For one week, we follow in the steps of the Athenian general and historian, matching the story with the physical space. We begin in the shadow of the Parthenon, the eternal symbol of Athenian power, join us through this blog as we will also travel to Sounion, Laurio, Delphi, and Crete.

The Three Phases of the War

The Three Phases of the War

Sunday, March 11, 2012

We are Back!

As the days unfold more will be known about this tremendous experience, as we trekked in the Footsteps of Thucydides in time and place. For the second year in a row this was a great experience for me as a teacher taking an outstanding group of young people who were polite, respectfull and thirsty for knowledge and experience. I was especially touched by their great gesture of respect and appreciation.

In Crete there is a very strong tradition of oral history and rhyming couplets that are improvised, which are called mandinades.

This is a mandinada that was written by Pagona Viglis in our honor.

Ενα μπουκετο με παιδια A bouquet of children
Πετρο μας εχεις φερει Petro you brought us
να δουνε και να γνωρισουνε so they can see and know
Και τα δικα σου μερη your home

Τοσο μακρια που ηρθατε You've come from so far
τ'αρχαια μας να δητε to See our ancient sites
τις ομορφιες του τοπου μας the beauty of our land
στο γηρισμο να πητε in your return proclaim

καλο ταξιδι ευχομαστε Good voyage we wish you
με μια ευχη μεγαλη with the great hope
στην ομορφη πατριδα μας that one day our beautiful country
να ξαναρθητε παλι you visit again

In the Labyrinth of Knossos

The 21st century meets the 20th century BC and the importance of naval power in geopolitics.

After witnessing the distinct progression of Cretan civilizations within the Hellenic city state system through our visit to Aptera, we toured villages and sites of the Chania counrtyside. Our hosts at the Kapsomenos Foundation of the Institute of Cretan Studies guided us on a tour of valley and mountain villages, where we picked oranges from an orchard, visited an olive-oil press, tasting fresh olive oil by dunking fresh baked bread. This was only the beginning as we visited a traditional coffee shops, and churches that dated back to the 10th century.
In the evening, we were hosted to another multiple-course meal that lasted at least 3 hours followed by traditional singing by our hosts and acapella singing by Emmanuel students.

On Friday morning, our last full day on this trek, we further witnessed the distinct character of Crete and its civilization by traveling 2 hours East by bus to Knossos and the remnant of the first recorded civilization in Europe. The Minoans that have left their mark on this island build extravagant palaces with indoor plumbing and running water 20 centuries before the birth of Christ. Located in a strategic location surrounded by high mountains (the mythological birth-place of Zeus), had access to the water which allowed them for a strong navy and affluence.

This is a lesson that is not lost on Thucydides as he details the rise of Athens 1500 years later, nor is it lost to contemporary political scientist as we can trace the rise of Venice, Holland, Great Britain and the United States along the importance of naval power.

Following our very informative visit in Knossos, home of the Labyrinth and the mythical minotaur and Europa, we travelled to Chania for last minute shopping, and relaxation as we prepared for another tremendous meal/farewell celebration, which included traditional dancing.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

This is Crete

Two days ago we arrived at Chania, Crete, and from the first moment the difference is palpable. As in antiquity at the time of Thucydides this island was able to stay outside of the war not only due to its physical separation from the mainland and size, but more importantly due its ability to develop a distinct cultural and political systems that were not subservient to Athens or Sparta and thus was able to fend of any attempts of colonization. For instance unlike Sicily which is a bigger island and further from the center of the Peloponnesian War, Crete did not become a battleground during the war. Thus for us within the framework of the war that took place 2500 years ago, Crete represents the ideal case of a successful neutral. Corcyra, Mytilene, Melos, and Sicily are all comparative cases, with distinct outcomes.

In our trek, we have felt these differences and we have been overwhelmed by the hospitality, the warmth of the people and the strong spirit that is everywhere on this island. The recording of ten civilization periods from the Geometric Period to the Hellenistic, from the Roman to the Byzantine, and from the Venetian and to the Ottoman, the largest island of Greece is still autonomous spirit.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Delphic Oracle has spoken

Today we traveled beyond the Attica region and to the sacred territory of Delphi. The center of the universe for the Hellenes, which inspired the Amphictyonic League, an ideological predecessor of the United Nations. After a nice ride up Mt. Parnasus we arrived to Apollo's sacred city. The common places of worship for the Hellenes were essential to diplomatic debate and conflict resolution. After a visit to the oracle site and the museum we sought nourishment in Delphi and a walk in nearby Arahova.

The oracle has spoken and has made known to us that Crete is in our future.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Poseidon was on our side!

Although today has been a rainy day, we enjoyed a respite while visiting the temple of Poseidon at the strategic location of Sounion, 70 km south of Athens. We stood on the rock from which the mythical king Aegeas threw himself in the water when he saw the black sails erroneously pronouncing the death of his son Theseus, thus the Aegean Sea. This was the location of the temple that the Persians destroyed while sailing for Marathon at 490 BC and the location which the Athenians fortified to safeguard their supply lines at 413 BC without success since the war had already taken a disastrous turn.

Today, Poseidon was on our side, allowing us to enjoy a visit to the temple and the drive through the ancient Athenian silver mines.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Athens the Eternal City

Today we continued our travel through space and time, as we moved from our coastal base, inland to the downtown, and from 2012 to the 5th century BC.

Outside of Constitution square, site of the most recent demonstrations.

We were able to be inspired by Pericles' words inscribed on the side of the monument of the Unknown Soldier "Ανδρών επιφανών πάσα η γη τάφος" (The whole earth is the grave of all famous men). These words were spoken by the famous Athenian politician during his funerary oration at the end of the first year of the Peloponnesian war. The speech that defines Athens as a state and has served as inspiration for generations was delivered at the old cemetery of Athens of Kerameikos. Our next stop then had to be Kerameikos, to experience the physical space that inspired Pericles' oration.

After Kerameikos and the museum, we continued on the Panathenean Way, the same path that the Athenians took to pay homage at the temple of their guardian goddess Athena, the Parthenon. After we crossed the ancient agora, where Athenians continue to assemble in this space of the commons to debate and exchange and trade goods, we reached the ultimate symbol of Athenian power, the Parthenon. Even though everyone was exhausted and hungry, no one was willing to step down the hill. Once at the bottom, however, a late lunch, a shopping spree, and a stop at an amazing pastry store, energize everyone to walk to the new Acropolis museum, which allowed us to not only witness the amazing marbles of the Acropolis, but to see the three hills of Athens lit under a star-lit sky. Tomorrow we are off to Sounion and Laurion, south from our base in Glyfada but on the coast.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

We gathered at The Wilkens Science Center, anxious, nervous, yet excited to start our trek and follow in the steps of the Athenian general, Thucydides. With the help of a number of allies, family and friends, we reached Logan airport in Boston our departure point for this adventure. Our trip was uneventful, yet long, but our spirit was never broken and our determination got stronger as we reached Germany in the early Saturday morning or late Friday evening it was increasingly unclear as we were traveling across time-zones and continents. The Athenians and their fellow Hellenes, their furthest expedition was to Sicily, so our task was more daunting. We were determined that nothing was going to break our spirit on this trip, regardless, the long lines at the passport controls or the additional security checks. However, the lack of sleep was beginning to creep up on us.

Our arrival to Athens was glorious, as the bright Attica sunshine, allowed to see as we were landing what the Attica region meant to the Athenians. An area that surrounded the city of Athens that became the spiritual home and the homeland of an empire. Access to the coastline and well protected harbors of Pireas and Rafina, while the surrounding mountains provided shelter at times of crisis. The land of Attica was the basis of Athenian wealth. The marble from the quarries on Mount Imittos and Mount Penteli was used for the temples and sculptures of Athens, the silver from Lavrion financed their construction and the produce from the local agricultural areas fed the growing population.

After a nice ride up the Attica coast to our hotel in the Athenian suburb of Glyfada, we made camp at the Emmantina Hotel. (It was taken as a good sign by all, that the Hotel Emmantina, not only shared its first four letters with Emmanuel, but had the same blue and gold colors.)

We gathered later in the day, and took the trolley to Floisvos Marinam where we visited the reproduction of an Athenian Trireme that is currently being prepared to bring the Olympic flame to the 2012 London Summer Olympics.

We were allowed by a very friendly guard to peak through and witness the marvel of 5th century BC Athenian engineering, and certainly a group picture.

It was now time for our welcome dinner, a walk and back to our hotel, as the sun had set on the Saronic gulf, that surrounds Athens, our first day in Athens was also coming to an end. Tomorrow, Sunday, promises to be another spectacular sunny day, as we will gather at the Keramikos cemetery, the place of Pericles' Funerary Oration, a walk along the Panathenian Way to the Ancient Agora, the place of Athenian debate and democracy, only to be followed by a visit to the Parthenon, the new Acropolis museum, and of course a number of stops for food, coffee, and shopping along the way.