Author Archives: Ron B
I was asked for electronic copies of the illustrations in the Atlas and Devotional Guide. I am providing the complete electronic document updated to resolve some of the most egregious typographical errors. Two of the illustrations in the reference material were themselves PDFs, the abbreviated time line and the chart of column order.
Almost all the other illustrations are included in the gallery below. None are perfect; there is something I would adjust or tweak or correct in every one. But here they are such as they are.
We began the day at “Chora Church,” a smaller Byzantine church with impressive but more recent mosaic iconography. This was the oldest iconography in a church where we have been able to take pictures freely.
We then headed toward Hagia Sophia, but we walked through the garden below Topkapi palace, now a park, where the tulips were literally in full bloom.
After a stop for lunch where we sampled lahmacun (“Turkish pizza” the guide called it), we arrived at the Hagia Sophia. Perhaps the best way to describe this massive structure is to say I had a very hard time finding a place where I could capture even a significant fraction of it, inside or out. When Western Europe was on the verge of entering the dark ages, Justinian built this awe-inspring church in Constantinople, the largest structure of its time.
The interior of the building is under constant restoration and one half of the nave was occupied by scaffolding. Much of the structure was still visible, though, including some of the restored mosaics. We entered through the imperial door where hundreds of years of guards stamping their feet had worn grooves in the marble. After a tour through the central part of the church, a few of us were able to go up to the second floor of the building, reached by ascending a long winding ramp at the corner of the church.
Much of what we discovered at Hagia Sophia will simply have to wait for another time. After the church we strolled through the site of the ancient hippodrome with monuments the Romans and Byzantines imported from other regions of the world.
Finally we wrapped up the trip with a stroll through the Grand Bazaar and a ferry ride across the Bosporus for dinner. Those of us returning are in the Franfurt airport now. Watch for additional posts from Tina and others in Cappadocia.
We left Alexandroupoli early this morning. By 9:30 we had cleared the border with Turkey and said goodbye to our Greek guide and driver. We began the long trek to Troy and then on to Istanbul. Although the terrain did not change dramatically, the countryside did. Among other things, churches gave way to mosques and minarets.
The trip to Troy took us down the Gallipoli peninsula where we had to take a ferry ride across the Dardanelles or Hellespont. Along the way we began to notice the crowds of English speaking tourists were actually Australians and New Zealanders visiting Gallipoli for Anzac Day two days from now.
Once on the ferry we made the 20 min. trip from Europe to Asia and drove on to Troy on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles where the strait meets the Aegean. The site of Troy was as fascinating for the way it was discovered and excavated as it was for its multi-layered levels of ancient remains. The guide also observed that Paul left for Philippi by sailing from Troas a short distance south of the ancient site of Troy.
We still had a long way to go to make it to Istanbul, though, so we left after a short visit and caught another ferry back to the European side of the Dardanelles. The potential for disaster struck before we ever got off Gallipoli. We took a short bathroom break and the driver discovered engine problems. Fortunately we were at a relatively comfortable Turkish truck stop, it was a beautiful clear day, and we only had to wait about 45 min. while a mechanic came and resolved the problem. (A leaking radiator hose, we were told, or something to that effect.)
By this time we were too late to make it to Istanbul in time for supper. Our guide made impromptu plans for us to try köfte (a sort of Turkish meatball, although that description does not do it justice) at a restaurant in Tekirdaǧ right on the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara. It was a place frequented more by Turks than tourists, and it was easily one of the most enjoyable and unique dinners we have had yet.
We arrived in Istanbul late. This post will be short. Tomorrow will be the last day or touring, but we have saved one of the grandest sites for last, the Hagia Sophia. Next post tomorrow evening or the following morning from the airport.
We began the morning with a driving tour of Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is a massive Greek port city on the site of the ancient city of Thessalonica. It has been constantly inhabited since ancient times passing through the hands of the Byazantine and Ottoman empires. Today it is the second largest city in Greece and the largest university town in Greece, as well.
The primary monument is the White Tower, an Ottoman reconstruction of an earlier Byzantine structure. At one time it was a notorious prison painted white to cover the blood stains running down its walls. Today it is a modern museum of Thessalonica. We visited it after a stroll down the seaside walkway that follows an earlier Byzantine sea wall.
We also drove by the Rotunda, originally the mausoleum for the Roman emperor Galerius, who was notorious for persecuting Christians early in the fourth century. It was ironically converted to a church some time after. We concluded the visit of Thessaloniki with a stop in the old town where we could get an overlook of the entire city.
The next stop was Philippi where we began our visit with a stop at a traditional site for the baptism of Lydia, one of the first converts in Europe after Paul crossed over from Asia Minor (Acts 16:11-15). We had a short devotion with the running brook in the background.
Our next stop was the site of the ancient city of Philippi, which caught us by surprise. The site is not nearly as developed as some of the other other sites we visited. With the exception of a few places cordoned off for active excavation, we were allowed to roam freely across the site. What is remarkable about ancient Philippi is the number of very large Christian churches built around the fifth century. The guide introduced us specifically to the octagonal church of St. Paul with its magnificent mosaic floor, complete with the signature of the artist!
The difference between Thessaloniki and Philippi could hardly be more stark. One has grown into a massive living city; the other is an abandoned ruin.
We made a brief stop in Kavala, formerly Neapolis, where Paul disembarked on his way to Philippi, and then we drove a couple of hours to our final stop in the small city of Alexandroupoli. The hotel is comfortable, though, and outside the rooms in the lawn that leads right up to the shore, we can see the island of Samothrace where Paul stopped briefly on his way from Troas to Philippi (Acts 16:11). The island’s mountain tops were shrouded in clouds.
Tomorrow will be hard day. We leave behind the travels of St. Paul for our ultimate destination in Istanbul, the former Constantinople. But we have an international border to cross, hours of driving to complete, and a long detour to the site of Troy. Next post from Istanbul.
When the sun rose over Kalambaka, the sky was perfectly clear, the air was crisp and cool, and we were greeted with a spectacular landscape. From the right location the unique rock formations that cradle the monasteries of Meteora could be seen against the backdrop of the Pindus mountains with snow-capped peaks on the distant horizon.
There are seven monasteries around Meteora. One is never open to visitors and each of the others is closed at least one day a week. You can never be certain which monasteries will be accessible until you arrive. As it happened, we got to visit two.
The first we visited was Stephanos, the newest and most accessible. A few days earlier at Patmos we had a hard time appreciating the iconography we saw. Stephanos gave us a fresh perspective. The walls were covered in (relatively) recent iconography portrayed in vibrant colors, and it made it easier to imagine how the icons we saw at Patmos might have looked. The scenes were much easier to distinguish at Stephanos, sometimes from scripture, sometimes from Christian history, including occasionally gruesome depictions of Christian martyrdoms. The churches do not allow photography, though, and we will not be able to show you pictures.
The second monastery we visited was the sixteenth century Varlaam, accessible only by a wooden bridge that led to a long, winding staircase clinging to the side of a steep rock face. We also got to see the precarious rope elevator driven by a wooden wench that used to be the only means of access.
After seeing a brief demonstration of icon construction at a craft shop in Kalambaka, we had lunch and began the journey to Beria (biblical Berea). There is very little left of the ancient town of Berea although modern Beria is a thriving city on the same spot. However, we know Paul visited and we know the Bereans were particularly receptive (Acts 17:10-14).
There is a relatively recent monument to Paul’s ministry there, and the iconography is accessible even to Protestants unaccustomed to interpreting it. The central component is a full-scale icon of the apostle Paul standing above a set of ancient steps discovered somewhere in the vicinity of Berea. A separate panel to the left depicts Paul’s vision summoning him to Macedonia, complete with the Greek quotation, “Come to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:6-10). Another panel on the right depicts Paul preaching and the Bereans studying scripture.
After a short stop in Beria, we were back on the road where our final destination for the day would be Thessaloniki, ancient Thessalonica. The snow topped peak of Mt. Olympus hovered far in the distance to the south of us. Tomorrow we tour Thessaloniki and begin the trek to Philippi.
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.
We have had an exciting two days, but Internet connections from the ship are expensive. This is a mid-journey report.
We sailed out of Piraeus (near Athens) at mid-day Friday, April 17. It was a clear day although the horizon was hazy. We passed the southern tip of Attica and the temple of Poseidon at Sounion could just be discerned to port if you looked at the right spot with binoculars when we sailed by.
Our primary destination was Ephesus in modern day Turkey, but we stopped mid-afternoon at Mykonos. The square, white-washed Cycladic architecture stood out against the blue sky and waters of the Aegean.
We strolled through the tiny streets where it was easy to get lost and ultimately got a glimpse of the windmills Mykonos is known for. The guide travelling with us, though, got us to a cafe in Little Venice where we could watch the sun set across the bay.
We were back on ship by 10:00 PM and the ship completed the journey to Ephesus, where the real fun began. After a brief visit to a traditional shrine to Mary, we reached the archaeological site of ancient Ephesus. The visit met or exceeded all of our expectations. Our guide, Alp, knew exactly where to stop and prepare us so that the next step opened an extraordinary new perspective.
From the magnificent reconstruction of the facade of the Library of Celsus to the lowly excavation of the public toilets, nothing else to this point has given us such a clear perspective into everyday life in a Roman city during the time of Paul.
But even the Library of Celsus pales in comparison to the imposing theater of Ephesus. This is the theater where thousands of angry Ephesians chanted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” in response to Paul’s message that was affecting the sale of Artemis paraphenalia.
The theater is one of the few standing structures we can point to and say with almost absolute certainty, “This scriptural event happened here.” (See Acts 18-19.) The top of the theater is also an excellent vantage point to survey the site of the ancient harbor. The harbor silted up over the centuries and the coast has receded several miles; we had to imagine how it would have looked when the harbor came right up to the end of Harbor Street.
We concluded the visit to Ephesus by visiting the probable site of the church where the Third Ecumenical Council met in 431 AD to make important decisions about Christological doctrine that have influenced all Western Christians.
We were back on the ship by lunch time and sailed for the island of Patmos where John wrote Revelation. We visited a cave that is the traditional site for where the Apocalypse was written. Perhaps the most impressive site, though, was the view from the Medieval Monastery of Saint John where we could survey the entire central part of the island.
We are underway now, working our way back to Athens by a circuitous route. We visit Crete and then Santorini, sites that are culturally and geologically significant but not directly related to Paul. The next post will likely be in 2-3 days.
A few more pictures will flesh out what we saw Thursday. It is difficult to take your eyes off the Parthenon when you first get to the top of the Acropolis, but at one point our guide, Maria Elena, directed our attention to the nearby Erectheion. She pointed out a subtle detail: the figures on the left have their left leg forward while the figures on the right are advancing their right. In other words, the figures are carved in the midst of a ceremonial dance.
The Areopagus, where Paul preached his sermon, was clearly visible from the Acropolis. The rock that constitutes the Arepoagus itself is barren, but I caught a portion of the group milling around in the more likely area below it where Paul would have addressed the Athenians.
Further down still, the Temple of Hephaistos is supposed to be one of the best preserved ancient temples. Less imposing than the Parthenon, it is still alluring where it sits tucked into vegetation just above the ancient agora.
Moving to Corinth, the Acrocorinth looms over the ancient city when you first arrive. We did not visit it because it is difficult to reach and most of the visible structures are Medieval fortifications. Still, the acropolis of Corinth was an impressive landmark.
The bema (Gr. βῆμα), or raised platform, is the likely spot where a Roman official would hear and dispense with complaints. This reassembled structure is a reference point for Christians just because Luke’s account in Acts has Paul standing accused before the Roman proconsul in Corinth. Unlike officials in some other cities, the proconsul in Corinth was unimpressed with the accusations and Paul stayed in the city for 18 months.
Finally, we start Friday by going to the port of the Piraeus where we embark on the three day cruise. It was hazy on the horizon when we visited the Acropolis, but it was still possible to make out the outline of the port behind another promontory.
Network connections may be hit and miss over the next few days as we are in the Aegean. It may be a few days before we can post again. We should be back on the mainland by Monday morning.
Today we hit the tour circuit. We rearranged the schedule slightly. After we briefly visited the reconstructed Olympic theater, we went on to the Acropolis. We walked up from the south side, climbed the steps of the ceremonial gate, the Propylaea, and emerged behind the Parthenon. The Parthenon is truly without equal and the nearby Erechtheion with the Caryatids permanently carved in a ritual dance was impressive, too.
There was construction all around the Acropolis where archaeologists are piecing together one of the world’s great 3D jigsaw puzzles. They have collected stone fragments from all over the Acropolis, some tiny, some massive. They are gradually identifying where each piece goes and restoring it to its original location.
From the Acropolis we descended to the Areopagus where Paul preached his famous sermon (Acts 17:16-34). The guide walked us through the meanings of “Areopagus,” which designates both the hill and the court that met nearby, and she introduced us to the traditional spot where Paul would have delivered his address.
We descended further to the ancient agora, toured the archaeological museum housed in the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos, and visited the Temple of Hephaistos tucked away in a picturesque spot on the west end of the Agora.
By the time we climbed up to the Acropolis and back down we were ready to take a long break for lunch in a nearby restaurant. We were back on the bus before too long, though, and on our way to Corinth. We stopped at the Corinthian canal, built in modern times but following the approximate course of the Diolkos, where ship loads of goods were hauled across the Corinthian isthmus.
Finally, we visited the ancient site of Corinth where the remaining columns of the Temple of Apollo are the primary structures left standing. However, we also saw the Bema where the Roman proconsul Gallio would likely have sat when he showed complete indifference to the accusations brought against Paul (Acts 18:12-16).
We made it! We have all had very little sleep in the last 36 hours, but the view from the top of the hotel is spectacular. The Parthenon and the Erechtheion are well lit on the top of the Acropolis. The Areopagus where Paul preached will be off to the right outside the photograph.
Tomorrow we visit the Agora, the Areopagus and the Acropolis here in Athens. We expect to make it to Corinth as well.