Thursday, October 4, 2012

Best of western and northern Greece

Tomorrow we leave for Trip 2 to the southern and western Peloponnese, including places like Sparta, Pylos, and Olympia, so I figured I had better do a summary and overview of Trip 1 before the whole cycle starts anew.

Trip 1 was amazing. There. 

Oh, more details?  Well, in 12 days, I stayed in 9 hotels, swam in the ocean 3 times, visited 34 sites and 12 museums, heard 43 site reports and talks and gave 1 of my own, spent who-knows-how-many hours on a tour bus, ate 6 gyros, rode 2 ferries, and enjoyed the company of 21 new friends.  These are some highlights of the 1600+ photos I took (and others took on my behalf during Camera Crisis 2012).

Swimming in the sunset on the first night at Naupactos.  We realized later that the Greeks view it an unacceptable place to swim, but never quite figured out why.  None of us got any strange afflictions, though.

Fresh fish dinner at Preveza.  (Not as good as the Boundary Waters fish, though.)

Inside the cistern at the "Necromantyon."  The guy who excavated here based his entire interpretation of the site on literary sources which discuss an oracle of the dead, including hallucinogenic raw beans, swinging puppet corpses from metal rings, and a labyrinth.  Others identify the site as a Hellenistic tower, with stores of crops, catapults, and off-axis entrances for defensibility.

Hellenistic house, preserved to the second level, at Horraon.  Simply amazing.  The openings you see on the back wall would have been for wooden roof/floor beams dividing the first and second stories.
We do pushups on the reconstructed Great Tumulus at Vergina (the site of Macedonian royal burials, and a World Heritage site).  The museum itself is built over the subterranean burial chambers, showing the finds from the burials alongside the architecture and site of the burial itself.  Fantastic museum idea and execution; alas, no pictures allowed inside, and the gift shop was closed, so no book-buying. 
The first of two amazing meals (and we ate several quite good ones), at the Hesperides Spa hotel near Vergina.  The man who runs the hotel serves a gorgeous buffet dinner and breakfast, and offers cooking lessons.  We'd been eating grilled fish and Greek salad for days, and the roasted meats, stewed bean dishes, and fresh seasonal green salads, with a hint of chill in the air, hit the spot.  And a glass of wine cost 1 euro.  I want to go back!

One of many glass bowls, resembling later cast glass bowls from Israel and the east, found in tombs and displayed in museums all over Macedonia.  Enough to make me realize I really need to learn more about Macedonian glass...
The ferry docks at the island of Thasos.  I could have ridden the ferry back and forth for hours.

Marble quarries at Aliki, the south end of Thasos.  Everywhere you see rocks projecting up out of the water is where the island was literally quarried away, likely by the Romans.  Human transformation of the natural landscape is hardly modern.

Not untrue, at least for the men who spend their mornings and afternoons at the cafes while the women are working.

I give my site talk at Olynthus, a 5th and 4th century BCE town which was destroyed by Philip II of Macedon (Alexander the Great's dad) in 348 BCE.  Archaeologically, it's known for the 100+ houses excavated here back in the 1930s, and many of the finds were saved, allowing for later archaeologists to learn about the uses of various rooms and study sets of objects in context.  One of the first books I encountered when I started grad school at Minnesota was a modern study of the household goods at Olynthus, and it was exceptionally exciting to visit the site five years later.
Excellent meal #2, at Litochoro on the slopes of Mount Olympus.  In the foreground is the "clay pot dish", and it was easily one of the top 5 best things I've ever eaten: chicken and pork stewed in tomato sauce with feta on top, but the seasonings and textures were incredible.  This dish is a specialty of this particular restaurant, "just like mom makes," and we never figured out the actual name of it, but abundant cookbook and internet searching for comparable recipes is in order.  Behind it is one of several meat platters, full of pork and veal.  I and the two gentlemen across from me consumed all our food and the leftovers of all the other tables - at the end we had five empty clay pots and five mostly empty meat platters, the remains of which were lunch the next day with some fresh bread.
Mount Olympus in the morning.  No more gods up there; they've moved to the Empire State Building (per Percy Jackson).

At Dion, the best archaeological reconstruction drawing EVER!  (Sorry about the glare.)  At the site was a great altar to Zeus and a series of 30-some blocks with iron rings, thought to have held the bulls for sacrifice.  Isn't the gore in this drawing hysterical?  Almost as funny as the idea that you could kill a 600+ pound bull and drag it tens of meters up the steps of an altar, and the other bulls would be cool with it.

While I was most excited for sites which I'd heard a lot about or studied somewhat extensively in the past (like Olynthos and Vergina), the places which really blew me away were those which I'd never heard of before.  It really drives home why I'm here - to learn about new things, get beyond the standard textbook understanding of the Greek landscape and Greek archaeology, experience the landscape, etc.  Places like the Macedonian tombs at Mieza, the Hellenistic towns of Kassope and Horraon, and the Aliki quarries on Thasos totally blew me away.

If I have time today, I'll try to make a Google Earth map of all the places we went, and post it here as a jpg.  (I say that to incite myself to do it.)