Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I've got to finish posting pictures of our trip. I'm almost done--a few more posts to go. Bear with me! (By the way, I'm saving the Acropolis, the crown of Athens, for my final post.)

While I expected to see the great Parthenon on the Acropolis, I was quite unprepared for the number of ruins spread all around the city of Athens. Our guide told us that it is pretty much impossible to build because every time a building foundation is dug, another set of ruins is uncovered, and then of course the new construction has to stop. That might explain the lack of skyscrapers in Athens. The tallest building in Athens is 689 feet (just a little more than half the size of the Empire State Building), and the NEXT tallest building is about half of THAT. In fact, there are only five buildings in Athens with over twenty floors. Amazing! And that's in a city this size:
On the other hand, there were ruins everywhere, and in various stages of restoration. I always thought that the Parthenon and other such iconic ruins had more or less withstood the ravages of time. Silly me. I was surprised to learn that major restoration work has been going on since the 1800s and will no doubt continue for another century or more.

The remains of the Forum and Agora (marketplace) built during the Roman period:
The colossal Temple of Zeus. Construction started in the 6th century B.C., but it wasn't finished until Hadrian's reign in the 2nd century A.D.:
I loved the Corinthian capitals on the columns:
Fallen giants:

Hadrian's Arch:

And good ol' Hadrian himself, a little worse for the wear of 19 centuries:

Hadrian's Library, built in A.D. 142 by the Emperor Hadrian:

Random ruins amid apartment buildings:

The spectacular Temple of Hephaestus, the best-preserved of all the ancient Greek temples, completed around 415 B.C.:Front view. Note the simpler Doric columns:
The interior frieze:
I always thought that columns were one single piece of stone carved out of some massive rock. I finally get how it works!

COMING UP: Christianity in Athens

Friday, August 20, 2010

BLACK SEA TRIP: PART 13, Athens, Changing of the Guard

I'm feeling overwhelmed by all the pictures I have from our two days in Greece. I've decided to break it up into small pieces and do several posts, and I'm going to resist the urge to share ALL of our pictures. I hope it will be less boring that way!

I thought I'd start with one of the most unique experiences we had in Athens: the changing of the guard. I've seen several such military exercises, most notably at the Tombs of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington, Paris, and Odessa, as well as at Buckingham Palace. They were all spectacular, solemn, even reverent events. Athens, however, tops them all. We actually saw two changing of the guard ceremonies in Athens: one in Syntagma (which means "Constitution") Square in front of the Parliament Building and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the other in front of the National Palace.

First, just to establish the setting, Constitution Square is ringed by neoclassical government buildings erected in the 19th century. Not surprisingly, they fit right into the Athens style:

The next picture is a bit off topic, but I love the contrast of this very traditional Greek Orthodox priest waiting for a bus at the ultra-modern bus stop.

Of course, any large city square would not be complete without pigeons and a little boy to feed them:

Okay, on to the guards themselves. To begin with, there is the uniform:
What's not to love about a very tall man in white tights and a short pleated skirt, with tasseled garters around his calves . . .
. . . huge pom poms on the toes of his shoes . . .
and a red beret with a horsetail-like tassel hanging down on one side?
Pretty cute, huh?

The bas-relief sculpture on the left is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and behind the Tomb is the peach-colored Parliament Building:
The uniform is similar to what Greek soldiers wore in the 1821 Revolution, and King Otto made it the formal court dress in the middle of the 19th century. I wonder what the shoe pom poms were for?

There was a line of tourists waiting to have their picture taken with the two guards (one on each side of the Tomb). The guards, like good palace guards everywhere, did not acknowledge anyone's presence. They never smiled, twitched, or seemed to blink. It makes me wonder how effective they would be if there were an actual attack on the building!

The ceremony began when the replacement guards marched in and the guy in the modern camouflage outfit checked out their outfits. See him running the tassel of the middle guard through his fingers? (What is he looking for? Fleas?)
Then the guards, both old and new, began marching in a very precise formation across the plaza, using the most complicated steps I have ever seen.

We took a lot of pictures, but they just don't do the scene justice. You have to watch the video:

Awesome, isn't it? The whole thing took about 15 minutes. When it was over, we rushed over to the palace, a few blocks away, to see the scene repeated, this time on a regular city sidewalk:

I absolutely loved it all--the uniforms, the ridiculousness, the strength and grace, the pomp and ceremony. No trip to Athens would be complete without seeing the changing of the guard.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


After our morning in Ephesus, we spent some time at what many believe is the house that Mary the mother of Jesus lived in during her final days before being taken into heaven. The story is that John the Beloved, to whom Jesus had entrusted the care of his mother, came to Ephesus to preach the gospel, bringing Mary with him. He built a little house for her several miles away from Ephesus and the corrupt, Artemis-worshipping masses. The tomb of John is supposed to be in Ephesus, giving some support to the theory. Additionally, the first basilica in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary is in Ephesus. Apparently, in early Christianity, churches were only dedicated to "locals," or people who had lived or died in the area.

There is a difference of opinion about the authenticity of this site.
Catholics: Yes, Mary lived here. Pope John Paul declared this to be the spot, and it has become a pilgrimage place.
Orthodox: No, Mary stayed in Jerusalem.
Muslims: Agree with the Catholics and also worship here. (They too believe Mary was a virgin and the mother of a prophet.)

Statue of Mary at the side of the road between Ephesus and Meryemana:

Beautiful farmland, much like Utah Valley:

Stone wall lining walk up to house:

There was a long line waiting to walk through what was essentially a two-room house, and no pictures were allowed inside:
Standing guard:
The only Catholic nun we saw in Turkey:
Many were buying and lighting a candle on their way out. They were very thin, fast-burning candles:
A picture of the shrine/altar that is inside the house:
Just below the house was a natural spring, the water of which is said to have miraculous healing power. Many stood in line to take a drink.
I loved this Wall of Wishes. Originally, pilgrims would write a wish or a request for a blessing on a piece of cloth and tie it to a tree around the house. However, so many people did it that the trees began to die. The caretakers erected a wire wall to be used for the cloth ties. Somehow it has evolved into a Wall of Toilet Paper Wishes, the main "cloth" now being used. I wonder if they clean it up and start over after it rains? Not-so-fearsome looking government guards:

After leaving Meryemana, we went to a museum that houses some of the treasures found in Ephesus. There was a wonderful storks' nest on the telephone pole just outside the museum:

Guess who?
The museum housed some amazing artifacts. We loved this snake:
And this statue of Artemis (aka Diana), goddess of fertility:
This must have been one colossal statue when it was whole. Notice how it actually looks like someone rather than being an idealized version of the human form so common in Greek statuary:
After the museum we had a wonderful buffet lunch. From the restuarant window we had this view of a private cove below:
Quite the spread:
We ended the day (and our time in Turkey) at a Turkish carpet demonstration. Imagine sitting at one of these looms all day and keeping track of thousands of threads and colors and patterns. Pretty mind-blowing.