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China’s Terracotta Warriors

Imagine the shock a group of simple Chinese farmers quietly digging a well in a field one day experienced when they stumbled upon an upright life-size terracotta figure of a warrior.

The discovery was uncovered in March 1974, and the site was soon identified as Emperor Qin’s place of burial.

Who was Qin?
Born Ying Zheng in 259 BC, he succeeded his father as king when only 13 years old. Qin Shi Huang, founder of the Qin dynasty, ruled as China’s first emperor from 221-207 BC. More importantly, Qin was responsible for China’s unification, initiating groundbreaking reforms during his reign.

In 230 BC he began his campaign to conquer China’s remaining six kingdoms, thus unifying the country for the first time in its existence. History indicates Zheng accomplished this feat in less than 10 years, and proclaimed himself the first emperor of a unified China.

Marble-statue-of-Qin-Shi-Huang-The-First-Emperor-of-Qin-Dynasty

It was then that Zheng took the title Qin Shi Huang, which means “first emperor of Qin”. Consequently, Qin Dynasty became the first imperial dynasty of China.

One of Qin’s most important reforms was abolishing the old political system and dividing his empire into 36 districts. He instituted this to avoid political chaos.

He then appointed officials based on merit rather than following hereditary lines, as had been the custom. Military officers who distinguished themselves in battle were rewarded with important military positions.

Two other reforms under his rule were the unification of the law and standardizing the Chinese units of measurement and currency.

His most significant act, however, was to unify the Chinese written language by creating a novel, and more simplified, script that became the standard.

Nevertheless, Qin was an unpopular ruler and considered inhumane through much of China’s history. Ruling with an iron hand, he had more than 450 scholars, whose views he disagreed with, killed and ordered most existing books to be burned. Because of this, Confucian scholars portrayed him as a brutal tyrant and upon his death publicly undervalued his achievements.

Qin is credited with commissioning the original version of China’s Great Wall, designed to protect against barbarian invasions. Showing little regard for human life, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of men died during the construction of the famous defensive wall. While little of this wall remains today, it was the precursor to the Great Wall of China.Great-Wall-of-the-Qin

Now, however, the massive mausoleum complex he had constructed for himself near the ancient city of Xi’an reflects his legacy despite the untold numbers who died during construction and the artisans he ordered killed in order to preserve the secrecy of the tomb’s location and the treasures buried within.

Perception of Death
“Treat death as life” was the ancient Chinese traditional perception of death. According to information in the Chinese exhibit that is on display at Doha, Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Art, “they considered death another form of living, believing that the afterlife one enters after death is an exact copy of the present one.” That is why personal objects used during their lifetime, such as clothes, daily necessities and status symbols, can usually be found in their tombs or mausoleums.

Terrified of death, Qin was obsessed with acquiring immortality. Later in his life he ordered his court physicians and alchemists to create a tonic or medicine that would grant him eternal life. What they came up with were mercury pills, which would supposedly make him immortal. He died on September 10, 210 BC allegedly due to mercury poisoning.

The Terracotta Army Mausoleum
In early China societies, the custom of human sacrifice was followed as part of a funeral ritual. During the Zhou Dynasty that preceded the Qin Dynasty, this philosophy changed to using clay and wooden figures rather than humans. The Qin terracotta warriors exemplify this philosophical shift.

photo-of-terracotta-soldiers-pitQin ordered work to begin on the famous mausoleum soon after he became king. Historians believe it took 700,000 men and 38 years to construct the mausoleum, which was larger than any city of the world at that time. His burial chamber was to be enclosed within the structure.

The life-size warriors in military formation – more than 6,000 of them – “guarded and protected” Qin’s tomb in the afterlife from evil spirits for more than 2,200 years after his death. In addition to this large pit the farmers discovered in 1974 were three other pits. A second pit contained cavalry and infantry unit sculptures, a third consisted of high-ranking officers and chariots, and a fourth was empty, suggesting that the burial pit was left unfinished following the emperor’s death.

One of the most remarkable aspects of this discovery is that the pits were designed with a sophisticated layout, as load-bearing walls were discovered every 10 feet between where the warriors and horses stand.

Chinese Sculpture vs. Western Sculpture
Within China’s art history circles, the Qin terracotta warriors rank extremely high in artistic value. Every detail of the figures was modeled on real persons from their height and proportion to their facial features resulting in a life-like sculptural style. What makes these terracotta figures so unique is that they all differ from one another not only in facial features and expressions, but also clothing, hairstyle and even their gestures. Every terracotta warrior was originally painted in bright colors, which is believed to have added immensely to their vividness.

4-warriors-&-horse

Western sculpture places its focus on form and muscle. “It uses light and shadow to create a sense of depth, and applies the principles of human anatomy to express the human body’s muscular and dynamic beauty,” according to art historians. Chinese sculpture, however, focuses more on portraying a subject’s temperament, which is why the sculptures show a strong realistic feel with artistic exaggeration of facial detail. Rarely does Chinese sculpture indicate a subject’s muscles or detailed body form.

The Terracotta Army and Their Weapons
The soldiers, archers, horses and chariots discovered during restoration work indicate they were created using molds and an early assembly line-type construction. It is believed that only eight molds were used to shape their heads, while distinctive clay surface features were added after they were assembled indicating a high level of craftsmanship and artistry. This explains why each soldier appears to be unique in its facial features yet most of the figures’ hands are identical.

Archaeologists found more than 40,000 bronze weapons during excavation, including battle axes, crossbows, arrowheads and spears, all of which were astonishingly well preserved given the more than 2,000 years they laid undiscovered. They credit the preservation to protective chrome plating, which reveals the sophistication of ancient Chinese metallurgy given that Germany first used this technique in 1937 and the U.S. not until 1950.

Qin’s Unexcavated Tomb
Since the tomb was discovered 40 years ago, less than one percent of it has been excavated. At first archaeologists were concerned about damaging Qin’s corpse and tomb artifacts, but that gave way to concerns about the excavation’s potential safety hazards. In 2005 a team led by Chinese archaeologist Duan Chingbo tested 4,000 samples of the burial mound earth for mercury, and all came back highly positive. Given this chemical evidence, the debate continues over whether to excavate, how to protect people working at the site, and what methods should be utilized to best protect the artifacts.

Proclaimed one of the greatest archeological discoveries in the world, the Terracotta Army Mausoleum is now unofficially hailed as the eighth Wonder of the World. Four of the unearthed terracotta structures, three warriors and a horse, are currently part of the traveling Chinese exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar.

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Three Major Dynasties: History Told Thread by Thread

Fragile pottery pieces, old master paintings, elaborate jewelry, ethnic clothing and ancient manuscripts spanning thousands of years and dynasties are mainstays of museums. But how often does one see antique carpets that have survived the times?

Imperial Threads: Motifs and Artisans from Turkey, Iran and India, an unique temporary exhibit at the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar, offers a new perspective to three major dynasties. The cultural exchange between these Islamic world empires led to the creation of some of the world’s most beautiful works of art.

carpets-as-diplomatic-giftsThe artistic collection and interwoven connection of these dynasties – Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal – are highlighted through their handmade rugs, motif tiles, manuscripts and ceramics primarily from the 16th to the 18th centuries. It was commonplace for these empires to exchange artistic and material treasures – and cultures – whether as diplomatic gifts or objects of warfare.

There are 25 historic carpets on display in three sections, divided by bridges, some of which have glass floors with the carpets beneath them for up close viewing, with each section focusing on a specific dynasty. The carpets – some well preserved while others show significant wear – serve as the centerpiece of the entire exhibition.

“We wanted this exhibition to look very special and different,” Dr. Mounia Chekhab-Abudaya, exhibit curator, told Doha’s Peninsula newspaper in an interview. “Each of the three sections has glass floor features because we wanted people to see how the carpets looked like in the palaces, not on the walls as they are usually seen in museums, but on the floor. We wanted visitors to have an idea how grand the palaces would look decorated with various objects and beautiful designs.”

Focusing on the Timurid period in Iran and Central Asia (1370-1507), the Imperial Threads exhibit detailed artistic practices that were shared amongst the three succeeding and neighboring dynasties.map-of-dynasties

The Timurids conquered portions of Iran and Central Asia in the 14th century bringing with them their semi-nomadic traditions. According to exhibit storyboards, the Timurids played an important role in sharing the trade and diplomatic development of the three empires. They also are credited with introducing new artistic styles and practices.

Ottoman Dynasty in Turkey
The Ottoman world took hold at the turn of the 14th century, but the arts scene didn’t begin to flourish until Sulayman the Magnificent’s reign (1520-1566).

As the dynasty expanded geographically and economically, according to a storyboard, this expansion “set the ground for cultural and artistic development that continued until the 19th century.”

When the Ottomans occupied Northern Persia, one of those cities was Tabriz, an important weaving center that provided direct influence on artistic carpet production that included the transfer of motifs and craftsmanship from Iran to Turkey. Tabriz rugs are woven by highly skilled craftsmen using only the finest material and are widely renowned and sought after in collections of Persian rugs.carpet-exhibit

This first section of the exhibit showcases carpets and other mediums characteristic of local tribal designs that were merged with outside Iranian influences.

The different motifs prominent in carpets and other objects on display include cloudband, medallion, animal, cintamani, saz, lotus flower, lattice and flower motifs. Cintamani and saz tile motifs became characteristic of Ottoman materials trending away from geometric designs toward the use of central medallions and the introduction of the saz motif as a principal pattern. These motifs appear in the various pieces produced by artists in the three empires revealing the connection between the neighboring dynasties.

The saz style combines a twisting serrated leaf with other motifs, which can be floral or saz-motif-tilefigural. Artist Shad Quli, head of Sulayman the Magnificent studio workshop, introduced this motif and became well known for his drawings that combined a stylized leaf with dragons.

The wavy ribbon-like cloudband motif forms the shape of a horseshoe. Originally derived from Chinese art, the cloudband is found on a variety of media from the Islamic world including the illuminated Quran and ceramic bowl, both on display. The Mongols introduced this motif in the 13th century.

wavy-horseshoe-motif

Safavid Dynasty in Iran
The Safavid Empire (1501-1736) showcases works from the royal manuscripts workshop, as well as artistic motifs. During this period, books and manuscripts witnessed profound development primarily due to royal court patron support. Textiles and carpets were also produced in great numbers. They played a major role in the sharing and transfer of artistic practices as traveling artists.

illuminated-Qurans

Manuscript illustrations often featured court scenes with palace interiors depicting great detail. “With the representation of colored pavilions, carpets and other fabrics, paintings demonstrated the use of objects manufactured at the royal court workshops in their original and historical contexts,” explains a storyboard. “The meticulous work and the rich patterns and colors used by the painter reveal the attention given to these textiles, and the patterns used to illustrate them may have been adapted from contemporary carpets or other objects with shared motifs.”

Black and turquoise-glazed hexagonal tiles with floral motifs from a Tabriz carpet from the 15th to 16th century were a popular style.

hezagon-floral-tiles

Between war, diplomatic relations and inevitable political changes, “previous objects were transferred across borders whether as diplomatic gifts or war booty, and artists pursued careers from one workshop to another,” reads another storyboard.

Diplomatic Gifts
Gifts were commonly offered to celebrate a new ruler’s ascent to the throne, the circumcision of a ruler’s son, or simply to promote strong diplomatic relations. Common gifts included textiles and manuscripts – always luxury objects – between the three dynasties. This cross-cultural gift interaction explains how styles spread between different courts and influenced neighboring dynasties’ artistic production.

Animal motifs, long time depiction in Islamic and pre-Islamic art, were common on ceramics, textiles, stone work and in manuscripts. In Islamic times, these motifs had a secular context, not religious, and were ornamental architectural elements of palaces or display objects for royal settings.

animal-motif-bottles

Combat scenes in particular, depicting strong animals such as lions attacking weaker prey, were commonly portrayed serving to remind the viewer of the valor and courage their ruler held over his enemy.

Due to the development of firearms during the period of these three great empires, they are commonly referred to as the “gunpowder empires”. Highly decorated weapons manufactured in the royal workshops demonstrate the pageantry function of such objects that would have been made for ceremonial use rather than for battle.

On display are a Turkish-made shield and axe from the late 16th to early 17th century. The cane shield is constructed of iron and copper alloy that is decorated with gold floral motifs, woven silk border, and geometric motifs on a yellow background.

shield-&-axe

Mughal Dynasty in India
The third section of the exhibit highlights the Mughal Dynasty (1526-1858). It was during this period that European prints were introduced to the Mughal libraries. Based on patterns from these books, Mughal artists began creating their own patterns. During this time, Islam was gaining popularity in India and Mughal artists created a new style based on European prints and Islamic subjects.

The Mughal Empire also features the culmination of artistic styles that integrate Safavid, Ottoman and local traditions.

Millefleurs-niche-carpetOne of the important artistic styles coming out of this time period was detailed floral designs that were prominent in carpets and jewelry. On display is a silk and pashmina pile carpet that features millefleurs, distinguished by their floral motifs and vivid colors. The carpet design clearly shows a flowering vase at the base and is an early 18th century product.

Nearby are stunning examples of a 19th century enamel and gold necklace incorporating a floral motif, a 17th century jar made of gold, silver, diamonds and mother of pearl, as well as an 18th century ruby and enamel perfume sprinkler.

19th-C-Indian-necklace

17th-c-jar18th-c-perfume-sprinkler

The lattice motif was made popular in the early to mid 16th century and was not only incorporated into carpets, but also on marble decorations for palaces. The interlaced criss-crossed pattern incorporates natural flowering plants and blossoms arranged in rows against a plain background.lattice-motif-pattern

Cuerdo seca tiles were also popularized in the 17th century. These types of tiles were used both to decorate palace or tomb walls, and show the use of realistic floral designs. Originally derived directly from its use in the Safavid Dynasty, the strong colors recall the miniature paintings of the same era.

Cuerdo-seco-tile

Geometric designs were popular in the 16th and early 17th century in India. Carved sandstone of white marble and red sandstone were used for carved, pieced stone screens known as jalis. These screens were used in Indian architecture prior to the Mughal period.

jali-screen-sandstone

Coming full turn and standing the test of time, these ancient motifs continue to be evident in carpets and other objects produced today. Liken it to the cultural exchange during these three major empires, if you will, and transferring that interaction today with the exhibition’s sharing knowledge of the arts.

green-sphere

As visitors enter and leave, an eye-catching spherical LED display projects colorful patterns in succession duplicating the motifs on exhibit.

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Enger Tower Stands Tall in Duluth, Minnesota

The power of observation takes many forms. It can never be overrated or understated. The simplistic beauty of a sea view, towering pines of a forest and a city skyline all offer up splendid scenic beauty with the naked eye.

Duluth, Minnesota, situated on the shores of Lake Superior in the U.S., provides its own scenic sights from the Enger Observation Tower. The tower’s purpose was – and is – to delight visitors with its magnificent panoramic views of central Duluth, the Duluth-Superior Harbor, the North Shore, and the western tip of Lake Superior.

The well-worn 80-foot, iconic stone façade tower is perched high on the Enger Hill bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, rising 531 feet above the lake’s surface.Unger-Tower

As I hiked up the steep incline one sunny March afternoon, sidestepping piles of frozen ice and snow slowly melting into spring, I marveled at the stunning views in all directions. This area of Minnesota is already beautiful – the gateway to the famed North Shore – but at the tower summit, it truly was a majestic sight.

The stone tower itself was rugged in its own right as if knowing it needed to withstand the test of time through brutal Minnesota winters and the unforgiving weather systems that swirl over the shores of Lake Superior.

Dotted with cut window openings throughout the six-story tower, every angle offered a unique view. On the ground tower inserted into the wall next to the stairway is the Enger Observation Tower Marker dedicated to the memory of Bert J. Enger – Native of Norway, Citizen of Duluth.

The Back Story
The Enger observation tower story is that of a common immigrant laborer, Bert J. Enger, who left a legacy fit for royalty to the City of Duluth over an eight-year period.

Born in Hamar, Norway in 1864, Enger immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 13, although records do not indicate if he journeyed alone. He traveled the Midwest working on farms and sawmills in Wisconsin, iron mines in Michigan and northern Minnesota, and the wheat fields of the Dakotas. At some point, he lived on a farm in small town Pine City, Minnesota, approximately 88 miles south of Duluth. It was here that Enger met a business partner, and the two opened a successful furniture store in Duluth.

The former immigrant turned U.S. citizen demonstrated through his own life what so many immigrants fought for and believed in: America was a land of opportunity for an immigrant.Bert Enger

In 1920, Enger anonymously donated $50,000 to the City of Duluth that it might purchase 350 acres of land for a proposed golf course and park for public use. Discovering Enger was the benefactor, Duluth’s city council named the park after him. He continued to share his fortune with the city over the next decade.

Enger, a lifetime bachelor, suffered a stroke and died in 1931. His estate, which he had divided into thirds, bequeathed two-thirds toward a memorial project (Enger Tower), which Enger stipulated was to be “a suitable building on top of the bluff near the Twin Ponds in Enger Park, in the nature of a lookout station, built to accommodate tourists visiting Enger Park.” Around the structure, he directed “that the grounds be beautified and foot paths from all directions leading up to the building on the hilltop be constructed, and a parking space for automobiles be constructed below the paths. The paths are to be accessible to pedestrians only.”Enger-tower-sign

Enger further stipulated that his body be cremated and the ashes placed somewhere in the memorial building. His wishes were granted. Enger Tower was completed in 1939 and dedicated in June that year by Olav, Crown Prince of Norway and his wife Crown Princess Martha, honoring the native Norwegian whose vision and life in America proved that life indeed held enormous opportunities for immigrants. As a fitting testimony, more than 5,000 people attended the dedication.

Should you find yourself in the Twin Port city, regardless of the time of year, plan a short hike up to Enger Tower – open year round – and capture for yourself the breathtaking views.

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Kakopetria Village: Beauty, Serenity and Tragedy

Kakopetria (Greek for place of stones) is one of those villages brimming with history and begging to be explored.

view-of-streets

Nestled into the side of the Troodos Mountain some 2200 feet high and surrounded by thick forest, Kakopetria is the highest village in the Solea Valley. The Troodos Mountain was formed from an explosion of a volcano in the area. When the lava stopped, it became solid.looking-toward-sea-from-Kakopetria

The higher our tour bus crept hugging the heavily vegetated roadside, the more I felt I was shifting further into the center of the earth. It’s difficult to describe the beauty and serenity – and, of course, photos never do justice – but try to imagine the lush green vegetation popping in and out of a forest of pine trees, majestic oaks and even wild olive trees. Hillside terracing spotlights various fruit-bearing trees, such as apple, pear, plum, cherry, apricot and fig that the villagers grow and cultivate.

waterfall-in-KakopetriaA gentle waterfall spilling into the basin within the old village offers melodic serenity and natural beauty. The village was built on the banks of two rivers, which join in the center of the 1500-inhabitant 14th Century village. A hike to the top of the village provides the most beautiful vista of the surrounding landscape as far as one can see. In fact, on a clear day the sea is visible off in the distance.

The entire village is under the protection of the Department of Antiquities requiring special permission if homeowners want to change the exterior appearance of their home. The village’s uniqueness are the narrow crooked lanes mostly impassable by car, and the distinct home construction. The lower portions are constructed with stones while the upper part with clay, mud and bricks. The houses all have tiled roofs and wooden balconies. I found the architecture very appealing.cool-architecture

Almost half way up the steep main street, we came upon the nondescript Church of the Transfiguration. We spent a few minutes inside the small church lighting a candle and snapping a few photos of the interior. I was surprised that even in this tiny remote village, the Greek Orthodox Church also boasted an impressive interior of iconostases. The elderly nun inside knew no English making it impossible to learn anything about the church.church-in-Kokopetria

Back out on the slippery and uneven stone-cobbled road, we walked past numerous winding side lanes the width of a bicycle path and not much more. I can imagine how easily it would be to get turned around if you were trying to find someone’s home. Fortunately for one enterprising homeowner, visitors searching for Irene’s house have a sign indicating the way. Lush green foliage and multi-hued flowers dotted the lanes and flower boxes adding color to the mostly shaded homes. Homeowners lucky enough to have room for a carport utilized the space to grow their own grapes.Irene's-house

There is another reason why this charming village has gained notoriety. Anchored at the start of the climb upward to the residential area is the famous Stone of the Couple. Following an ancient pagan custom of honoring Aphrodite, the goddess of love, newlyweds performed a ceremony by walking around the stone and making a wish. One couple was crushed to death when they lost their footing and tumbled down the rocky incline. From then on, the rock became known as the Stone of the Couple, although locals often refer to it as the Bad Stone. Even today a few couples honor the custom. Eleni, our tour guide, explained that many Cypriots continued to practice pagan customs after the advent of Christianity as many of these practices were deeply rooted in Greek mythology.stone-of-the-couple

Kakopetria is a popular summer and winter resort since its location offers visitors a respite from the sun-scorched temperatures of the large cities, most notably Nicosia, Cyprus’ largest city, an hour or so drive down the mountain. In the wintertime, the mountains are snow-laden offering outdoor activities popular with Cypriots. On weekends, people flock to the village and its handful of hotels are fully booked.

Wandering the narrow lanes and catching glimpses of older Kakopetrians in their windows and doorways smiling as we passed was an enjoyable reconnection with simplicity.

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BUDAPEST: A City of Contrasts

History has blended Buda and Pest into one. But they were two very distinct and separate medieval towns at one time. Buda and Pest each honor their own culture and historical glories amidst the horrors of war and an extraordinary will to survive. Inspired by the past, Budapest’s split personality beckons.

Every city is smudged by contrasts – old and new, east and west, secular and sacred, opulent and downtrodden. From the dignified Parliament building in Pest to the pockmarked, machine-gun riddled buildings on Castle Hill in Buda; Budapest, Hungary is a city of contrasts and complex history.busy Budapest street

The mighty Danube River not only slices Hungary’s capital city geographically, but also culturally. Native Hungarians are quick to correct the naïve tourist unknowingly referring to Budapest as one city. I was one of those bumbling travelers set straight by our tour guide Yuri.

A Tale of Two Cities
Buda, older than Pest and positioned in the western hills, was a very Hungarian town and birthplace to the historic Castle District. It is also the more affluent, prestigious piece of the city. Narrowly crammed cobblestone streets winding slowly in and around a hilly terrain permeate this predominantly residential area of trendy addresses.

The Castle District of Buda became a town seven and a half centuries ago. The former royal palace towers swirl toward the sky on the Buda hillside. Its formation began in the 13th century and was added to over the centuries with its historic buildings detailing the splendid architectural styles of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance.

Pointed arches and ribbed interior vaulting identify Gothic architecture. Baroque is characterized by ornate decoration, carved surfaces, sculpture, color and oval spaces, while Renaissance style architecture, the European dominant style after the mid-16th century, is marked by round arches and symmetrical composition.

But cross the Danube via the Hungarian landmark Chain Bridge, blown up during World War II by the Germans, and you clearly sense the difference.Chain Bridge

Pest, the eastern part of the city, is the newest section – a mere 1,000 years old – boasting modern streets, flat terrain, glass-encased commercial buildings, fast food restaurants, luxury hotels, and the other numerous tribulations of a capital city.

Buda, a Slavic word for ‘water’ and the city of Pest, meaning ‘hot’, assimilated to become Budapest in 1873.

Hot water is just one of the city’s surprises, discovered by the Turks in the Middle Ages. There are nearly 150 thermal hot springs in Budapest supplying 50-some medicinal thermal baths, spas, and medical center therapy pools. The springs supply 15.4 million gallons of water daily ranging in temperature from 70° to 170°.

The thermal baths, constructed in Pest during the 20th century, are in the modern Art Noveau architectural style, a distinct contrast to Buda’s Gothic and Baroque architecture.

Typically, women and men have designated days in which to use the thermal baths, according to Yuri; however, Budapest does have some co-ed baths now.

Stripping off layers of history, I learn that in the 18th century, Pest was Catholic and more of a German town than Hungarian with allegiance to the German Habsburgs. Under the Habsburg reign, only Catholics, Serbs and Greeks were allowed to build places of worship within Pest’s town walls. An exception was made for the German-speaking Lutherans although not for the Jews and Hungarian-speaking Calvinists.

In 2006, Budapest’s religious delineation encompasses 67% Catholic, 27% Protestant, 1% Jewish, and 1% Eastern Orthodox. The remaining 4% are atheist.

Historic Landmarks in Buda
castleCastle Hill, home of the first royal palace and town hall in Buda, was conceived under King Bela after the Mongol invasion of 1241-1242.

King Stephan, the first Hungarian King, commissioned a cathedral to be constructed on Castle Hill. It was named for him in 1850, yet it would take until 1906 before completed. St. Stephan’s Basilica remains the largest Catholic Church in Hungary. King Stephan, canonized in 1083, was responsible for converting Hungarians to Christianity. In the Basilica’s St. Leopold chapel rests Hungary’s most religiously guarded relic – the embalmed right hand of St. Stephan.

Budapest History Museum in the Castle District presents the history and events relating to the capital from the past 1,000 years. The Holy Crown of Hungary is housed here.

Gellert Hill, the rocky limestone hill bordering the Liberty Bridge, is a protected area and named for Gellert, an aristocratic Venetian who came to Hungary to convert the “heathens”. He befriended King Stephan and was eventually killed in 1046 by rebels trying to eradicate Christianity from the country. A small chapel is tucked away in a dark cave on Gellert Hill in his memory.

Fisherman’s Bastion, located on the Buda hillside overlooking the Danube, consists of seven pillars. Each pillar represents the seven tribes that conquered Hungary in the ninth century. Town legend says this section of the medieval town wall was defended by the fishermen’s guild.

Mathias Church steepleMathias Church, built within the castle grounds after 1350, was constructed in a Moorish style of architecture from Spain with its green spire puncturing the blue sky. Mathias Church, as the Hungarians commonly know it, has had seven names. It has had its current name of Coronation Church since 1916 although it is better known as Mathias Church. Remarkably, all of its original stain glass windows survived World War II. Mathias Church sits next to Fisherman’s Bastion and across the street from City Hall.

Historic Landmarks in Pest
The majestic Parliament building, constructed of limestone, rises stately along the banks of the Danube. It houses the largest library in Hungary. If you think it resembles London’s Parliament building, you are correct. The structure was indeed modeled after London’s.

Before and during World War I, the aristocratic Gellert Baths were incorporated within the splendid Gellert Hotel. The baths were badly damaged during World War II and subsequently miraculously repaired to their former glory. The Gellert Hotel is also renowned as an international meeting location for foreign dignitaries.

In 1896, Europe’s first Underground Railway was constructed and became one of the stops for the famed Orient Express. It also served to connect Budapest to Vienna providing the rich and powerful relatively easy access to the Austrian capital’s abundant cultural offerings.

Hero’s Square, an open-air square built in the late 19th century, exhibiting the Millennium Monument, the focal point of Hero’s Square, is a symbol of Budapest. The clustered monument consists of the allegorical figures (War, Peace, Knowledge, Work, Welfare, Glory), the Archangel Gabriel holding the Cross of Lorraine and the Hungarian Holy Crown, the seven Hungarian chieftains on horseback, while behind them in a semi-circle pose the 14 Hungarian kings, ruling princes, and statesmen.

Hall of Exhibitions (including the Museum of Fine Arts) and Opera House are to the right and left of the Millennium Monument, respectively.

When the Budapest Opera House was built from 1875-84, it had to compete with the Vienna Opera House. So, in addition to headlining the best: Wagner, Verdi and Gounod, Hungarians added opulence, the most modern stage machinery of the time, extravagant refreshments, fine art, and gold gilding everywhere to create a resounding effect.
Good railway links assured Budapest and Vienna opera fans of being a four- to five-hour train ride from each other so as not to miss out on the latest opening of a new production or a famous opera singer’s performance.

World War 11’s Destruction
Unlike Prague and Vienna, Budapest was hard hit during World War II destroying its architectural splendor. More than 70 percent of the walled city was damaged and/or destroyed by bombs.

At the time of the war, there were 50 Jewish synagogues in Budapest; all but one was destroyed. The Germans missed the surviving yellow temple, which purposely bore no resemblance to a traditional looking synagogue.

The second largest synagogue in the world was built in 1863 in Budapest, and unfortunately, was one of the totally destroyed structures.

The retreating Germans blew up every one of the bridges over the Danube in 1945, including the Chain Bridge, the first permanent bridge spanning that river and linking the two cities. It was rebuilt and is again a symbol of the shared Hungarian capital.

After the fall of Communism in Europe in 1989, investors flooded Hungary, and Budapest in particular, throwing up quick and cheap business centers and buildings. These are easily identified in Pest by the sheer numbers of glass-enclosed commercial structures, as glass is an inexpensive building material.

bullet ridden bldgToday, city and country leaders are faced with the dilemma of how to renovate their historic and/or broken-down structures seared by the war. Hungary’s economy is still recovering since the fall of Communism; thus, empty shells of buildings and bullet-ridden structures are painfully obvious with a lack of government funds to repair.

As we cross the Danube a final time, one last sweeping, panoramic view spotlighted by postcard-studded landscapes reinforces the complex and difficult history Buda and Pest share. They are survivors.

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Ancient Agora: Shock and Awe

Ancient provides a pretty broad frame of reference provided you can get your head around it. The shock of the importance and awe of the Ancient Agora site solidifies its place in Greek history. Now a field of humble ruins for the most part, this heart of the ancient city of Athens continues to tell its story all these centuries later.

The Ancient Agora was the center of Athenian democracy for more than 800 years. It was here that the most important administrative and judicial functions and political assemblies took place. Speeches were given, political announcements made, and a place for demonstrators to gather. Close your eyes and envision the chaotic scene.

Ancient-Agora-mapThe Agora, meaning ‘to assemble’ or ‘to gather’, was a 10-acre rectangle on the northwest slope of the Acropolis, home to social and religious activities, and featured a bustling marketplace – can you hear the sellers hawking their wares to the crowds? It also hosted theatrical performances under the stars, and was the site of numerous athletic competitions. Excavations show the area has been continuously inhabited since the Neolithic Period (3,000 BC). Now that’s ancient!

Archaic Period – 700-480 BC
The Archaic Period – much younger than the ancient period – and onwards is the timeline in which the Ancient Agora expanded and developed with more public buildings, temples to the gods, fountains, statues and tree-lined boulevards. Stoas were an important architectural element of most main buildings. These covered walkways provided shoppers and ruling officials protection from the sun and rain and offered much welcomed shade. The massive columns holding up the stoas were perfect for leaning against to rest a bit or maybe even engage in some good old-fashioned gossiping.inside-stoa

With the establishment of a democratic government and reforms in 508/507 BC, extensive building began in earnest. The Agora’s first and main buildings included the erection of the Old Bouleuterion (council chambers) the Royal Stoa (seat of the ruler), and the well-preserved Painted Stoa (Temple of Hephaestus) on a hill overlooking the ancient Agora grounds. The Agora, however, would reach its peak during the first two centuries after Christ.

The Ancient Agora was repeatedly destroyed and pillaged throughout its history. Its persecutors included: the Persians (480 BC), the Romans under Sulla (86 BC), the Herulians (267 AD) and the Slavs (580 AD). In the tenth century AD, following a long period of desertion, a Byzantine neighborhood formed in the Agora area, and the small Church of the Holy Apostles – which is charming and quaint – was built.commercial-street

Invaders again destroyed the area in 1204 AD as well as in 1826-27 during the Greek War of Independence. By the late 19th century, the Agora was buried under the new city of Athens. Site excavation began in the 19th century and continues today.

Attalus Stoa
The long Attalus Stoa is now a museum filled with excavations from the Agora. The most important exhibits are connected with the functions of Athenian democracy, which date back to the Classical (8th century BC) and Late Classical periods (300-600 AD).long-stoa

Because the museum presents the daily life of its citizens, many of its findings on display were discovered in houses and shops of the Agora, as well as in tombs because part of the area was an early cemetery. Figurines, coins, lamps, everyday cookware and utensils, and inscriptions to and sculptures of various gods are also exhibited.

Also unearthed and displayed are clay-created public measures, official bronze weights, part of a marble ballot box, jurors’ ballots, a clay water clock used for timing speeches, important inscriptions denouncing tyranny, and names of ancient politicians etched in stone and marble.ballot-box-from-ancient-Agora

Central Area
In the marketplace center was the Odeon of Agrippa, constructed in 15 BC, and used for musical performances. Later on, lectures were delivered from it as well, including teachings of St. Paul. It was destroyed in 267 AD and rebuilt as a gymnasium. Not only did the new space feature athletic competitions, but also educational forums as well as entertainment venues.

Imagine the monuments and temples springing up on all four sides of the agora hemming in the bustling square. Sprinkled with temples and altars among trees, statues and fountains, Athenians had ample Emperor-Hadrian-statueopportunity to make an offering to their gods before going about their daily business. They met their friends here, did their shopping, listened to discussions with revered philosophers, took in plays and concerts, and probably enjoyed a goblet or two of sweet red wine in a nearby tavern. Imagine being one of these social magnets! The Agora was not simply for the wealthy or strictly for men; on the contrary, middle class and even lower middle class men and women routinely gathered here.

Church of the Holy Apostles
One of the most “modern” structures is the charming little Church of the Holy Apostles. It was constructed around 1000 AD on the ruins of an ancient temple atop a sacred spring, and commemorates St. Paul’s teaching in the Agora.

This church became the prototype for later Athenian – and Cypriot – churches in that the floor plan consists of four equal arms topped by a single dome and featuring tall horseshoe-shaped window arches. Bricks creating Kufic calligraphy script, popular in Muslim mosques, encircle the church’s eaves. Over the years, 17th century Byzantine-style frescoes have been uncovered, and though badly faded, have been restored as best they can to their original state. At the top of the dome is a painted icon of Jesus, which appears in every Greek Orthodox church.church frescoes

Temple of Hephaestus
Perched on the top of Agoraios Kolonos Hill and overlooking the Ancient Agora is the Temple of Hephaestus, in all its grandeur, also known as the Theseion.

It is a smaller version of the famed Parthenon; built between 460 and 415 BC (during the reign of Pericles and prior to the Parthenon) with the same pentelic marble and the same 13 columns on its long side and six on its narrow side. According to the sign at its base, an unknown architect designed the temple.

Temple-of-HephIts relief sculptures depict the feats of Greek Mythology heroes Heracles (Hercules) and Theseus (son of Poseidon) along with other stories.

Following decades of wars and destruction, the temple was one of a handful that still had a roof. During the early years of Christianity (7th century), the temple was converted into the Church of Saint George. During the Ottoman rule, the Turks allowed the church to remain open but permitted services only once each year – on St. George’s Day. Sometime after 1821, the temple was used as a museum; the first national archaeological museum of modern Greece, until the 1930s.

If walls could talk, think of the stories and secrets this grand temple could tell.

temple-statuesAgora’s Legacy
To an extent, history repeats itself, but not necessarily in the same form. Now that the Ancient Agora for the most part is no longer, other areas of Athens have become hallmark locations of what once was the case for the Agora. For example, people shop at the Central Market now for their fresh fruits and vegetables; modern malls for clothing; Syntagma Square is the government center of Athens; the light rail has replaced the Panathenaic Way, the main street of Athens that led from the Ancient Agora up to the Acropolis; and Monastiraki Square is the new hub of social life for modern day Athenians.

It’s a shame the Ancient Agora site is not better preserved, as the scattered ruins do not do its storied history and importance justice. Then again, consider what ‘ancient’ takes into account, and the awe value quickly returns.

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Athens: An Ancient Architectural Adventure

In the beginning, the Olympic gods created heaven and earth. Athens, itself, took a little longer.

Where the ancient and modern are interwoven like the strands in a spider’s web, Athens is a chaotic and complicated place. History is everywhere, as are the crowded, narrow streets swollen with subcompact cars and motorcycles, outdoor cafes where at least five unknown languages can be overhead at any given time, and it’s all overseen by an architectural jewel – the Acropolis.

With only six allotted days, we crammed in as many sights as our blistered feet could tolerate. Athens is a city easily and best explored by foot. The red Hop On, Hop Off sightseeing bus was a godsend, however, and its headset “guide” told us things the history books left out.

city-of-AthensFluted columns and ancient arches; rich, ornate Greek Orthodox interior facades; tired neo-classical architecture; imaginative symbolism and stories of mythological gods; marble statues striking a regal pose; Athens has it all.

Our bus tour covered the routes leading past or near the major sites: The Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, the landmark squares of Syntagma and Monastiraki, Ancient Agora, the Library of Hadrian, Olympic Stadium, Roman Agora, the Arch of Hadrian and Temple of Olympian Zeus; we wandered through them all.

The Acropolis
Hopping on the bus near our Plaka hotel, we made our first stop at the amazing Acropolis. Democracy and ancient drama were born in Greece, and the rock of the Acropolis with its famous Parthenon from the Classical period, is testament to this. To do it justice, we booked a historian guide to lead us to the top while explaining the history and mythology behind what we were seeing and touching. The 2 ½-hour excursion was worth every euro.

It is believed that Pericles, a famous Athenian politician, ordered the monuments constructed between 447-406 BC – in the fifth century – atop the 512-foot high limestone rock. The more than 50-year building project of erecting the Acropolis temples was under the tutelage of those considered the greatest architects, sculptors and painters of their time. Most of the magnificent temples built were dedicated to the goddess Athena, patroness of the city.

caryatid-statues-at-ErechtheionThe most renowned structures include the Propylaea, the gateway to the Acropolis, (propylaea means the structure forming the entrance to a temple); temple of Athena Nike, a small temple made entirely of white pentelic marble quarried on Mount Pentelicus near Athens with four Ionic columns (a symbol of the faith of the Athenians in their political system); the Erechtheion, the second largest and most sacred temple on the Acropolis where the gods Poseidon and Athena battled for the right to be patron deity of the city. Part of the temple features the porch of the Caryatids with its six female statues. Five of the original six statues are now in the Acropolis Museum, while the Caryatids today on the temple are replicas. On the slopes of the Acropolis is the Theater of Dionysus with its perfect circular orchestra. According to history, this orchestra was of particular significance for the history of civilization, as it was the main orchestra of Athens, the cradle of dramatic art. It is here that comedies and tragedies were performed. It is still used today as an important and popular musical venue.ODeon-of-Herodes-Atticus

The 230 x 100 foot mega structure known as the Parthenon is the most important temple on the Acropolis. Unfortunately, the forty-six-columned Doric marble structure was never completed. The Persians destroyed the half completed temple, and it was left unfinished until Pericles rose to prominence in the political arena and began promoting the grandeur of Athens and what the city stood for in 479 BC.

The Parthenon, on the highest point of the rock, was to represent a symbol of classical beauty and the supreme achievement of ancient Greek architecture. It originally housed an enormous statue of Athena, to whom the temple was dedicated. The Doric styled façade is perfectly balanced yet lacking any straight lines. Restoration work is constantly ongoing as was evident the day I toured the site. The large pediment frieze that adorns the sanctuary is being reconstructed. At one point the pediments were decorated with about 50 sculptures, but most were chiseled off in the early 19th century and illegally smuggled to England, where the majority of them are housed in London’s British Museum.

east-entrance-of-ParthenonThe Parthenon became a ruin only in 1687 when the Venetians, who conquered the Ottomans, bombarded the Acropolis. The Ottomans had been using the building as an arsenal, and the ammunition stored in the Parthenon exploded, destroying the roof, the interior, and fourteen columns.

As the open double-decker bus made its way through Plaka, the old historic section of Athens, our anonymous “tour guide headset” explained that because Plaka wants to maintain the ambience and architecture of the past and retain its cultural, economical and social development, the narrow twisty streets and lanes remain with limited vehicle traffic allowed. Most of the houses have been restored, as well as buildings of the late 19th century where people of the political and cultural elite of the city once lived.

En route to Monastiraki Square (little monastery), we learned little tidbits; such as Athens’ first tram system began in 1882 with 800 horses. Although Athens has little violent crime, there are a lot of petty thefts and carjacking’s. The graffiti, we learned, was more of an artistic expression rather than vulgar Greek words or political statements. But it was still disheartening to see new or newly renovated homes violated, as they became a multi-colored canvas of painted patterns.graffiti-on-newly-painted-house

The architecture and state of buildings became more evident of disrepair, and graffiti seemed to be everywhere. The 19th century neoclassical buildings, combined with neo-Hellenist style architecture, were apparently all the rage at the end of the 19th century. But as we drove deeper into the city, neglected wrecks of neo-classical facades appeared more and more often. It was actually quite sad to see some of them vacant while others looked like they were beyond saving.

The Monastiraki area of Athens was thus named because of the Church of Pantanassa, renamed Church of Dormition of the Virgin. This church was the most important church of the Great Monastery in the 17th century. A highlight of the area is the flea market, held every Sunday since 1910, inside the Athens Flea Market area. We explored that and the antiques area on foot, trying to conceal our gasps of the exorbitant prices of the antiques. Although we did not score any flea market finds or splurge on any antiques, the experience was exciting and interesting.antiqueing-Athens

In the square itself is a train station, a former mosque now a Greek Folklore Costume Museum and plenty of people milling about. Obviously a popular gathering spot, intermingling with the crowds were various street performers singing, dancing, and performing…. for donations, of course.

Ermou Street, a pedestrian only lane lined with high-end shops, extends from Monastiraki Square up to Syntagma Square. Most shops were closed on Sunday afternoon when we discovered the street, stray dogs lying peacefully in front of shop doors enjoying an afternoon nap.mime-striking-a-pose

Syntagma Square – The Center of Athens
Syntagma is Greek for “Constitution”, and across the street from this square is Parliament. It was so named after the constitution King Otto was obliged to grant Greece in 1843 following a public and military uprising. This is the hub of public transportation in the city with restaurants, shopping, light rail station, a number of statues and two grassy areas ringing the large shaded square. It continues to be home to political rallies and other demonstrations.

The “new” three-story Parliament building, a former palace, was constructed in 1834 of pentelic marble and limestone. At the front of it is the Monument to the Unknown Soldier, which is guarded 24 hours a day by two Evzone guards. The Evzone is an elite infantry unit of the Greek army. They wear traditional pleated kilts (fustanella), white britches, and pom-pom shoes. The soldiers’ skirts have 400 pleats – one for each year of Ottoman occupation – and the soldiers must iron their kilts themselves.

guard-change-2We passed the old Parliament building with the statue of a freedom fighter on horseback in front. Built in 1871, the building is now a historical museum with information and artifacts from the Fall of Constantinople to World War II.

The 40-acre National Gardens, formerly for the exclusive use of the palace, surround the Parliament. It was planted in 1839 for then Queen Amalia’s “pleasure”. Now, open to the public since 1923, flowers, wandering paths in and among trees and vines, foot bridges over babbling brooks, playgrounds, benches, and of course, statues make up the gardens. Antiquities found on the premises have been fenced in.

Other renowned buildings in the square are two historic hotels located side by side: George II and Grande Bretagne. The latter was originally constructed in 1842 as a grand neoclassical mansion. In 1872 it was converted into a hotel. The building was demolished and rebuilt in the mid-20th century. Both hotels are five-star properties.

From Syntagma Square, looking skyward is Lykavitos Hill, the highest hill in Athens, just over 900 feet above sea level. According to folklore, the hill got its name from wolves seen roaming the hillside. At its summit sits the tiny white Church of St. George. You almost need binoculars to make it out. On the back side of the hill is a 5,000-seat open theater that plays host to theatrical performances and concerts during the summer. It’s possible to climb the hill by steps, but our blistered toes rebelled, so we chose to observe from afar.

bronze-statue-of-Zeus-or-PoseidonNational Archaeological Museum
Back on the bus, we passed various libraries and university buildings before coming to the famed National Archaeological Museum, built in 1829, and the largest archaeological museum in Greece. The building itself is a protected historical monument. Here we disembarked and spent an interesting couple of hours wandering the two spacious floors with its never ending corridors – yes, we got turned around many times – inspecting “the world’s best collection of ancient Greek art from 7000 BC to 500 AD.” It was overwhelming to say the least, but with the brochure map and guidebook handy, we managed to locate and read about the top featured pieces, including the Gold Mask of Agamemnon, the horse and jockey statue, the Artemision Bronze statue, the Kore statue, c. 650 BC, the life size Dipylon vase dating to 750 BC, and much more. Its depth of history is enormous.

Athens has at least two dozen museums featuring various arts and sculptures, instruments, icons and mosaics, weapons, jewelry, traditional costumes, etc. covering almost every time period from ancient to modern.horse-&-jockey

Next on the bus tour was a drive past the Olympic Stadium used for the Athens 2004 Olympics. The ancient Greeks connected everything in their lives with athletics. Later the Romans converted the stadium into a gladiator’s arena. Across the street from the actual stadium was a life-size statue of the first discus Olympiad athlete. The first Olympic games were held in 1896 with the first marathon run – 21.4 miles. The 2004 marble stadium was built as an exact duplicate to the original stadium. In ancient times, about 50,000 spectators filled the stadium. Today, its capacity is 60,000.

olympic-stadium-1

Arch of Hadrian and Temple of Olympian Zeus
As we just about complete our circular tour of the city, the final site is Hadrian’s Arch and the Temple of Zeus. This site contains the remains of the largest temple in ancient Greece.

Initiated by an “over ambitious tyrant” (Peisistratos) in the sixth century BC, work was halted five years later when the tyrant’s son was overthrown.

Hadrians-ArchThe temple took almost 700 years to finish. It lay abandoned and half built for centuries until the Romans conquered Greece. When completed, the temple was 360 feet by 145 feet, consisting of two rows of 20 columns on each of the long sides and three rows of eight columns along each end. The temple originally housed an oversized statue of Zeus, head of the Greek gods who lived on Mount Olympus, and later on, an equally large statue of Hadrian.Temple-of-Olympian-Zeus

The new Roman Emperor Hadrian commissioned the arch with its Corinthian columns on top in 132 AD to celebrate the completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which lies just beyond it. An inscription on the arch translates to “This is Athens, ancient city of Theseus”. Yet, writing on the opposite side frieze reads, “This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus”. The inscriptions refer to the founders of the new and old city. The gate allegedly separated the old city from the new one founded by Hadrian.

According to historians, a monstrous thunderstorm in 1852 brought down the temple’s Corinthian columns, and today only 15 of the original 104 columns remain standing. The columns were 56 feet high and that sheer magnitude is obvious gazing upon them, both the towering columns and the single intact toppled one lying on its side where it fell.

Acropolis Museum
Museum-built-on-ruinsThe newly built museum, located across the road from the Acropolis entrance, is modern and shaped in size with seven columns similar to the Parthenon. All of the artifacts are from excavations at the Acropolis, including the five original female Caryatids.

Since the modern city is built upon ruins that extend to everywhere it seems, I was not overly surprised to learn – and see – that the Acropolis Museum was built over ancient ruins. As we walked toward the entrance, the walkway dramatically split in two. At the split looking down were excavated ruins as far as I could see under the walkway and extending to under the museum building itself.

During evening walks through Plaka along narrow lanes with even narrower sidewalks, we often came upon a section of sidewalk covered in glass. Peering down, ancient remains were visible. Lobbies of buildings also had ruins sectioned off. The footprints of ancients definitely crisscrossed the city.

Greek Orthodox Churches
In the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox religion, churches have an altar screen covered with curtains and icons – also known as closed-iconosteses-door-St-John-Forerunnericonostasis. The standard design of the iconostasis calls for four icons flanking the central door. An icon of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus is always located at the left of the door while an icon of Jesus is always at the right. Likewise, an icon featuring the saint or event that the church is dedicated to will be on the far left. The number of iconostases that line the wall differs by church and is based solely on the width of the individual church. Above the door entry are more paintings. Always at the top of the iconostasis is the crucifixion. Likewise, Jesus Christ is always painted on the central dome of the church.

The church is divided into two sections; the main section for the people and then the area behind the iconostases. There are two doors; the priest uses the central door during the service. He uses a second side door at other times. If he is still a deacon and not a priest yet, he goes up to the pulpit and reads the gospel. Only deacons are allowed in the pulpit.

church-near-hotelLighting a candle when entering a Greek Orthodox Church symbolizes the purity of the Christian soul and also indicates that you are in constant communication with God. During services, women and children sit or stand on the right side and men on the left. They must never sit or stand together.

Regardless of how small a church or chapel is, the air of grandeur definitely permeates throughout when entering. Often times the exterior of the church is rather plain, differentiated only by the number of domes on top. (It is very unusual to have a five-domed church.) All churches feature a richly carved wood pulpit and bishop’s throne. The emblem of the Greek Orthodox Church is the double-headed eagle. It is on the floor of every church.

Interior walls are paved with mosaic patterns and paintings. Instead of taking an icon to a church, the Orthodox now give an amount of money so icons can be painted onto the walls. “This way we manage financially to paint the walls of the churches,” explains our guide. But, in the past there was a reason why they painted the walls: the people of the time were illiterate. “They could not read or write, so a way of teaching them the message of the Bible was through painting the church walls with Bible scenes.”

You will almost never see a statue in a Greek Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox consider statues as over emphasizing the physical world, and the religion forbids worship of graven images, similar to Islam. Therefore, Orthodox churches are filled with paintings of saints against gold and blue backgrounds that are not intended to be lifelike. Instead, they are intended to remind the faithful of the metaphysical nature of Jesus and the saints rather than their physical form, which the Greek Orthodox consider irrelevant. The colors of gold and blue symbolize paradise.church-ceiling-design

In the Orthodox Church, a deacon is allowed to marry, which means if he wants to get married, he must do it while he still is a deacon. Once he becomes a priest, he can no longer marry. A married deacon may become a priest however and remain married and have a family.

An amazing culture, religious opulence, ceremonial traditions, mythology and folklore; a country built on democracy and philosophy. Athens is truly an incredible city where it all appears to blend seamlessly together.

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