Over wintering at Kalamata Marina 2018/19

For the 2018/19 over wintering season we chose Kalamata due to its position relative to last year’s sailing plans, because it has a good bus link to Athens – and thus to the main Greek airport, that the marina is very reasonably priced and that Kalamata sounded like a nice place to spend the winter months. On all counts we were not disappointed. In addition, as the “jobs undertaken” at the end of this blog post shows, access to parts and, more importantly, skilled workers was great.

Kalamata is the capital of the province of Messinia and the second largest city in the Peloponnese. It is, of course, famous for its olives and, as we were there during olive picking season, we took full advantage and cured and bottled our own.

Lots to choose from in the market

Mike putting a slit in each one

Bottled with oil, garlic, lemon and herbs – yummy

At one time it was the “end of the line” with regards to a railway link with Athens.

A park has now been created around the old terminus which is very popular with local families and forms part of a pleasant walk between the marina and the town.

The station cafe in the background

One of several engines in the park

There is both an attractive old town……

A traditional “gyros” bar

Weekend music in one of the cafes in the old town

….and a large modern town. Much of the old town was destroyed by the Turks during the War of Independence. It was rebuilt in the 1830’s, only to be almost levelled again by an earthquake in 1986. Remarkably much of the C13 “kastro” survived the quake and inside its walls is a small monument to “Kallimachos Antonakos” who was the head of the Archaeological Department in Kalamata at the time of the disaster.

A fitting monument

Under his tutelage, hundreds of finds and monuments were catalogued and restored to retain the important cultural heritage of the city and surrounding area.

Just below the castle is the Cathedral Church of Ypapantis…..

A stately procession!

….with its many statues of the Messini “episkopos” [bishops].

During November we travelled back to the UK for a couple of weeks seeing family and friends.

Fancy dress for Sue’s 60th

A Ukelele lesson for Dave courtesy of Steve

A beautiful Autumn day – our first autumn in the UK since 2007

….and a lovely walk with Chris, John and Preston

The early Christmas Fayre in Bury St. Edmunds with Caroline and John

Our visit to Bury [Lancashire] coincided with an exhibition in the art gallery/museum which I was delighted to go and see.

The Brilliant Victoria Wood

Victoria was in the fifth form when I was a first year pupil at secondary school. I remember her writing and performing in a “One Act Play” at the end of that school year. It was a pre-cursor of great writing to come though, reading one of her school reports in the exhibition, it is clear that teachers do not always know talent when they see it!

As my three previous blogs describe, we also spent part of the winter touring and, in March our good friends Dave and Margaret came to visit for more socialising and sightseeing. In just under a week we packed in a visit to Kalamata castle…

A balmy 18 degrees mid March

…. a trip to the Caves of Diros….

The cavern after the boat ride through the caves

The small and lovely town of Areopoli near Diros

Toast anyone….

…..a walk along part of the Menalon trail…..

Starting the Vytina to Nymphasia section

The old bridge in the gorge

….. a circuit, by car, of the bottom part of the western finger of the peninsular, visiting a couple of places we hope to visit by boat at a future date…..

Pylos town….

…and harbour

The Venetian well in Sygrou Square, Methoni

Methoni castle and moat…

…. a substantial fortress

Methoni harbour area

….and admiring the Greek countryside as it comes alive in spring.

Wildflower beauty on the Mani peninsular

Under the bridge on the Menalon trail

Big bumble at Messini

Had we known during their visit that one of the best ancient sites is practically on Kalamata’s doorstep we might also have persuaded them to do that as well. Instead we visited Ancient Messini the following week with Steve and Gill.

A great position in the valley

A fantastic site easily as extensive as Epidavros and Olympia but, much less visited. There are two theatres, an agora, baths and the most impressive and intact stadium.

Amazing….

The Fountain of Arsinoe which supplied the city with water

This base supported the statue of Messinian philosopher Ti[tus] Flavius Isocrates – revered by his home town as the new Plato

Part of a partially intact mosaic villa vestibule floor

Grave memorial to an important Messinian family

Doric temple – the mausoleum of the Saithidae – another prominent family

The gymnasium

The smaller theatre

The bath house pillars which supported the hypocausts

In the small museum – a hermaic stele with the head of Heracles, found in the gymnasium

It was founded in 371BC and formed part of a chain of strongholds designed to keep watch over Sparta. We are really glad not to have missed seeing it or stopping for a fantastic late lunch at a local taverna nearby.

Stuffed with wild pig

Christmas and New Year were both fairly quiet affairs as Kalamata, like other Greek towns and cities, saves itself for Carnival.

However, Three Kings Day is celebrated by a swim in the harbour for those hardy souls racing for the blessed cross.

All ready to go…

….blessings from the priests…

… and in they go. NB – snow on the mountains – not the warmest water for a dip!

Lent and Easter are very important celebrations in Greece and we were delighted to be able to join in the “Burnt Thursday” festivities….

Families gather….

….for music in the square….

…and a spot of dancing. I loved joining in.

…..when BBQ’s are lit at nearly every restaurant and people eat all the meat they can before the start of Lent. A fabulous day – especially as it coincided with Mike’s birthday – well, one of them anyway!

A very happy day

Carnival followed with the main event being the parade on Sunday 10th March…..

Bands…

…dragons

 

 

 

 

 

 

… a bit of a drink en route!

 

… floats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Couples….

….groups

 

 

 

 

 

 

….colour

 

 

 

…and smoke

 

 

 

 

 

 

….and then the “Clean Monday” celebrations the following day when a traditional bread…..

Sesame coated Lenten bread

…. as well as olives, taramasalata and halva form part of the picnic that families take to the beach or into the hills where they indulge in kite flying. We opted for the nearby beach.

Nothing like a picnic by the sea

Kites for sale….

…and with a little help from Gill…

… Steve flies his kite

We now look forward to Greek Easter itself which, this year falls on Sunday 28th April.

Once again our winter wasn’t just about fun – even though we did have a lot of that – and, as I hinted at the beginning of this post, there was plenty of work done too.

 

Winter 2018/19 jobs

Our biggest job this winter was to design and have fabricated a new stern arch and a bimini frame. It was a job we tried to have done in Spain last year but we were let down by the fabricator. This year Ioannis [Inox Kiriakidis] came up trumps

In Ioannis workshop – the stern arch

…and bimini frame

Bimini in place

Here comes the stern arch

We then commissioned a full tent and some summer shades from Mixalis, a local sail maker/rigger who also cleaned, serviced and replaced the sacrificial strip on our genoa and jib and checked all our standing rigging.

Mixali putting some finishing touches to the front panel

We then fitted 2 solar panels and wind generator to the new arch and put LED cockpit lights on the bimini.

With a lot of help from Steve

As always seems to be the case no matter how big or small a job, all of this entailed pulling the interior of the boat to bits!

Floors and lockers up

Ceiling panels removed

Ensuring the feet are properly bolted

And so we went from this….

Before.. the old stern arch

… a view from the side before the tent

….. to this….

Front view…

…from the back

In addition we:-

Replaced the main halyard, replaced the spare halyard with the old main halyard and replaced the topping lift with the spare halyard

Replaced the engine room blower and fitted an automatic fire extinguisher in the engine room

Replaced our VHF and fitted a new cockpit VHF speaker

Replaced all the screws on the running backstay base plates

Resealed the cockpit pedestal having sourced some really good grommets actually designed for putting pipes through walls but which fitted the bill for this job

Resealed the main cabin windows

Made a wire lock for the outboard

Fitted rubber snubbers and new stern lines

Replaced the Italian 240v sockets with European standard sockets, fitted 12v sockets in the forward and aft cabins and replaced 4 saloon LEDs

Fitted a new autopilot

Fitted a jib furler cover

Fitted a galvanic isolator

Did the annual service of the windlass, engine and outboard

Replaced our life-ring

Re-varnished and refitted the outboard support on the pushpit

So, all in all another busy winter work wise though the job list never ends and we are already adding things for the 2019/20 winter season which we have again booked at Kalamata Marina.

But for now we are happy to be sailing again and hope to report more great adventures as we head off, firstly to the Cyclades.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/04/23/over-wintering-at-kalamata-marina-2018-19/

The Great Greek Adventure – Part 3: The Peloponnese

So here we go with the third, and final, post about our travels around Greece with John and Jerie. To finish off their trip we spent eight nights in the Peloponnese – three of which were on “Owl and Pussycat” and the others at Olympia, Navplion and Corinth.

Those of you with a knowledge of the archaeology of Greece will know that the Peloponnese is jam packed with historical places to visit and may not be surprised to hear that during the eight days we visited Ancient Olympia, Mystras, Ancient Sparta, Mycenae and Ancient Corinth.

A recurring theme in all the museums we have visited on our journey through Greece have been sarcophagi and mosaics and the sites in the Peloponnese didn’t disappoint.

At Mystras

“The Seven against Thebes” – on a sarcophagus at Corinth

Terracota Larnax from Mycaenae – usually used in the burial of children

Central panel from the floor of a villa – Dionysos with fruit and flowers in his hair – Corinth

Part of a larger floor representing a pastoral theme – Corinth

Fresco from Mycaenae – part of an altar

From Olympia – some of the games

In respect of the specific sites I will start with Sparta and Mystras which are within 7km of each other and which we were able, therefore, to visit in one day.

A fortress town and a former capital of Morea, a Byzantine territory, Mystras commands excellent views across the surrounding countryside.

The convent in the middle left

Built on a jutting ridge of the Taygetos Mountains the town spilled down the hillside with gates at the top and bottom and a third one splitting the upper and lower parts. The cobbled lanes were very narrow and frequently cul-de-sacs due to the large number of buildings vying for space.

Four different building climbing the hillside

“Main street”

There was no room at all for carts and, to facilitate the movement of people, the lower floor of buildings were deemed public spaces/walkways and often had parts of their corners shaved off.

The small palace

Within the lower town lies the well preserved Convent of Pantanassa which houses the only remaining inhabitants of the town [nuns] – if you don’t count the stray dogs, cats and whatever other wild animals roam the site. Quite how the convent survived the various burnings, lootings and sackings which Mystras underwent I am not sure but it and several other monasteries, churches and the cathedral all seemed to have remained relatively intact in  comparison to most other buildings.

Church of Saint Theodoros

One of the churches – now the museum

The Hodegetria – part of the monastery

During its heyday [approx. 1260-1460], and despite several attempts by Frankish waring troops to capture it, the land owned by Mystras stretched for miles and was within the Byzantine empire. I should therefore not have been surprised to find a Byzantine Church, “Christ the Saviour”, slap bang in the middle of the site of Ancient Sparta.

Remains of the Byzantine Church

In fact – it is almost the most impressive of the ruins there! Fearing no-one Sparta did not have walls or fortifications and therefore few traces are left of the legendary city and its fearsome warriors.

The Theatre – the only real “Sparta”

Despite there being so little to see we somehow managed to miss the well-known statue of King Leonidas – which is actually just outside the site. Maybe reading about this will spur my friend Steve into catching up with his blog and including a picture of Leonidas because he and Gill visited at a later date, saw the statue but couldn’t visit the site as it was closed. Between us we should have things covered!!

One of the mythological kings of Sparta was Menelaus, husband of “Helen of Sparta” who was abducted by “Paris of Troy”.  Menelaus appealed to his brother King Agamemnon for help to recover her and thus began the great Greek-Trojan War.

The home of Agamemnon was Mycenae, which lies around 80km [50miles] NE of Sparta and which was described in Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” as “well built” and “rich in gold”. Well-built it certainly was with its famous “Cyclopean” walls reputedly built by the legendary giants of the same name….

The Cyclopean wall was 13m high and 7m thick

….. and the spectacularly solid “Lion Gate”, one of only two entrances into the citadel.

Lionesses were the symbol of the royal house

One of the most important riches found at the site is known as the golden burial mask of Agamemnon which appeared in my earlier blog, “The Great Greek Adventure Part 1”. That and most of the other treasures were found in the graves and tombs. Until the late C15BC the Mycenaeans buried their dead in grave shafts and “Grave Circle A”, containing six such shafts, was for the interment of members of the royal family.

Grave Circle

A new form of burial method was then developed called the “Tholos” tomb – a circular structure also known as the Beehive tomb.

The “Beehive” construction

Just south of the Lion Gate is what remains of the Tomb of Aegisthus…

The Lion Tholos

… but much more impressive is the C13BC “Treasury of Atreus”.

The entrance to the “Treasury of Atreus”

The roof

You really get a feel for the size and shape

Overall it was a fascinating place to visit but maybe rather a shame that the Great Court and the royal apartments of the Palace of Agamemnon were conspicuous only by their near absence!

Is this it?!

Ancient Corinth also lay within the Mycenaean Empire though most of the ruins are from the later Roman period. Extensive, yet compact, as this plan shows…

Must have been amazing

…… they include the remains of the “Bema” [an elevated podium] where St. Paul was brought for judgement having been accused of illegal teachings.

The Bema

However, the then proconsul Galio refused to make a legal judgement about what he considered to be just a religious dispute between Jews and no action was taken against St. Paul. Due to its connection with the Saint, a Byzantine church was later built incorporating the Bema and on 29th June every year [St. Paul’s Feast Day] a service is held on the ruins of the podium.

Remnants of the once elaborate baths can also be seen….

The bath-house

….as well as the fountain of Glauke……

The fountain and the C5BC Temple of Apollo

…..the Roman “Odeion” [indoor theatre] and the Ancient Theatre [outdoor].

The extra scenes were kept in these “wings” and pushed in as appropriate

Theatre “Scenes” had one, two or three entrances for the actors. The sides facing the audience served as the background and were decorated e.g. a temple or a palace. Later as theatrical painting developed, panels with other themes e.g. battleground, woods etc. were constructed and these could be moved in from the side to create a new “scene”. Fascinating stuff don’t you think?

Equally fascinating was what we learned at Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games which began more than 4,000 years ago and where, since 1936, the Olympic flame is lit every four years.

The ceremony takes place to the east of the Temple of Hera on the spot where the Altar of Hestia stood and where a continuous fire was maintained during the ancient games.

The Temple of Hera and, in front, the Altar of Hestia

The gymnasium ….

The C2BC gymnasium

…. was a large rectangular building with an inner courtyard which was the training area for running, javelin and discus throwing. These events were described in the smaller of Olympia’s museums dedicated solely to the Games.

Inside this museum were also exhibits of the original equipment….

A discus and a “jumping stone”

…. and the remains of Olympic crowns.

Bronze olive leaves

I had always assumed that the crowns were “laurels” as I understood such crowns to be given to victors. Indeed they were – but victors in war. For the games, the crowns were of olive leaves. The various champions returned to their home cities where they dedicated their crown to that city’s patron god, on whose altar he also offered a sacrifice. I have deliberately used the word “He” because women were not allowed to take part. Indeed they were not even allowed to enter the stadium as a spectator and if they did, and were caught, they were thrown off a nearby mountain cliff. They were, however, allowed to watch from outside on the Hill of Kronos.

We can all probably think of some form of scandal linked to the modern games – be it the refusal by Hilter to give the gold medal to Jesse Owens, the murder of Israeli athletes, various boycotts, doping and drug use etc. But although the ethos of the games has always been total fair play, perhaps unsurprisingly, cheating was also an issue for the Ancients. Whilst Emperor Nero was not punished for entering a four horse chariot race with ten horses, falling off, not finishing and still declaring himself the winner, other athletes were “named and shamed”. They, or their city state, had to pay for a “Zane” – a statue of Zeus – to be made which then had the name of the miscreant and a description of his offence inscribed on the base.

This was placed along the route to the entrance of the stadium to remind other athletes and coaches that cheating was not allowed.

The arched entrance – would once have been a tunnel

The stadium itself held 45,000 people but the only seats were for the judges.

Judges platform on the right and the altar of Demeter Hamyne opposite

With regard to statues of Zeus, the most famous one of all – a giant ivory and gold statue which was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – was built at Olympia by a sculptor called Pheidas.

Pheidias’ workshop

In C5AD his workshop was turned into an early Christian Basilica.

As well as the Olympic museum, the site contains an excellent archaeological museum and we marvelled at the bronze work much of which was related to weaponry……

Bronze sheet in the shape of a winged Gorgon – from a shield

Just a few of the helmets

Hammered from a thick sheet it was either a votive shield boss or an architectural adornment

A bronze battering ram – the teeth worn from use

…. and also this remarkable Assyrian bronze sheet, probably dating back to C8BC.

C8BC hammering technique. Re-used C7BC on a Greek statue

I was also quite amazed by this bee smoker – a design which has survived into modern times.

Obviously a brilliant design from the beginning

Once again the statues on display were quite incredible….

Nike – a 2.11m statue which stood in the Temple of Zeus

Nike statue as it would have looked with her wings and cloak spread

Hermes – the messenger of the gods

….. especially the two huge reliefs from the pediments of the Temple of Zeus…..

Depiction of a chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos – great Olympians

Fight between Centaurs and Lapiths at a wedding feast

….which I think provide a very fitting way to finish talking about archaeology. Well, for this post at least!!

As you know Mike and I transited the Corinth canal in June of last year and we wanted to show it to John and Jerie as a trip to Corinth but not the canal is unthinkable. Little did we expect there to be actual traffic but, having stopped the car at the western end to look at the ancient Diolkos…..

The ancient road along which boats were dragged across the isthmus

….we noticed the traffic lights flashing indicating that the bridge was about to be lowered.

The Road bridge

Down it goes

Up again – and Mike drives across

It was fascinating to watch as when we went through all this had happened out of our sight. We then took the road on the northern side to the bridge at “Isthmus” where we watched the same ship pass beneath us…..

Looks just as narrow as we remember

…. and then went to the eastern end to see the ship emerge.

As always, between sightseeing there was plenty of time for eating, drinking….

In Corinth – Mike couldnt resist the Sax – and the beer was actually OK too!

Great beer and ouzo at our favourite Navplion bar

…… and partying.

It was a fantastic “Mexican Train” evening! Thanks Steve and Gill for the contribution!!

We had an absolutely fabulous time with John and Jerie and are so very glad they visited.

If they hadn’t decided to make the trip I am pretty sure that we would not have seen as much of inland Greece as we have over this winter. So, thank you John and Jerie for helping to make our first winter season in Greece so memorable.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.sigasiga.co.uk/2019/04/07/the-great-greek-adventure-part-3-the-peloponnese/

The Great Greek Adventure – Part 2: Northern Greece

This second blog post about our Great Greek Adventure covers the time we spent in Northern Greece between 21st and 31st January. During this time we stayed in 6 different towns/cities, drove 2,250km, visited several museums and sites and celebrated John’s birthday. This latter event was undertaken in the usual style at a brilliant Craft Ale Bar in Larissa.

Happy Birthday John

If only we had stayed there all evening instead of going to a less than great Italian restaurant!

Larissa was approximately two thirds of the way between Athens and our next big city stop – Thessaloniki. On our journey between the two we drove along the pleasant Vale of Tembi to the village of Ampelakia where we had hoped to visit the “Georgios Swartz” museum which chronicles the destruction of the village during WW2. Unfortunately it was closed but we had a nice walk round anyway.

Parked outside the museum – a 1950’s Opel Olympia, we think

The old well in the village with the double headed eagle – a symbol of orthodoxy

En route we came across an unusual restaurant!

DC3. John told us the story of his ride in one whilst in Vietnam

Thessaloniki, lying on the coast – but at the centre of the province of Macedonia, has been home to many powerful civilisations. Macedonians, Thracians, Romans, Byzantines, Slavs and Ottomans have all left their legacy and elements of their culture which has resulted in Greece’s second city being characterful and diverse.

Diversity was also a feature of the weather whilst we were there. We got variously soaked, chilled by mist and cool winds and enjoyed coffee al fresco in glorious sunshine with wall to wall blue sky.

Thessaloniki in the mist… from Ano Poli looking down

The oldest part of the town “Ano Poli” was once surrounded by fortified Byzantine walls – little of which now remain.

The great walls and gate

A number of churches and monasteries are dotted throughout the labyrinthine alleyways and we slowly wound our way down from the top along numerous steep narrow streets.

This is the only part of the city to have largely survived the devastating 1917 fire. Ironically the fire actually started here in upper Thessaloniki but the wind which was coming from the NE that day swept the flames down over the lower city and towards the sea.

The influence of the Romans is clearly seen in parts of the lower town – the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda of Galerius being the most obvious examples – though parts of an Agora and the ruins of the Palace of Galerius can also be visited. Galerius was an early C4 Emperor and his arch celebrates a victory over the Persians.

Victorious Soldiers

Of the eight original arches/gateways only two remain and there is no sign at all of the dome which once crowned the top.

Built in AD306 the Rotunda was supposed to have been Galerius’s mausoleum. However, whilst travelling in what is now Serbia he succumbed to a strange and unpleasant disease which, apparently, still puzzles historians and meant that he was buried there rather than in his purpose built final resting place in Thessaloniki. Constantine the Great turned it into Thessaloniki’s first church and the Ottomans then converted it to a mosque and built the minaret.

At one end of the waterfront is the port area, the old port buildings having now been converted to bars and museums including the Museum of Photography which we enjoyed visiting. At the other end is perhaps Thessaloniki’s best known landmark – the White Tower.

Built in late C15 it stands at 33.9m high and has seven storeys. Throughout the centuries it has had various names – “Lion’s Tower” [C16], “Fortress of Kalamaria” [C18] and the “Blood Tower” and “Janissary Tower” [C19]. These latter names were coined when it was used by the Ottoman sultan Mahmud II as a prison, torture chamber and place of execution for long term prisoners and where he later apparently massacred rebellious “janissaries” [elite troops of forcibly Islamicised Christian Boys]. Its current name came into being in 1890 when, allegedly, a prisoner whitewashed it in exchange for his freedom.

There is now a museum inside which is very well laid out and, to those who can read Greek [unfortunately not me unless it’s a menu!], quite informative. We all got the general gist of what the exhibits covered but overall I think I much preferred the view from the roof….

….and the sculpture just a little further east along the waterfront.

Two other museums also aroused our curiosity. Mike, John and Jerie visited the Museum of the Macedonian struggle which was even more fascinating as we had been in Athens when the recent protest over renaming Northern Macedonia had taken place. We also went to Ataturk House – a three storey museum inside the Turkish Embassy which chronicled the life of modern Turkey’s illustrious founder “Mustafa Kemel Attaturk”.

You would think that after all this we would want a break from history but Greece has so much to offer that we just didn’t want to miss anything. So, on leaving Thessaloniki on 25th January we went to the birthplace of Macedonia’s most famous leader – Alexander the Great – at the former royal capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon, Pella. Unfortunately it was a rather drizzly day and the site itself seemed rather uninspiring in the rain so we just stopped outside for a brief photoshoot.

Part of the Stoa and Agora

The Atrium

It’s perhaps a shame that we couldn’t see the mosaic floor of the Atrium but, inside the Museum of Pella, we did see mosaics which had come from the Houses of Dionysus and Helen.

In the most luxurious houses the splendid mosaics were matched by equally colourful walls, painted in the “first Pompeiian style” to represent marble with pillars and cornices.

In the entrance there are two important exhibits: A statuette with the characteristic attributes of the god Pan and a head considered a portrait of Alexander the Great

You can just see the horns

The man himself

Taking good photographs in some of the museums is difficult due to lighting and glass cases but at least I was able to get some form of shots in Pella; at our next stop, Vergina, photographs weren’t allowed inside at all – so this was all I could take to remind us of that visit.

Well…. its a mound!

Doesn’t look very inspiring does it? But, it is the burial mound housing the Royal Tombs of some Macedonian kings, including one which is believed to have contained the son of Alexander the Great. Inside the tumulus are the remains of four tombs, two of which still have the full frontage structure. Fortunately I found a website which includes photographs so the following are credited to www.aigai.gr.

Phillip II’s tomb

The finds from the tombs are also contained in the museum and some of the pieces were stunning. The most impressive tomb, and artefacts from it, was the final resting place of Philip II of Macedon who was buried in 336BC by his son Alexander in the most lavish funeral ceremony ever in Ancient Greece.

The urn and gold wreath of Philip II

A selection of silver utensils placed in the tomb for banquets in the afterlife

I was blown away by the pieces belonging to “Meda”, a Thracian princess married to Philip and buried with him.

The golden diadem of Meda

Our next couple of days were spent in Ioannina, set on the western shore of Lake Pamvotis. The car journey to Ioannina gave us a taste of things to come….

….and, we found ourselves in a brilliant small city…

Part of the castle and old town

….with stunning winter scenery.

Cool – literally!

As well as taking an evening stroll around the castle on the shores of the lake we also spent a day on “To Nisi” [The Island]. I imagine that in summer it is packed with tourists, but on the Sunday we visited it was peaceful even with a couple of ferry loads of Greek families taking advantage of the cold but beautiful weather.

The noisiest inhabitants were a flock of argumentative geese!

As well as several coffee shops, restaurants and gift shops designed to entrap visitors there is the “Ali Pasha” museum.

The main house

Nicknamed “Asalan” [Lion], to distinguish him from several other Ottoman pashas called Ali, he lived a life full of murder, intrigue and extortion. Revered by some, particularly his second wife, Kira Vassiliki…..

Aubusson tapestry of Ali Pasha and Kira

……. and hated by others he most often acted as an independent sovereign, failing to carry out the orders of the Ottoman sultan. Sultan Mahmud II finally had enough and sanctioned Ali Pasha’s assassination. Falsely assured of a pardon he moved to “To Nisi” where he was trapped and shot.

Says it all!

Also on the island are “The Caves of Pamvotis”. First inhabited by monks in C15, they were used in 1940 by terrified inhabitants of the island who fled to them during a bombing raid by the Italian Air Force.

The figures were lifesize

Talking of monks and caves, our next stop was Meteora, an amazing World Heritage site, famous for its massive pinnacles of rock atop of which stand several monasteries.

Wow, our first sighting

The geological heart is the “Adrachti” – the obelisk – a striking column visible from some distance away.

These peaks were once sediments of an inland sea….

…. until about 10 million years ago when tectonic movement completely changed the landscape. Weathering and erosion has since done its work to form the massive outcrops.

Imposing

From C11 hermit monks lived in the scattered caves….

Supposedly the wooden remains of an old frame dwelling

……but by C14 Turkish incursions into Greece were on the rise so monks sought safer havens to avoid the bloodshed by Muslim forces. The inaccessibility of the tops of the peaks were ideal and the earliest monasteries were reached by climbing removable ropes and ladders. Later windlasses were added so monks could be hauled up in nets – still a fairly precarious method! It wasn’t until the 1920’s that steps were hewn to gain access and now, fortunately for the thousands of visitors who flock there every year, there is convenient road access.

According to our friends, Dave and Margaret, who have also visited and spent time walking with guides, these monasteries are now very rich from the takings. They also reported being told that the months June/July/August are not the time to visit! – just in case any of you are thinking of making the trip.

From Meteora we made our way south to the shores of the Gulf of Corinth where, you may remember Mike and I sailed last summer. We based ourselves for three nights in the lovely small town of Galaxidi and finally managed to visit the nautical museum which had eluded us last June. A fascinating insight into the sea-faring history of the town was provided by a local English speaking guide and I was especially interested in these items……

Tools to measure speed and distance covered. The string was attached to a log thrown overboard

….from whence originated today’s Ship’s Log.

Our main reason for basing ourselves in Galaxidi was the relatively close proximity to Delphi. Stemming from the word “delphis” [womb] – the Ancient Greeks chose this spot as the centre of their world and built the Sanctuary of Apollo.

Temple of Apollo

Delphi was at its greatest between C6 and C4BC when countless pilgrims made their way to the sanctuary to take guidance from “The Oracle”.

Rock of the Sibyl

To reach the Sanctuary they had to walk up the Sacred Way, pass the Athenian Treasury …..

Part of the Sacred Way

The Athenian Treasury – just one of several treasuries at the original sanctuary

…. and climb the slope at the end of the polygonal wall which separated the Temple of Apollo from the rest of the sanctuary.

Interlocking stones featuring approx 800 inscriptions relating to slave emancipation

The original bronze Serpentine Column to the east of the Temple was removed in AD324 by Constantine the Great and can now be seen in Istanbul. It was built at Apollo’s Temple to commemorate the defeat of the Persian Empire at the Battle of Plataea in 479BC. This replica replaced it in 2015.

The Tripod of the Plataeans… aka the Serpentine Column once held a gold tripod in the shape of a three headed serpent

Near to the entrance of the sanctuary stood the magnificent statue “The Bull of Kerkyra”. Made from three silver sheets connected together by bands of silver plated copper held in place by bronze or silver nails it was forged by an Ionian artist [from Corfu – hence its name] in C6BC. Traces of the wooden core were found as well as hundreds of small pieces of the metal sheets which have been used to recreate the statue as much as was possible. It now forms one of the exhibits in the Archaeological Museum at the site.

Mind blowing

Other spectacular artefacts included these relief representations of mythical battles carved from animal bone….

Bone reliefs probably depicting the Fall of Troy

…. many statues – some of which were placed against a photograph of the excavations which I thought was quite clever.

Near the entrance to the museum an illustration of what the Sphynx looked like on top of its column…..

The tall iconic column reached 12.5m [approx 41ft] high

……gave some indication of the scale when you saw the actual sphynx.

A gift from Naxos – supposed to ward off evil

The “Twins of Argos” also stood out as examples of the “Kouroi” which I wrote about in the previous blog…..

Believed to be two brothers – “Cleobis” and “Biton”. Pairs of statues are rare in Greek Art

…. and finally, in the end room we saw the life size bronze charioteer which commemorates a victory in the Pythian Games of either 478 or 474BC.

Life size and quite life like

Unfortunately we were unable to visit either the theatre or the stadium but one other structure which did take my eye at the main site was this watercourse.

Great engineering

A little to the east of the main sanctuary lies the Sanctuary of Athena Pronea. Constructed in C4BC, it became the first place of worship for pilgrims who visited subsequently. Unfortunately much of it was destroyed in an earthquake and landslide. The rectangular foundations are all that remains. Fortunately the “Tholos” [Rotunda] fared better though only a small part still stands of what was once a very beautiful building with twenty outer main Doric columns and ten inner half Corinthian columns all made of marble.

Temple of Athena…….

Well, I started this post with photographs to show how we spent the evening of John’s birthday. Rather surprisingly, for my posts, no other scenes of joviality and feasting have appeared so it seems fitting to end with a couple of shots which prove we  took eating, drinking and socialising just as seriously as we did studying culture.

Cooking in one of our Airbnb kitchens

Inside “Foul Tou Meze”, Thessaloniki [What a name for a restaurant!]

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