Tag Archives: Greek mythology

The Paphos Mosaics of Cyprus

Today, their luxury vehicles, private jets and sleek yachts identify the rich and famous. But in the third century AD, the very rich – at least in Cyprus – showed off their wealth and influence with amazing mosaic floors that told stories borrowed from Greek mythology.

The entire city of Paphos, a seaport on the southwest coast of the Cypriot island, and the surrounding area, is on the UNESCO heritage list due to the exquisite mosaic remains discovered. UNESCO extended the area suggesting extensive remains are still buried underneath.

A farmer cultivating his field accidentally discovered the Paphos Mosaics in 1963. No one was aware there were mosaics in the area prior to his discovery. The excavations indicated a large and wealthy series of residences of the Roman period, the first of its type to be found not only in Paphos, but also in Cyprus as a whole. As more mosaic floors were located in the surrounding areas, archaeologists realized that such elaborate and rich mosaic floor decoration was not the exception, but rather the norm for Paphos during the mid-Roman period.

Eleni, our Cypriot tour guide, clarified that in the Roman times, especially in the mid-Roman period, most of the wealthy houses were decorated with mosaic floors. She explained that apprentices or ordinary craftsmen created the geometric frames and background filling in workshops, and the master artisans created the extremely accomplished figured compositions.

At the Paphos Mosaics, the amazing floors are featured in three third century AD noblemen’s villas – House of Dionysus, House of Theseus, and the recently excavated House of Aion – and are considered among the finest in the eastern Mediterranean. The mosaics mostly depict scenes from Greek mythology and are beautifully rendered and preserved. All are in their original location.

Also on site are the remains of Saranda Kolones Castle, an odeon, and the Castle of the 40 Pillars. Excavations are ongoing, and I observed workers slowly and meticulously scraping away layers of sand under the hot midday sun.

Eleni revealed that in 1964 near one of the newly uncovered ruins on the Paphos Mosaic site a skeleton was discovered. What was so special about it, however, was that in the skeleton’s arms was a jar of more than 2,200 silver coins from the Tollemite Period. Apparently sometime in the fifth century BC during an earthquake that destroyed Paphos – this part of the island was a notorious earthquake zone – this individual ran from his house with the jar of money and died on the spot. The jar and all of the silver coins are now in the Archaeological Museum in Nicosia, Cyprus.

House of Dionysus
hunting-scene-mosaics-from-Dionthos-houseThis house belonged to a very rich person, according to Eleni, and was named for Dionysus because Dionysus – the god of wine – is portrayed in two of the extensive mosaic floors. The villa ruins encompass about 21,500 square feet with approximately 6,200 SF consisting of mosaic floors. More ruins outside also belong to the house.

The first mosaic we saw as we entered the covered structure was that of Narcissus. The mosaic is estimated to be about 600 years old. Eleni immediately launched into a story interpreting the mosaic pattern: “Narcissus was a very handsome man and all of the girls in the village were in love with him. But Narcissus did not love any of the beautiful girls; he seemed more intent on himself. So the maidens decided Narcissus should be punished. They told Zeus that Narcissus would spend his days sitting by the side of the river watching himself in the water. According to Greek mythology, to this day, a narcissus flower is at the bottom of the river.”

The atrium of the house depicted four stories through its mosaic floors. One of them is the love story of Thisbe, a very pretty girl, and Pyramos, a handsome man. The two were in love with each, but their parents refused to allow them to marry. The two decided to elope and agreed to meet in the forest under a mulberry tree. Thisbe arrived first. She saw a lion and was so frightened that she began running. In the process, she lost her veil. As the story goes, the lioness snatched the veil, which had some blood stains on it. When Pyramos arrived at the meeting point, he saw the lioness with the stained veil. He immediately thought the animal had killed his beloved Thisbe, so he committed suicide. When Thisbe came back, she saw her dead lover and committed suicide next to him. Does the storyline sound familiar? Shakespeare adapted it for Romeo and Juliet.

Apollo-&-DaphneAccording to Eleni, the best story of the House of Dionysus is that of Daphne, again, a very pretty girl. Daphne means laurel. Apollo was in love with Daphne, but she wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Apollo continually followed her, begging her to marry him, but the nymph refused and ran from him. Apollo began chasing her. Seeing that he was bound to catch her, she called upon her father, “Help me, Peneus! Open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger! I don’t want to be a woman any more. Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!”

Her father touched her on her legs and she turned into a laurel tree. When Apollo discovered this he said, ‘If I cannot have you as my wife, I would have you as my laurel tree.’ Since then, according to the story, the laurel tree has been the holy tree of Apollo. To this day, laurel leave crowns are presented to winners of athletic events.

House of Theseus
circular-mosaic-from-house-of-TheseusConstruction of this building began in the second century AD and underwent many modifications. It was inhabited until the early seventh century AD. According to the excavators, the building was the official seat of the Roman governor of Cyprus.

The main feature of the House of Theseus is its gigantic floor mosaic depicting the birth of Achilles. A second composition is Theseus and the Minotaur. What makes this mosaic renowned is that unlike other mosaics depicting Theseus, this mosaic has the hero Theseus shown in the center of the picture.

Due to the immense size and proportions of this structure, the building has not yet been completely uncovered – nor enclosed to protect the mosaics from the elements. The House of Theseus is the largest residential structure of its type found on the island so far and one of the largest in the Mediterranean.

House of Aion
Excavations began in 1983 and only a small part of this house has been excavated. The uncovered rooms include the reception hall and a portion of the main room. The house was given its name because in the center of the main room is a composition of the depiction of the god Aion, the personification of eternal time. To date, most of the mosaics are in a geometric pattern.

seascene-house-of-AionThe story behind the mosaic named Scene on the Sea depicts the three most beautiful of Nereus’ daughters. They are returning from a competition judged by the impartial judge Aion in which none of the girls won. “Although beautiful and elegant in their dresses, they are angry and dissatisfied with the result of the competition,” Eleni tells us by pointing to various figures on the mosaic. “They ride away on the back of a friendly sea centaur and a young triton, the surface of the sea. A saddened Eros is riding a bull and Zeus and Athena are watching from above.” Eleni mentions that representations of this particular story are extremely rare and those that exist do not surpass this excellent example.

It is interesting to note that these mosaic renderings were made around the middle of the fourth century AD during Christianity. Yet the Paphos Mosaics are believed to represent a deeply cultured and rooted traditional value and creed of the ancient gods, which these artists were attempting to reinstate for the old pagan aristocrats resisting Christianity, who commissioned the works.

Saranda Kolones Castle
arch-and-steps-in-castleThe castle was erected around 1200 AD after the Frankish conquest of Cyprus on the site of an earlier Byzantine fort. It was destroyed by the earthquake of 1223 and was never rebuilt or cleared.

The structure was a compact fortress surrounded by a massive external continuous wall with eight towers and a moat. The approach was via a wooden bridge over the moat. The interior of the castle was rectangular shaped with four corner towers.

Tall columns remained as they fell and the arch above the main entrance still stands.

We did not have time to hike over to the Castle of the 40 Pillars, although from a distance the standing pillars were visible with the sea as a backdrop.

It’s amazing just thinking about the painstaking process of making, painting and creating the detailed mosaic patterns this site is so famous for. But then too to wonder what these people were like who lived here; the ultra rich and conservative who refused to accept Christianity. It’s almost as though their mythology-related stories told through the gorgeous mosaics represented their personal rebellion. The Paphos Mosaics site must be an archaeological connoisseur’s dream.


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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.


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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The Ancient City of Salamis, Cyprus Lives On Through Myth and Culture


Being buried beneath sand for more than a thousand years saved Salamis from destruction. The ancient city originates back to 1100 BC – after the Trojan War – when Salamis was the capital of Cyprus. Coins discovered from the Middle Ages around the city’s basilica indicate there were still inhabitants living in the ruins up to around 1300 AD.

Due to Salamis’ location along the sea, it became an important trading center once the “dark ages” of the Mediterranean world came to an end around the eight century BC. In 648 AD after yet another Arab raid, the remaining inhabitants had had enough and finally moved to what would become Famagusta.

The Salamis archaeological site is regarded as the island’s most spectacular; not only because of the extensive ruins, but also because of its extremely well-preserved state.

Ancient ruins in Europe were considered “free-for-all quarries” for builders of medieval castles. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that various governments began forming antiquities departments and banned site looting. Therefore, Salamis was not immune from the looting of statues, marble columns and pre-cut stones.

According to historical accounts, the city was built and destroyed several times due to earthquakes. The ruins evident today are mostly of the Roman time.

Three major areas of the Salamis archaeological site uncovered consist of the gymnasium, theater and baths. On the other side of town are ruins of houses, the basilica and temple of Zeus, all of which encompass a large area and are still being studied. Excavation stopped in 1974.

Salamis-gymnasiumThis public structure – built during the first century BC – is where young Greek men gathered for physical workouts and cultural training. “Every year one person from the town was elected to financially support the gymnasium and provide the athletes with olive oil,” Elani, our tour guide, explained to us.

Before the games, the athletes would slather their bodies with olive oil. The popular games then took place in the large gymnasium, an open courtyard surrounded by column arcades.

Two swimming pools occupied the two ends of the eastern colonnade just prior to the bath area.

A marble inscription on the floor leading to the Gymnasium is dedicated to Ptoleme V Epiphanes who ruled from 205-180 BC.Marble-floor-inscription

I found the bath area the most interesting part of the ruins, and this area has still not been fully excavated. The Roman baths were customarily located near the gymnasium, just as they are at Salamis. Here we visited four large rooms known as the frigidaria (cold room), tepidarium, caldarium (hot water baths) and sutatorium (sweating rooms).

People gathered in the first bath entry room to socialize and conduct business deals – a type of meeting place – while the second room was strictly for washing and bathing.

The first bath room – the frigidarium – was the room with cold water. Here the slaves or workers provided massages. From here, the men went to the gymnasium to work out before returning to the other rooms of the baths.

Salamis-bathsThe baths were lavishly decorated with marble statues, colorful mosaics and mythological paintings. The entire area was encompassed in rich marble.

After visiting the frigidarium, the men proceeded to the tepidarium and caldarium. The tepidarium room was for medium hot water while the caldarium for hot water.

It was interesting to learn how they heated the water. They used a system known as ebocostas. With charcoal they produced hot air, which passed between tubulars; the same system used for cold water in the frigidarium. Some of the tubular system is still evident.

The sutatorium was the steam room, where we saw the brick pillars that the hot air passed through. When the hot air passed under the marble floor, there was a system in place that heated the water. The small sutatorium needed only a small amount of water; when the water evaporated, it caused steam. Here men would sit and sweat before entering the “cool down” frigidarium room once again.Salamis-sauna-tubular-system

Above the arch in one of the bath rooms was a partially restored fresco painting recounting a folktale. The story, as told by Elani, goes something like this: Before an expedition, Hercules asked his friend Elus to fetch water for the boat and journey. When Elus reached the well, a beautiful nymph placed a spell on him. (The painting depicts the moment the nymph – a woman with black hair and water dripping from her hand – casts the spell, and Elus cannot move.)

frescoes-on-arch-ceilingMeanwhile, Elus has been gone longer than it should have taken, and Hercules realizes something must be wrong. He goes in search of his friend, finds him paralyzed in place, and somehow manages to get him back and free him of the spell.

Of the three excavated theaters thus far in Cyprus (Kourion, Soli and Salamis), this one is the largest. When it was first constructed during the first century BC, the theater had 50 rows of seats (now there are 22) and accommodated 15,000 spectators (now it seats 6,000). Elani stated that a town’s population back then was determined by multiplying the theater’s capacity by four. Thus, Salamis’ population was about 24,000 when the theater was constructed.

Roman style theaters had a half circle orchestra with an auditorium arch of 180 degrees. In the center was the altar. Prior to a performance, the townspeople placed offerings to the god of entertainment upon the altar.1st-4-original-rows-w-altar-in-center

Two centuries later, a three-foot high wall was built around the orchestra and filled with water to provide sea re-enactments. Earthquakes destroyed the theater and it was not rebuilt until 1959 by the Dept. of Antiquities. It is used today for musical performances.

Elani pointed out the two first rows of seats, which are the originals. These seats were reserved for the VIPs of the town. The remaining seats – different color and shape – were reconstructed.

Strewn around the Salamis site are many statues, with the majority having been relocated to an archaeological museum. All had one thing in common: They were missing their arms and heads. There were two reasons for this, according to Eleni.

First, the Christians could not accept that there were still people who believed in the 12 Gods of Olympus; so they destroyed many of the statues as a type of retaliation. Secondly, due to the many Arab invasions, when statues are toppled obviously the first pieces to break are those not directly attached to the body – the arms and heads.Salamis-headless-statues-cropped

The folklore and innovation associated with Salamis, and the baths in particular, are almost as amazing as the actual ruins. I can only imagine the liveliness of the games, the seriousness of the “business” meetings, and the laughter and applause ringing the theater that certainly was emitted from this ancient city.

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