.
We saw Epidaurus after that, and heard a piece of paper tear and a coin drop in the center of the stage from the back of the theater - incredible! - before heading to the last Byzantine capital of Mystras near Sparta the next day. Mystras was gorgeous and dotted the entire mountain with its monasteries, basilicas, and stone walkways, and even in winter had beautiful ivy and other greenery that made me feel like I could have been walking around a fairy tale set in Ireland.

For day 4 we went to Messene, where I got to sit upon the throne of Nero and Hadrian in the theater, and get a look at some Roman era mosaics. The site had fountain remains, basilica ruins, and sanctuaries everywhere in the public space along with a large and open hillside stadium surrounded by columns. Nearby we found a battlement, which I was determined to climb despite my dress and in which we had lunch!

It was a fascinating site, and large enough that I could have happily spent more time exploring there, but day 5 called us on to Olympia. The beauty of flowers carpeting the ancient practice areas where we talked about Olympic wrestling, and quiet as we walked past the sunny open dedicatory tholos and temple of Hera carried a silent majesty as we moved to the ancient stadium, and walked or ran its course. The temples, especially the size of the temple of Olympic Zeus, were impressive and the site along with the museum was rich and tingling with the history we were discussing.
It was an ancient site of ruins, but like the others I had seen, my studies and our discussions placed it in a historical context that I felt gave me more access to that ancient world. I cannot wait for the next adventure. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Wonderful Adventures Nonstop! Voula, Classes, and Constantinople

Kalimera! Good Morning as the Greeks say! I have had a wonderful past few weeks and have quite a lot to share. The Voula Dig I embarked on last time went successfully - the dig was a 9 day intensive dig focused on the Roman era of occupation with lectures, one on osteoarchaeology or bioarchaeology where we looked at human bone remains from the site found beneath the entrance to the Christian Basilica. The excavation was challenging in that there was less finding special and easily identified objects like glass vessels - though we did find one of those - and more wall collapse destruction that we had to learn to identify and differentiate from the building foundations and other layers of occupation so that we could remove the collapse and see what foundations were going on underneath. We found large coarse ware pottery, the stem of a roman glass cup, glass slag from production, a stele reused in a floor, and a well that would have provided water to the pottery kilns known on site. We shifted a lot of dirt, and I very much value how much I learned about building identification. It was great!
After the dig and a short orientation with some catching up on sleep, I started classes and am happy to say that I love them all. I am taking Archaeology of Athens (the Professor introduced it as Welcome to Topography Club!) which is an onsite class that will greatly enhance my understanding of the city I am so fortunately to be living in; Ancient Greek Comedy in which I am reading Aristophanes' Clouds and will get the chance to put the play on; Ancient Greek Philosophy where I am learning how to understand Plato and Aristotle in their very own city (yesterday I walked around the ancient agora and saw buildings it is known that they and Socrates stood in, how cool!); History of Ancient Macedonia, which I enjoy immensely and am taking at a higher level for a more in depth study of Macedonian military tactics in the time of Phillip and Alexander; and Byzantine Art and Architecture which is an art history class focused on iconography and symbolic representation (it is very cool, yesterday we went to the Benaki museum to look at Byzantine manuscripts). For my archaeology, art history, and history classes I am getting to see the places we talk about and that just means the world to me.
One of those places was Constantinople! Last weekend I was fortunate enough to get the chance to take a three day trip to Istanbul with CYA, and I was so excited and entranced by the things I saw that I took over a thousand pictures (thank goodness for digital memory cards). We get a sense of the city lay out in a trip up Pierre Loti hill, where you can see much of the city from, and had Turkish tea to wake up from our early flight. The real fun of the day was going to the legendary Walls of Constantinople, where my military Archaeologist and Byzantinologist side felt like a kid in a candy shop.
The walls were massive and absolutely took my breath away. My awe was amplified next when we went directly from the wall to the Chora Museum, the most beautiful Byzantine Church around. The mosaics have stunning detail and gold leaf tesserae, and the Church was originally used by the Emperors and Empresses themselves.

It was an amazing first day and the second day was no less incredible. We went to the Blue Mosque, which has overwhelming floral decorations, and Hagia Sophia, which was stunningly large. At Hagia Sophia I saw the coronation spot of Byzantine Emperor's and Empresses, and walked the upper floor Empresses' Hall shown here before we went through the Byzantine Cistern (also shown here) and the Hippodrome to see the obelisks and Delphic column.

I have never seen an Egyptian Obelisk before, and seeing one integrated into the Byzantine city I love was quite a jump back in history. We also went to the Sultan's palace of Topkapi where there is a relics room containing the staff of Moses, and the famous Istanbul Bazaar, and like the night before some of us explored the area we had found a tower in and found a traditional Turkish Bath - it was quite a day! My highlight I would have to say though was Hagia Sophia.
For day three we heard part of an Orthodox service, which was very interesting and beautiful, and toured the Sultan palace of Dolma Bahce, which has staircase railings made of Swarovski crystals and a ballroom that has enormous sets of four pillars on either side. We drove to Asia from there (believe it or not when you cross the bridge from one side of the city to the other there is a sign that says Welcome to Asia) and had lunch before hopping on a boat to tour the Bosporus and get a very good sense of the waterway that partially defines Constantinople and Istanbul, before a stop at the Egyptian Market for Turkish tea and the best Baklava on the planet, and heading home to Athens.
It was an exhausting weekend completely full of wonderful things, some of which I am lucky to have seen in person and be studying in my Byzantine class. I hope to travel back to the city before too long!