Scrambling around ancient ruins in the warm May weather of Greece and Turkey can leave one thirsty. Here are some libations sampled along the way.
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.
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.
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.
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!