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Patmos > Apocalypse Now July 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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Nineteen hundred years ago, Saint John the Apostle went to Patmos and wrote the Book of Revelation. Today, the tiny Greek island is still a vision to behold.

Nineteen centuries ago, a Roman galley ship brought John the Apostle through the same waters I am cruising now, heading toward the same destination: the tiny Aegean island of Patmos. All these years later, a boat is still the only way to get here. My ferry has been steaming east from Athens for nine hours and now, at 2 a.m., the island finally appears on the horizon, a deeper scribble of black against the blackness of the sea at night. I wonder whether John arrived at night, whether he too saw the stars above the island glittering in the colors that emerge so far from city light — amber, red, pale green, blue-white, pink, the glittering white of no-color. I have the leisure to notice such things, but John — witness at Christ’s Crucifixion and author of the last of the four Gospels — came here in chains, a man in his nineties, condemned to exile by the Roman Emperor Domitian. His crime: Being a Christian, and a prince of the early church.

I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book . . .

REVELATION 1:9-11

The book John wrote on Patmos is the Book of Revelation — the final book of the New Testament, a hallucinatory tapestry of hail, fire and blood, of six-winged beasts and human-faced locusts, of angels clothed in cloud, capped with rainbows and walking on legs like pillars of fire, of saints singing praise in the golden streets of an eternal Jerusalem. John wrote it in the form of letters to the seven major churches scattered across what was then the heathen Roman province of Asia Minor, now western Turkey. In the nearly two millenniums since he dictated his vision in a humble Patmos cave, Revelation’s images have been fodder for cults, horror movies and powerful Sunday sermons. They have given comfort to the doubting, doubt to the comfortable and, over and over again, have been used to predict imminent Apocalypse. In short, the Book of Revelation brought into the world some of the most potent words and images Western culture has known. I have come to Patmos to see what remnants of such a powerful dream may linger in the island’s air, its rock, its waters and its holy places.

At sunrise, a chorus of roosters jerks me from a luminous and hectic dream. I sit at the bed’s edge trying to connect disjointed images but losing them. All that remains is a sense of sound and color. Later I will find out it is a common place of conversation on Patmos: What did you dream last night? Vivid dreams, it turns out, remain a part of everyday life here.

The roosters crow for half an hour, then break off. I sleep again, for an hour or two, before I get up to eat breakfast and explore.

A small, volcanic island shaped like a hook and dotted with minor peaks, Patmos is one of the northernmost of Greece’s Dodecanese Islands, which are scattered like a broken necklace along the western coast. Only about a thousand people live here year-round, most of them in the port town of Skala, but others are scattered in smaller fishing villages dotting the island’s other harbors. While tourists from all over the world ferry among the Grecian islands every season, Patmos is rarely on the itineraries of big tour groups and travel planners, which tend to favor the better-known, more culturally rich or tonier islands of Crete, Rhodes, Santorini, Mykonos and others. Patmos is known primarily as the place Revelation was written and as home to two important shrines: the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse and the Monastery of St. John the Divine. The island receives a steady stream of day-trippers ferrying in from other nearby islands, and a regular dose of Christian pilgrims who seek it out to pay tribute. (more…)

In the Land of the Byzantines July 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology, Greece Mainland.
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Find a heady mix of ancient treasures, rustic mountain villages and tantalising beaches in the Peloponnese.

The church was very small – only a little larger than a big garden shed. It had a domed, red-tiled roof and round arcaded windows. It lay quite alone in the rocky fields below the village, and was built from stone the colour of Cypriot halloumi cheese. It was hemmed in on either side by tumbling terraces of silver-grey olive trees.

The sun was slowly sinking over the hills at the end of a hot day in the Peloponnese, and there was a warm smell of wild rosemary and cypress resin in the air; from the higher slopes, the tinkle of goat-bells cut through the drowsy background whir of cicadas as a pair of shepherd children led the long-horned flocks back in for the night through the heat of the long dry grass.

We had been sitting in the shade of the ilexes, watching the shadows lengthen and the sun go down for some time before the old man appeared, carrying in his hand a huge primeval key. He turned it in the wards of the Byzantine lock and, with a great creak, the door opened.

After a fortnight in the Peloponnese we had become used to seeing wonders in the most unexpected places, but nothing prepared us for what lay inside. After all, this village – Geraki – did not feature in any of our guidebooks, and we had stumbled on it quite by chance as we drove towards the coast where we were due to spend the night.

It took a few seconds for our eyes to adjust from the bright light of the olive groves to the darkly frescoed gloom of the interior. Slowly, out of the shadows, there appeared an entire, glittering Byzantine court. Despite the modest size of the church and its remote and rustic situation, the wall paintings inside portrayed a courtly world of alluring brilliance and sophistication.

The last rays of the sun, pouring through the narrow doorway on to the foot-polished stone floor, illuminated a pair of youthful, confident and wide-eyed Byzantine soldiers: a young, swaggering St George astride his white charger and, standing at ease slightly to his left, leaning lightly on his spear at the end of the arcade, a dazzlingly handsome St Demetrius with dark-tanned skin, a mail coat, a bow slung over his shoulder and a single, rather dandyish earring glinting from his right lobe. Above the two men lay a line of roundels containing portrait heads of worldly looking empresses – Theodora, Helena, Irene – all wearing crowns of large glistening pearls and court robes of gilded silk set against the imperial purple of the Constantinople palace. Elsewhere, in the apse and narthex, stood ranks of Byzantine courtiers, spectators on biblical scenes: exarches and tetrarchs, prefects and governors, thassolocrats and polemarchs, a Grand Logothete and a Chartophylax, swarms of aristocratic Palaeologi and Cantacuzene.

These portraits were all so astonishingly realistic that you found yourself fighting to restrain a gasp as you stared, eyeball to eyeball, with a soldier who could have fought the Turks on the walls of Constantinople; or a bejewelled society lady who may have known the last Byzantine emperor. They were portraits so humane, whose handsome faces seemed so startlingly contemporary in their features and expressions, that you had to keep reminding yourself that these sitters were not from our world, that they had not just wandered in from the better drawing rooms of Athens or one of the more fashionable beaches of Spetses.

There was none of the other worldly religious asceticism that you sometimes find in early Byzantine mosaics – sunken-cheeked desert fathers or long-bearded hermits so unreasonably saintly that they are barely human. This, you knew immediately, was the art of an urbane and worldly society that valued beauty, elegance and sophistication. It was also a world that had no doubts as to its own value: there was no hint of anxiety or vulnerability in these self-assured neoclassical faces. There was certainly no indication in the untrammelled confidence in these young and beautiful figures that this was also the art of a society on the verge of defeat and extinction.

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Athens Metro expands July 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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This morning while driving at Vouliagmenis Avenue, I noticed that Athens Metro expansion works have already started. The new metro line (under construction) will expand existing line from Ayios Demetrios to Helliniko area.

For additional information just visit Athens Metro’s web site at www.ametro.gr and or use this link http://www.ametro.gr/cgi-bin/showextens.cgi   

A popular place in the sun > Mykonos July 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands Aegean.
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The young and beautiful types who flock to the island of Mykonos come in search of Paradise.

At first sight, Mykonos looks like most other Greek islands – arid, rocky and strewn with dazzling white sugar-cube houses. Take a closer look and you discover a hedonistic world of style slaves on scooters, scrambling around a pot-holed paradise in search of seventh heaven.

I arrived in time to head for the beach and soak up the last rays of the late afternoon sun. By 6pm, at the wooden beach bar at the end of Super Paradise beach, a horde of silver-bikini-clad girls and sarong-wrapped boys were jumping and gyrating to their favourite dance tunes around a swimming pool. Meanwhile, at the Coca Club bar at the other end of the beach, a group of nice young men wearing the latest Dolce & Gabbana swimming trunks were dancing with each other and posing around a pool built on top of a rocky outcrop.

The capital of gay travel destinations for many years, Mykonos has metamorphosed into one of the most stylish – and expensive – of the Aegean islands. During the season planeloads of fashionable Italian, French and German tourists of all descriptions drop from the sky to enjoy life on the island where Shirley Valentine jumped ship.

It is easy to see why Mykonos first became so popular – it has all the quintessential ingredients: an attractive whitewashed town built around a picture-postcard harbour complete with windmills, bright white houses with blue or green shutters, hundreds of pretty pink- and blue-domed chapels, numerous rocky coves and sandy bays with sparkling clear waters, and, of course, an airport.

There are only two difficult decisions to be made here each day: which beach to favour and where to have dinner. The first depends on the demographic to which you belong, where you are staying and what transport you have. The second depends on whether you want to eat Greek or sample the numerous other cuisines on offer.

Surprisingly, on an island measuring nine miles by six, you are spoilt for beach choice. The busiest are those south of Mykonos Town and the farther away you get, the more chance you have of finding more space. The main beaches are well serviced by the local buses, which run frequently during the day and into the night, though many visitors prefer to hire a scooter.

At beach rush hour the landscape resembles a dusty Scalextric track, with motorcycles and Jeeps hurtling beautiful people along the narrow switchback lanes. A more relaxing alternative is to take one of the local caiques, the pretty little boats that line Mykonos harbour and ferry you to Paradise Beach and beyond.

I’d imagined that with names like Paradise and Super Paradise, the beaches would go on for ever, but they don’t. Approached from on high, down treacherously steep rocky roads, they at first appear diminutive, dotted with sun loungers and wooden umbrellas. Paradise is very much the preserve of the twentysomethings (and those who still think they are), and has the unfortunate distinction of being approached via a camp site. Super Paradise is also for a youngish and more affluent crowd (predominantly gay at one end).

I hired a car and spent most of my days farther afield on Elia beach, favoured by an older crowd and the likes of fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, who was there most days with his jolly Euro-chums. Bikini-wearing Greek girls with walkie-talkies walk back and forth along one of the island’s longest stretches of sand, taking drink and food orders from the local taverna. Here, as on the other beaches, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the sarong is the island’s national dress for both sexes.

For exercise, the swimming and snorkelling opportunities around the rocks at the far end of the beach are fantastic. If you feel so inclined, you can water-ski, ride on a big yellow banana or be hurtled around in a rubber ring behind a speedboat.

Most of the southern beaches are approached via steep cliff paths and it is possible to walk from one to the other, but few do. I got as far as walking 10 minutes over the rocks to neighbouring Agrari beach and had lunch in the delightful flower garden of the cafe there. With safe, shallow waters, the beaches immediately south of Mykonos TownOrnos, Psarou and Plati Yialos – are ideal for families.

Each evening, around 7pm, I dragged myself away from my lounger and explored a different part of the island. Here a car is essential because the roads are poor and at times I wished I’d had a four-wheel drive as I rolled backwards down a dusty dirt track. The northern beaches of Panormos and Agios Sostis are worth finding as few tourists venture there. For the best sunset moment, a drink at Manoula’s at Agios Giannis in the west is recommended. If you happen to be in Mykonos Town, have a sundowner at the Scarpa cocktail bar in Little Venice, so called because the high, Venetian-style buildings are built up from the lapping water’s edge.

Mykonos Town is a labyrinth of pristine, narrow whitewashed lanes, originally designed to baffle invading pirates. Today they confuse the tourists who repeatedly shuffle and funnel past the designer boutiques, bars and restaurants. Find your bearings by identifying the three main streets, Matogianni, Enoplon Dynameon and Mitropoleos and you shouldn’t go far wrong. One moment you are passing the windows of stores that stay open until well after midnight, selling Armani and Moschino; the next, you are looking in through an open doorway to see a traditional Greek granny dressed in black wielding a brightly coloured fly-swat.

The later it grows, the louder it becomes, with music pumping out from the disco bars – most of the nightlife doesn’t ignite until 2am. The best restaurants are around Kalogera, off Matogianni. At Chez Maria’s Garden, under an arbour groaning from the weight of bougainvillea, a candlelit feast awaits you, but expect to pay at least €50 per head. At La Maison de Katrine, you can relish some fine French cooking; for variety, try La Mexicana.

For the ultimate dinner I headed for the Kivotos Club Hotel in Ornos. On a pretty terrace overlooking the hotel’s Greek folly gardens and Ornos Bay, I ate a salad of smoked salmon with avocado, coriander seeds, basmati rice and rocket, followed by black tortelloni with truffle in a Champagne and truffle sauce. The bill came to a staggering – by Greek standards – €85 per head and the service was snooty.

I stayed in more humble surroundings – a simple, self-catering studio in Agios Stefanos, a sleepy little hillside hamlet a couple of miles north of Mykonos Town. No pumping disco music here to keep me awake, only the barking of dogs and the crowing of cockerels heralding the dawn.

On my one big night out early in the week, I danced in Sabbia’s – a minimalist chrome, glass and steel establishment where we were encouraged to dance on the tables. We decided to jump in a taxi to Cavo Paradiso, the cliff-top open-air club above Paradise Beach that opens at 3am and goes on until well after dawn. Around the open-air pool we swayed on the concrete terraces until 5am and left in a cloud of dust as revellers were still arriving.

Most nights, though, I was tucked up by midnight, which explained why I was usually on the beach about four hours before everyone else, and why, on the night before I left, when I bumped into some friends again, they looked paler than before, proving that everyone has a different vision of paradise.

Acropolis mountain climbing July 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece.
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Archaeologists carrying out conservation work on Greece’s most prized monument have hit on a new extreme sport, one unlikely to feature in visitor tours anytime soon — rappeling down the walls of the Acropolis, the ancient citadel overlooking Athens.

Part of an operation to determine the condition of the walls — which are over 2,300 years old — the stunt teamed conservation experts with veteran mountaineers enlisted to place electrode sensors on the citadel’s southern side, a senior archaeologist said on Sunday.

Maria Ioannidou, the senior archeologist in charge of conservation work on the Acropolis, said the sensor readings would be used to compile a geological scan of the walls and detect any possible damage caused by centuries of soil erosion and water seepage.

“The original surface of the citadel was much higher; what we see today is the result of several excavations,” Ioannidou said. “As a result, there is the possibility of water seeping into the walls. We are just inspecting the wall’s condition at this stage,” she added.

Return the Elgin marbles to Greece July 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Greece, Culture History Mythology.
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A cross-party New Zealand parliamentary committee has waded into one of the world’s longest-running and most controversial diplomatic disputes, urging the Government to ask Britain to return the Elgin marbles to Greece.

The foreign affairs select committee said yesterday it had completed consideration of a petition from Bruce Blades and 1020 others urging the Government to push for the marbles’ return.

The committee recommended: “That the Government ask the British Government to consider sympathetically the generous Greek offer of joint ownership of the marbles to facilitate their return to Athens.”

The report was written by MPs from Labour, National and the Greens, representing more than 100 MPs of the 121-seat Parliament.

According to Greek history, the marbles were stolen from the Parthenon building in the Acropolis complex in 1806 by Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire which occupied Greece at the time.

But London has always denied Greek claims to ownership and maintains that the marbles were bought legitimately from the Ottoman authorities.

Britain also backs the claims of some archeologists that the marbles would be in danger if they were returned.

The Greek Government has dismissed the claims that the foundations of the Acropolis monument in Athens are threatened by rainwater that has seeped into the soil of the ancient citadel.

Of most concern is the fifth-century BC Parthenon temple, which had its roof destroyed during a 17th century siege of the Acropolis by Venetian forces.

The Acropolis, a World Heritage site, has been undergoing restoration for more than 20 years. The majority of the work is expected to be completed by late 2006.

Myth inspires Cypriots to dig into past July 10, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Archaeology Cyprus.
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Residents of Tseri, a Cypriot village, intrigued for decades by a tale of buried treasure and an underground flight of steps leading nowhere, have decided to get to the bottom of the mystery.

More than half a century after British colonial rulers forced them to abandon their last attempt to explore the site, residents of Tseri village in central Cyprus have begun excavating the 1500-year-old tunnel and stairway.

Antiquities officials say the stone structure is part of an ancient irrigation network.

Residents romanticise, half jokingly, that it may lead to “Aphrodite’s Golden Carriage” – a euphemism for a hidden treasure dating from Roman times, between 58BC and 330AD.

They speak of a little-known legend that the rulers of Cyprus would move treasures to the centre of the island and hide them from raiders who plundered the coast in ancient times.

“It is a myth. We don’t know if it is true. A myth is a myth. But without knowing, you cannot totally rule something out either,” said Alkis Constantinou, community leader of Tseri, a community of 6 000 people 15km from the capital, Nicosia.

“It most likely leads to an underground reservoir, but it’s unique for around here,” said Constantinou as he stood above a gaping hole in the middle of an olive grove, exposing an arch of yellow sandstone, walls and a few steps.

The community intended to buy the field to pursue their explorations and ensure the site was properly preserved, he said.

Tales of hoards of great wealth are heard in other communities across the guitar-shaped island, where the first signs of civilisation date from 9000BC. It has been in thrall to a series of rulers from Alexander the Great to Cleopatra – a gift from her lover Mark Antony – and the Romans.

The most common myth is one of the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite who, according to mythology, was born from the sea-foam in Paphos in the west of the island.

Another legend concerns a pot of gold hidden in the mountains on the western coast, which Tseri residents believe was moved farther inland and buried in their lower-lying cornfields.

It says finders of the treasure will enjoy seven years of prosperity and will not need to work.

Whether fact or fiction, residents want to know what lies at the end of the narrow tunnel, propped up by interlocking sandstone blocks and sloping at an angle of 45 degrees.

Archaeologists date the structure to 500AD, which, by default, effectively debunks the Roman-era treasure theory.

“Its just a cistern,” says Pavlos Flourentzos, director of Cyprus’s Department of Antiquities. “It is not as important as some are alluding to. But I am hearing stories about golden chariots and the like,” he said, with obvious exasperation.

With its entrance now blocked by hard-packed earth, it is rekindling the legend of buried treasure.

“My father would relate a story about a treasure being buried between the sycamore and the terachia, which is where we are,” said Christos Kallitsis, using the Cypriot word to refer to the carob tree.

“When I was a child out with the flock I saw men removing items from the area a couple of times,” the 82 year-old shepherd said.

It is not the first time residents have tried to discover what lies at the end of the corridor.

A farmer discovered the tunnel in 1943 and by 1949 many in the community were taking turns digging in secret, convinced they had hit the jackpot.

“The whole village had turned out for it, wanting a cut of the treasure. But we were a British colony, and somebody told on us, so we had to cover it up. The British didn’t joke about these things,” said Kallitsis.

Flourentzos said it was covered up again simply because it was not considered important enough. He said archaeologists complied with a new request from village authorities to re-open the site, exposing a small area.

The island’s antiquities department has declared the scene a monument of secondary importance, but has shown little interest in the tales of treasure.

“It’s an underground tunnel leading to a water supply. Cyprus is full of them. In this case the stairway is slightly deeper, which is probably because people may have not found water at higher levels,” said Flourentzos.

Tseri’s Constantinou says excavations should continue and the tunnel preserved as part of the history of the area. “This is part of our heritage,” he said.