Back on Land
We docked in Piraeus near Athens this morning, and most of us were more than happy to leave the ship behind. We anticipate larger rooms (especially larger bathrooms!), better network connections, and beds that do not rock back and forth.
Yesterday morning, though, we visited the Palace of Knossos in Heraklion, Crete. This is a reconstruction of a Minoan palace on the site where it was excavated.
The site at Knossos is particularly interesting because the ancient world was ignorant of its existence unless you count the possibility of a dim cultural memory in the myth of King Minos. Furthermore, if the Romans of Paul’s time had known about this site, it would have been as ancient to them as the Romans themselves are to us.
The throne room at Knossos was noteworthy for an alabaster throne carved into the rock itself and the frescoes of griffins around the room (replica restorations). The guide suggested the griffins were supposed to connect the king to heaven and emphasize the king’s divine authority. Despite its relatively small size, the throne room had no equal anywhere in Europe at the time and would certainly have been awe-inspiring to anyone who visited it after seeing the entire Knossos complex.
We left Heraklion around noon and sailed north to Santorini. Clouds and light rain set in as we approached the island. The rain stopped and the clouds lifted slightly as we sailed into the caldera of the island. We were concerned that Santorini would not have the same effect without blue sky, but clouds or no clouds nothing prepares you for sailing into the dormant remains of a massive volcano and looking around at the sheer cliffs hundreds of feet high all around you with towns full of bright white buildings clinging to the cliffs.
Our excursion was to the city of Oia (pronounced Ee-ya) where once again, clouds or no clouds, the island did not disappoint. Tiny streets punctuated with stairs, suitable only for foot traffic, wound between white washed houses, shops, and churches, many with the signature, bright blue roofs. The terrain was so steep that sometimes a single step would take you from the path to the roof of a house … and at least one had a warning sign advising us not to do that!
After Santorini we prepared to disembark the following morning and spent our last night on ship. This morning we reunited with our Greek guide, driver and bus and set out for Delphi.
Like Santorini, nothing quite prepares you for the effect of visiting Delphi. Pictures do not do it justice. Delphi was the focal point for early Greek colonization of the Mediterranean and remained an important oracle for hundreds of years. Every significant Greek city kept a treasury there and some of those votive offerings are housed in the museum nearby giving us a window into Greek art over the course of several generations.
The site itself, though, is what is truly impressive. The picture above is looking down from the top of the theater to the temple of Apollo to the Athenian treasury and beyond. Further up still is a stadium and the entire complex is surrounded by sheer cliffs on a spur of Mount Parnassus to the north and east.
Our next stop after Delphi was a brief visit to the site of the battle of Thermopylae. It was one of several desperate battles the Greeks fought against the Persians that changed the course of Western history.
To say that a different way, if King Leonidas, his 300 Spartans, and a few hundred other Greek soldiers had not stood firm at the cost of their own lives against a Persian army with an overwhelming numerical advantage, it is not clear the New Testament would have been written in Greek instead of the language of some other ancient empire.
Finally, we reached our destination in Kalambaka, where the hotel rooms were indeed larger than the ship. One of the monasteries of Meteora clung to the cliffs east of the city. Tomorrow we visit a one or two of those monasteries.
Back on land, hotel network connections should be more reliable. We will try to get out daily posts from this point forward.