Roman Greece

Discover Ancient Thera

 

The main attraction of the Greek Island of Santorini is its unique landscape. The island was literally blown apart by one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions in 1620 BC. Its picturesque villages, with their white and blue houses, drape along the hilltop overlooking the blue Aegean basin called the Caldera, the crater left by the volcano.

Wall Fresco from Akrotiri

For lovers of ancient history, the island’s past includes an advanced sea-faring civilization with connections to the Minoans of Crete. Their town at Akrotiri, buried during the ancient volcanic disaster, was discovered in 1967 and is considered by many to be the lost city of Atlantis written about by Plato. It is often called Greece’s Pompei. It is not currently open to visitors, but many of Akrotiri’s artifacts are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Fira on the island.     

Head of Artemidoros carved in stone of temenos

But for me, when I visited Santorini this spring, the lesser known site of Ancient Thera was a very special discovery. An extensive archaeological site on top of Mesa Vouno, a ridge on the island’s southeastern side, is open to visitors and well worth the trek. 1000 feet above sea level and the town of Kamari, Ancient Thera was the island’s main town during Hellenistic and Roman times.
Ancient Thera’s ruins include a theatre, a large agora with a basilike-stoa, Roman baths, cult sanctuaries, Hellenistic and Roman houses, and the unusual temenos or sacred precinct of Artemidoros of Apollios with its rocks carvings of the eagle of Zeus, lion of Apollo, dolphin of Poseidon and his own self portrait.
For more info on Ancient Thera visit the Ancient Thera page under Graecia.   

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Rooftops and Rebar

Rebar and Solar Water Heater on Greek House
Bird Chimney Pot on Greek House
Little House Chimney Pots in Bodrum, Turkey
Roof Top Decoration on Samos

I’ve been going through my photos of Greece and Turkey and labelling them. Not an easy task given the number of places and ancient sites I saw. And of course, it is not always obvious what structure (temple? house? latrine?) any particular pile of grey stones is supposed to be. Not to mention whether it is Greek, Minoan, Roman or Hellenistic. And for over a week we did meander back and forth from the coast of Turkey to the Greek Islands of Kos, Samos, Chios, and Lesbos.
So I’m taking a break, sipping some Turkish apple tea, and reflecting on the few somewhat blurry and askew photos I took of rooftops. Who knew that the view from tour buses lent itself to rooftop gazing? Somewhere on Crete I began to see metal chimney pots shaped like birds alongside the solar water heaters, and the rebar that seems to be on about 80 percent of Greek houses.
So began my quest for the perfect rooftop photo tri-fecta (trinity, triad?) – a picture of a roof with a bird chimney pot, a solar water heater and rebar. Not as easy as you might think. I did see a few roofs with all three but taking the picture was the hard part because the bus never stopped near any of them and I never knew when they would pop up. I didn’t manage to get one photo of all three together.
Why is there rebar on the roofs of Greek houses? I was told that it is there because if a house isn’t finished then the owners don’t have to pay taxes on it. This might be a clue as to why Greece is in so much economic trouble. To be fair some of the house owners may actually be planning to build another floor on top of their house in the future for their children. But most of the houses look finished except for the rebar.
Chimney pot decoration changed in Turkey to miniature houses. And on some of the eastern Greek Islands, like Samos and Kos, there were some clay birds and other decorations on roof edges. The rooftops in my neighbourhood are kind of boring in comparison.

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Roman Footprints in Greece and Turkey

 

Crazy Crowds at Ephesus


I have spent most of May discovering ancient footprints on Greek Islands and the coast of Turkey. It has been an incredible adventure. The great thing about traveling is being removed from my every day ruts and familiar things. When you travel you not only see new things and new people, you see yourself and your life in a new way as well.  

 

Aftermath of Athens Riots


And even though I travel in search of the past, I can’t help but come face to face with modern life. Whether it was being in Athens in the midst of riots about their economic crisis, or being in a Muslim country for the first time listening to the call to prayer from the minarets, I get to see humanity and cultures in all their facets.
I discovered some exciting and unexpected Roman footprints during my trip. Ancient Thera on Santorini was not on the itinerary but was nestled high up on the hill behind my hotel so I thought I’d go check out what was left up there. What I didn’t expect was a one kilometer stretch of ruins of a Roman era town. It was amazing.
The Roman tombs in caves beside a beach on the south coast of Crete were another pleasant surprise. I had stopped for a seafood lunch there along the Libyan Sea. After lunch, I just wandered over to look inside, and in the first cave I looked in I discovered niches and painting still on the walls and ceilings.
There were also the famous and popular sites, such as Athens and Ephesus. In Athens, I visited the less crowded Roman Agora and Hadrian’s Library, as well as the must see Acropolis. But while there were quite a few people visiting the Parthenon, it was nothing compared to the mass of humanity flooding Ephesus the morning I was there. It was rumored that three cruise ships were in Kusadasi that day and I think every one of their passengers was seeing the sights at Ephesus.
I’m still sorting out the photos and recovering from jetlag but I’ve come back feeling more alive than ever.

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Ariadne, Karma and Gortyn Law

I should be heading off to Greece two weeks today, Icelandic volcano ash willing. Our first island stop is Santorini which I don’t think has any substantial Roman remains. Our second island is Crete, where we’ll be spending four days.
Of course we’ll be visiting at least 3 or 4 Minoan palaces including Knossos. I am so looking forward to seeing the palace there. It is the site of many Greek myths including King Minos, the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. Another myth set there is the one about Daedalus and Icarus. But the one that I like the best is a memory from my last trip to Greece 30 years ago. Then I stayed on the island of Naxos and knew very little Greek mythology or Roman history. But I had purchased a mythology book and read about Ariadne who was abandoned on Naxos.
Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos and she was the one who helped Theseus escape from the Labyrinth after he slew the Minotaur. Theseus was from Athens and he had promised to take Ariadne back to Athens and marry her if she helped him. They got as far as Naxos before he left while she was sleeping. When she awoke she cursed him but soon she was rescued by Dionysus who married her. Above is the famous painting of this by Titian (in the National Gallery in London) which is quite a wild scene. Anyway Theseus went on to Athens but forgot to put the white sail up to let his father Aegeus know he was alive. So his father thought he was dead and threw himself down a hill and died. Karma.
While most of the sites I’ll visit will be Minoan and Greek, I’ll also be visiting Gortyn which was the capital of Crete and Libya during the Roman Empire. There are several interesting remains there including a Praetorium, an Odeion, and an Isieion. The Praetorium dates from the second century AD and was the seat of power in the town. The Odeion is a small amphitheater which was built in the first century AD, and large stone blocks containing 5th century BC Greek inscriptions were used in its construction. These inscriptions are what Gortyn is most famous for because they are a rendering of civic law called the Gortyn Code. This law covered marriage, divorce, inheritance, slave status and much more.
Other ruins at Gortyn include a first century AD Isieion, a sanctuary of Egyptian dieties including Isis, Serapis-Zeus, and Anubis-Hermes; the Temple of Apollo-Pythios dating from the 7th century BC; and some aquaduct remains. Gortyn was named for Gortys, son of Rhadamanthys who was the brother of King Minos, who were the sons of Zeus and Europa. There is always just one degree of separation in Greek mythology.

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Out on the Roman Road Again

I’ll be heading out discovering Roman footprints once more in May. I’m very excited because this wasn’t a planned excursion but an almost last minute  opportunity to go on a guided tour of the ancient sites of the Greek Islands and the Ionian coast of Turkey. It is a dream trip and perfect for discovering the ancient world with a professional archaeologist as a tour guide!

First site on the itinerary is Athens. Greece became a Roman province in 146 BC. Athens itself became a sleepy provincial university town where the young Roman elite often went for higher education in Greek rhetoric, philosophy and art. Romans were enamored with the culture of the Greeks and the most educated of Romans spoke Greek as a second language. Wealthy Romans owned Greek art and sculpture, if not originals they at least had copies.

While we’ll be looking at the classical Greek sites of the Acropolis, I am also planning to spend some leisure time at the base of the acropolis exploring the Roman footprints of Herodes Atticus, Hadrian and others. Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’ second in command, visited Athens in 15BC and built a new agora in the fashion of a Roman forum. During the second century AD, Herodes Atticus built an odeion and a stadium.

But the true Roman philhellene (lover of Greek culture) was the emperor Hadrian, who visited Athens 3 times. Hadrian built the temples of Hera and Panhellenian Zeus, the arch of Hadrian, and a library in Agrippa’s agora. Other Roman ruins around the Acropolis include the Theatre of Dionysus and a Roman bath.

I have just 3 weeks before my trip to research the Roman footprints I hope to discover on Santorini, Crete and the islands of the Dodecanese, as well as the coast of Turkey. This area is literally buried in ancient history and of course I’ll also be exploring the vestiges of the Mycenaeans, Minoans, Greeks and Ionians, as well as many more older (Persians and Phyrigians) and newer cultures (Venetians and Turks) that have put their footprints on the region. Oopa!

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