Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Greece

When you drive around Europe, you begin to see a pattern: Hard scrabble peasants colonized by the civilized Romans. From England to Spain, From France to Romania – The Romans are usually the oldest civilization represented in the archeological record. 



Then One Arrives In Greece

Even with all the significant contributions the Romans brought to Western Civilization (and there were many) let’s remember it was the Greeks who literally created Western Civilization and deserve the praise for the majority of what we unwittingly credit to the Romans.

It's fitting that we drove the entire length of Italy before arriving in Greece. We were going back in time as we headed south. 

This was the cover of one of my art history books when I was at university. I finally saw it in person


Historical Synopsis

The history of Greece is an incredibly long one. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to only mention that the Minoan culture, which goes back 5000 years to 3000 BC, is usually cited as the first civilization in Europe. The Minoans strongly influenced the Mycenaeans who were the dominate culture from 1750 BC to 1050 BC. With the Bronze age collapse the next phase of Greek history crawls meekly onto the stage and is known as the Greek Dark Ages. Palaces ceased to be built, pottery went back to dismal, and the Greek language dwindled as illiteracy became the norm. This lasted until about 800 BC. After this date things brightened; The first Olympics were held in 776 BC, the people reembraced literacy and Homer wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey around this time. The smelting of Iron changed the course of history and a rebirth occurred. This led to the Greek Classical Period which begins in the early 6th century BC. Democracy was introduced and established in 507 BC, The Persians were pushed back in 479 BC, and the Athenians came to the height of their power around 450 BC. 

“The free participation of citizens in the handling of their communal affairs fostered a sense of personal responsibility.” – A plaque at the Athens Museum

This was the first time democracy had ever been tested. Let’s slowly read that sentence again for substance: “The free participation of citizens in the handling of their communal affairs fostered a sense of personal responsibility.” I find that compelling. Said differently - Democracy begat personal responsibility in a social context. That in itself, gave rise to a new way of thinking. Prior to this, all religion and dogma were focused on man’s relation to the Gods. Man was obsessed with trying to figure out where we came from and where we're going after death. But with new vigor, these maverick philosophers in the Athenian Agora spoke not of ancient mythologies of how the world began and how it will end but instead of “how man should behave during his time on earth”. The focus became human virtues and what is expected of a man. That’s truly transformative.

A round of applause for the Classical Greeks!!! They were essentially the first sociologists & anthropologists. More importantly – they were indeed the architects of Western Civilization.




The Antikythera Mechanism. Maybe the worlds first analog computer. I finally saw it in the Athens Museum

Enough Of The Lofty Stuff - Let’s Get Down In The Dirt

First impressions of Greece: The alphabet is unfathomable and the coffee is undrinkable. 

When your waitress says, "you can really taste the coffee." What she means is, "you're going to eat the mud." It's unfiltered Bali coffee but they've somehow figured out how to make the grind float on the surface. So instead of the evil lurking at the bottom of the cup waiting to ruin your morning, this sludge forces you to chew your way through it first to even get to liquid. No more going out for breakfast.

As for the alphabet – I was a frat boy for a bit and I still can’t decipher what I’m looking at. Might as well be Chinese. I guess the saying, “It’s all Greek to me”, now makes sense. 

The other first impression with Greece is this: Cats. So many cats. So many big healthy cats.

Making Friends With Your Waitress

We always try to learn the word for delicious so that we can pass on a compliment. If you compliment their food, you compliment their culture. In Greek the word is "nostimo" which is pretty easy to say. But there's another one that they seem to use even more. It's “poryorio”. Something like that. I mispronounce it, but I’m close. Close enough that when I mumble it, they can correct me. They know what word I’m butchering. “pogliolio" It's so cute. I giggle like a school girl every time they say it. (It’s actually  “πολύ ωραία”  or  “polyoraia)

The Food

It’s easy to eat healthy in Greece with the simple yet delicious table starters of Dolmades & Greek salad. Then there are the death defying cheeses (fried w honey & a spicy dip to kill for) and gyros.  Moussaka and their wines reversed any good we may have accomplished, and it was well worth it. 

The Ruins

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you know I’m rather fixated on ancient archeological ruins. It’s the intersection of historical storytelling and tangible evidence. I can’t get enough of walking the streets of antiquity and Greece obviously did not disappoint


For 2000 years this statue was hidden in a storeroom that had been sealed off and buried during war. It was only recently found. Can you imagine finding treasures like this? We parked about 2 blocks from the secret spot


Athens

We parked in the port of Pireaus. It was the wreckage of an old building that was now an open-air parking lot. We took the metro in every day for the beautiful sites. The agora wet our whistle and cocktails at a roof top bar where we could eyeball the next day’s Acropolis visit kept us salivating through multiple rounds. Praise be to Dionysus - those were delicious drinks. The sunset immersed that monumental landmark in a stunning hue. We slept well.


This is the Temple of Hephaestus. It's one of the best preserved and largely intact structures from the 5th century BC 

The backside. Pretty good shape huh? The building ain't bad either. This is just below the Acropolis

The Athenian Agora with The Temple of Hephaestus in the background

This is the Stoa that the Stoic philosophers get there name from. It was a gathering area where people discussed important topics. This is not a place like, but the actual spot where Zeno, Socrates and Seneca ushered in a new logic


The Acropolis

Artifacts have been found dating back to 6000 BC and there is little doubt that the Mycenaeans built a palace here around 1300 BC, although almost nothing remains. The 7th and 6th centuries BC saw other temples erected, (All later destroyed by the Persians) but what you see on the Acropolis today is all thanks to Pericles (447-406 BC). 

The Parthenon from the backside. I can't stand the scaffolding that has been in place since I was here 33 years ago

Taken from the Acropolis looking out to the sea


Delphi

Then there’s Delphi…



The location is phenomenal. They built and rebuilt and built some more on the side of a hill that transitions into a lofty mountain. Commanding views of beautiful rolling hills spill out beneath, all the way to the far away sea. It’s 1600 feet off the valley floor and the ancient road to get here was a challenge to say the least.

Most of what you see walking the grounds today comes from the 6th century BC


From at least as early as the 8th century BC (we know for certain from Homer’s Iliad but probably from Mycenaean times of 1600 BC) The Oracle (a series of peasant women from the village) would sit on a tripod chair over a crack in the earth that emitted hydrocarbon vapors. She got loopy and “raved while in a trance”. The priests would translate the prophecy. This went on up until the 7th century AD when it fell out of Christian favor. 

Polygonal dry ashlar building technique without mortar. If you look closely you can see minute inscriptions announcing events


The influence that these oracles had over the ancient world spanned 2,300 years. Socrates, Alexander the Great, Roman emperor Hadrian (even Lord Byron visited in 1809 and carved his name on a column) … They came from all over the known world.  This was the place to be if you wanted to gauge your future in war & politics, as well as everything else. The Oracle of Delphi was the predecessor to tarot card grifters, and the ancient world was as transfixed as we are now.

James and Louise

We met these 2 in Ksamil Albania last year and hit it off right away. It’s nice when nomads cross paths for a second time. We drank too much, we sang too loud, and bonds were forged. After a couple nights we gypsies repacked our caravans and the New Worlders pushed east while the Brits moved west. It was a nice reunion on an Aegean beach beneath the shadow of Mount Olympus. We’ll see them again in Scotland at the end of this year. 




3 Weeks Is Not Enough

We needed to start our 3 months in Turkey sooner rather than later so that we can get north before the real heat of summer cooks us again like last year in Italy. We broke the border on April 1 2024 and entered an incredible country …. but you’ll have to wait for that chapter.

Your man on point,

Blacktop Bobby




No comments:

Greece

When you drive around Europe, you begin to see a pattern: Hard scrabble peasants colonized by the civilized Romans. From England to Spain, F...