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Lebanon > Baalbeck Temple July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Asia.
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Baalbeck, also known as Heliopolis, is an ancient Roman city in northeastern Lebanon. Most visitors see Baalbeck on a day trip from Beirut, which is a scenic mountain drive away.

Editor’s Note > See related photo at our Flickr Photo Gallery

Baalbeck is situated on the eastern slopes of Lebanon’s mountain range in a wide and fertile valley known as the Beqa’a. In ancient times, caravan stations developed in this valley, especially at places with a year-round water supply, and they became agricultural centers. Baalbeck was one such site. It occupied the especially favorable spot at the highest level of the Beqa’a valley, at the source of two important rivers and along the main inland transportation road.

Although it was in Roman times that Baalbeck achieved its wide fame, the site was of political and religious importance long before the Romans arrived. The name “Baalbeck” derives from the Canaanite god Baal, whose name means “Lord.” Few specifics are known about the early history of Baalbeck, except that it was inhabited in the Bronze Age and a Canaanite city connected with the cult of Baal was established on the site. Baalbeck was almost certainly a great religious center.

The supreme god of the Canaanites was El, the sun god, who was represented by a bull. El’s wife was Ashera, goddess of the sea. This divine couple could not be approached directly, but only through the mediation of their son Baal, the Lord of rain, storms, and thunder. His symbols were a thunderbolt ending in a spear, ears of corn, and the bull. Baal had a son, Aliyan, who was the god of springs and floral growth, and a daughter, Anat, who was Aliyan’s faithful consort. Set against these positive forces was Mot (Death), the god of summer and drought, who helped fruit to ripen but also killed the vegetation, if not supported by Aliyan’s springs. Another important deity was Astarte, the goddess of love and fertility.

Canaanite mythology reflected the cycle of nature. Baal and Aliyan ruled the earth in winter and spring with plentiful rains and thunder. When the dryness of summer arrives, Mot attains superiority and kills Baal (the rain) and his son Aliyan (the springs). Aliyan’s sister and lover Anat retrieves his body from the underworld and buries it, then searches for Mot and kills him (representing the harvest). With the destruction of Mot the summer heat recedes, and in late autum Baal and Aliyan reappear with the live-giving rains and springs.

Ball was adopted by the Assyrians as Bel, and he can be equated with the Egyptian Seth, the Phoenician Reshef and the Aramaean Haddad. The triad of Baal, Aliyan and Anat had its parallels in the Greek Zeus, Hermes and Aphrodite and the Roman Jupiter, Mercury and Venus. The sequence of life, death and resurrection was also central to the popular cult of Adonis and Osiris, which came out of Egypt and flourished well into Roman times.

Along with the rest of this part of the world, Baalbeck was Hellenized after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC. The Greeks named Baalbeck “Heliopolis,” City of the Sun. To distinguish it from its important namesake in Egypt, ancient writers called it Heliopolis “in Phoenicia” or “in the Lebanon.”

The Roman general Pompey conquered much of the region in the 1st century BC, and Baalbeck became part of the new province of Syria. A few decades later, Mark Antony controlled of the East, and he gave Baalbeck and its surrounding region to Cleopatra. But in 31 BC Octavian (later known as Augustus) drove Antony and Cleopatra out of Syria and ushered in Rome’s golden age of stability known as the Pax Romana. It was in this context that the construction of the great Roman temples at Baalbeck began.

The Romans did not start from scratch. Archaeologists have discovered pre-Hellenistic remains of a sanctuary on the site, where Baal and the other Canaanite deities were worshipped. It centered around a natural crevice, which was probably the original sacred site before anything was built. Both the Ptolemies and the Seleucids added Hellenistic elements to the existing sanctuary.

The Roman Temple of Jupiter was constructed in the 1st century AD. An inscription on top of a column shaft indicates that it was nearing completion in the year 60. The Great Court was added in the early 2nd century. The temple was unique not only in its great size, but in its Eastern architectural influences and in its financing in large part by non-Romans, an indicator that the local people regarded the Heliopolitan Jupiter fully as their own. Construction of the Temple of Bacchus began in the later 2nd century under Antoninus Pius, after the cult of Bacchus had become popular in the empire. Construction of the great temple complex continued until the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in the early 4th century, when it came to halt with many details left unfinished.

Under Roman rule, the supreme god worshipped at Baalbeck/Heliopolis was Jupiter Heliopolitan, a complex fusion of a Baal and Jupiter. The statue that stood in the Temple of Jupiter at Baalbeck was described by ancient writers as holding a thunderbolt with ears of corn and being flanked by two bulls. He was part of a Helipolitan Triad of Jupiter, Mercury and Venus. The religious rituals at the temple were more Syrian than they were Greco-Roman, but the site did include an oracle that was consulted by emperors.

The most famous sight at Baalbeck is the Temple of Jupiter, whose six remaining columns are the largest anywhere in the Roman world. The famous statue of Jupiter Heliopolitan stood in the rear of the temple on a raised adytum (holy of holies), which only initiated priests could approach. The great temple was fronted by a hexagonal forecourt added by Philip the Arab (244-49), the layout of which can still be clearly seen.

The Temple of Bacchus is the best-preserved structure at Baalbeck, and in fact the best preserved Roman temple of its size anywhere. The Temple of Bacchus is larger than the Parthenon, with an interior span of 62 feet and a monumental gateway 21 feet wide and nearly 42 feet high. Although dwarfed by those of the Temple of Jupiter, the Bacchus temple’s stone blocks weigh tens of tons each. The temple’s size was matched by its quality in construction (the blocks fit together perfectly) and in elegant decoration. Some figurative reliefs depicting Greek gods have survived, though in a very damaged state. Yet, despite its clear importance, very little is known about the purpose of the impressive building. Even its dedication to Bacchus is far from certain. It is positioned oddly, a huge building that nevertheless stands in the shadow of the great complex of the Temple of Jupiter, pushed nearly to the end of the forbiddding wall that supports the Great Court.

The Temple of Venus is small and round, a major contrast with the giant rectangular temples of Jupiter and Bacchus. The Temple of Venus has six columns that probably once supported a dome. It is carved everywhere with niches, sculptures (now lost) and other elegant decorations.

The Hexagonal Forecourt is a six-sided area built between the Propylaea and the Great Court in the early 3rd century AD. It incorporated 30 granite columns. By the early 5th century, it had been covered with a dome and transformed into a church.

The Baalbeck International Festival of music and drama takes place among the Roman ruins of Baalbeck in July and August each year.

Related Links >

Baalbeck International Festival  http://www.baalbeck.org.lb/

Official site Lebanon Tourism  http://www.lebanon.com/tourism/baalbeck.htm


The war spreads to all in ‘Iphigenia’ July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Political leaders who rush forward with a senseless military campaign under specious motives. A war fought in a foreign land to protect freedom and fight terrorism. It sounds achingly familiar, but the text is more than 2,400 years old.

Under Douglas Lay’s excellent direction, Euripides’ “Iphigenia at Aulis,” now playing at 6th @ Penn Theatre, aptly demonstrates the timelessness of war. Euripides’ antiwar sentiments come through loud and clear in a new translation by Marianne McDonald that is contemporary, natural and accessible. Lay has given “Iphigenia” a modern context to match McDonald’s translation.

The military camp on the shores of Aulis is covered in camouflage netting and littered with storage drums and boxes in Vincent Sneddon’s effective set design. Ruff Yeager, as the Greek commander Agamemnon, appears in army fatigues, while Rhys Greene as his brother, Menelaus, dons the Marines’ dress blues.

The soldiers languish in idleness as they await favorable winds to sail to Troy, where they’ll sack the city in retribution for the kidnapping of Helen. In the age of media blitz and celebrity obsession, Menelaus has been cuckolded on a humiliatingly grand scale. Agamemnon has been told that the necessary winds will not come unless he sacrifices his daughter, Iphigenia (Michelle Cabinian), to appease the goddess Artemis. Agamemnon sends for Iphigenia under the pretext that she is to marry the warrior Achilles (Giancarlo Ruiz).

Iphigenia and her mother, Clytemnestra (Robin Christ), arrive like pop stars. Their helicopter lands with a deafening roar and a gust of wind, while Secret Service types clear the area before bringing in stacks of luggage.

All hell breaks loose when Clytemnestra discovers the truth in a chance meeting with Achilles. Ruiz plays Achilles with a comedic touch, highlighting the soldier’s vanity. He swaggers and poses, and in the face of the sacrifice of an innocent girl indignantly exclaims, “I’ve been offended. That’s serious!” His only beef is that Agamemnon hatched this plan using him as “bait” without his permission.

Other attempts at humor are not as successful. A messenger who delivers the news of Iphigenia’s arrival appears here as a TV reporter (Melissa Hamilton) with cameraman (Anthony Hamm) in tow. The scene, played for laughs, feels forced. At its heart, “Iphigenia” is a family drama, and Yeager, Christ and Cabinian provide the heartbreaking pathos.

Yeager, with a simmering anger and restrained lunacy, is believably tormented by the choice he must make. He is alternately compassionate and callous, torn between family and country. Christ, who portrays agonizing pain so well, does it again as Iphigenia’s mother. Her impassioned plea for her daughter’s life and her final grief-stricken wail bring the brutal reality of war out of abstraction.

Cabinian deftly shifts from innocent daddy’s girl to noble sacrificial lamb. But how honorable is her newfound sense of purpose? As she goes willingly to the sacrificial altar so the Greeks may teach the “barbarians” a lesson, Don’t steal our women, she may be simply buying into the collective madness.

For the play is also about a certain kind of madness that takes hold of men at war, the rush to violence and the folly of the mob that buys into the government-issued rhetoric. Agamemnon feels trapped into sacrificing his daughter, yet the situation in many ways is one of his own power-hungry creations.

Based on Leigh Scarritt’s compositions, the young women of the chorus (Judy Ho, Leti Carranza, Tatiana Holthaus, Dorothy Guthrie and Sarah Knapp), all fine singers, add much welcomed music and movement to the production. Through the course of the play, they transform into the wives left behind, seductive groupies and mourners. Here, finally, is a chorus in the Greek tradition that is both engaging and relevant.

This “Iphigenia” is a powerful antidote to the misguided allure of war. After all, Iphigenia’s death signals the start of the Trojan War and another cycle of death among the populace and the house of Atreus.

As war rages around the world today, the play’s plea for cooler heads to prevail and its challenge to notions of courage, honor and sacrifice are more relevant than ever.
Playwright: Euripides. Translation: Marianne McDonald. Director: Douglas Lay. Set design: Vincent Sneddon. Composer: Leigh Scarritt. Lighting design: Mitchell Simkovsky. Sound design: Eusevio Cordoba. Cast: Ruff Yeager, Jack Winans, Judy Ho, Leti Carranza, Tatiana Holthaus, Dorothy Guthrie, Sarah Knapp, Rhys Greene, Melissa Hamilton,Anthony Hamm, Robin Christ, Michelle Cabinian, Giancarlo Ruiz.

“Iphigenia at Aulis”
8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays Through Aug. 6. Sixth at Penn
Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest $20-$23 (619) 688-9210 or www.sixthatpenn.com

EDITOR’S NOTE > Article by Jennifer Chung, © Copyright 2006 San Diego Union-Tribune. All rights reserved.

Cultures and their archeaology July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life.
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What could be more thrilling than discovering an ancient ruin, a hidden city or even a lost tribe, the buried treasure of humankind itself?

In “From Stonehenge to Samarkand: An Anthology of Archaeological Travel Writing” (Oxford University Press; $35; 291 pages), editor and author Brian Fagan makes his own Grand Tour of archaeological adventurers. His subjects range from the antiquarian collectors of the 16th century through the 19th century excavators of Middle Eastern, Mayan and American Indian sites, from renowned tourists such as Thomas Cook and Mark Twain to modern observers such as Paul Theroux and Karin Muller, traveling at a time when places such as Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu are wrapped in a suffocating embrace.

A professor emeritus of anthropology at UC Santa Barbara, Fagan is well aware of the Western tendency to assume the right to peer into the past of others — and to appropriate what it finds. While noting that Greece during Lord Elgin’s day was “a remote, little-traveled land, its temples overgrown and neglected,” thus lending itself to plunder, Fagan also notes that the English milordi “regarded the Greeks with indifference, despite receiving many kindnesses, and treated the archaeological sites as a source of potential wealth.”

But who better than Lord Byron to criticize his countrymen? Fagan cites his sarcastic view of the despoiled: The Greeks “are to be grateful to the artist who engraves their ruins and to the antiquary who carries them away; to the traveler whose janissary flogs them and to the scribbler whose journal abuses them.”

My only complaint: The historic extracts are in a small typeface that discourage reading the longer passages. Like the archaeologists whose writing Fagan celebrates, I should have kept a magnifying glass at my side.

“The Best Travel Writing 2006: True Stories From Around the World,” edited by James O’Reilly, Larry Habegger and Sean O’Reilly (Travelers’ Tales; $16.95 paperback; 350 pages). It’s been out for six months, but summer is the perfect time to pick up this anthology from the prolific Palo Alto publishing company. I can’t vouch for “best” or “true,” but “around the world” is justified — and “excellent” wouldn’t be a stretch, either.

Herbert Gold’s exuberant introduction seems hyperbolic — until you wend your way through several stories. Joel Simon’s “Fiji Time,” which starts with a happy interjection (”Bula!”) and ends in tragedy (a slow death from shark bite), is a prime example of how the authors — many of whom are from the Bay Area — are willing to shed their assumptions and see beyond the immediate.

There are intimate revelations, such as Dustin W. Leavitt’s “Japanese Tattoo” (his account of the rituals of receiving one), Constance Hale’s “Cutouts” (unexpected Italian lessons — in language and love) and Melinda Misuraca’s “Blinded by Science” (an exploration of lust, with inspiration from a Thai cave of wooden phalluses). There are mind-changing pilgrimages (Jeff Greenwald’s “In Jerusalem”) and body-challenging peregrinations (Pamela Logan’s “To Lhasa”). And there’s enough to keep one happily reading until the 2007 edition.

“Outside of Ordinary: Women’s Travel Stories,” edited by Lynn Cecil and Catherine Bancroft (Second Story Press; $14.95 paperback; 268 pages) On the surface, the short stories in this Canadian collection seem very ordinary indeed: The itineraries are often conventional, the style often conversational (certainly less polished than the Travelers’ Tales prose). Family, friends and partners are rarely far from mind even when the authors are far from home.

But the capacity for detailed, empathetic observation of one’s self and others, often labeled as “women’s intuition,” propels many of the tales into a deeper realm. Sharon Butala, in “Bocca Della Veritΰ,” her spin on “Roman Holiday,” sums it up simply: “The humanity of others, the little surprises, the unexpected boredom, the occasional moment of insight about oneself are what travel is really about.”

Art’s naked truth July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Culture History Mythology.
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The Greeks were one of the earliest civilizations to use the unclothed human body to depict the majesty, power and beauty of mankind.

This view was based on a humanistic philosophy that honors Man as the measure and core of their beliefs. The body was revealed with little emphasis on sexuality though if you look carefully one can find prancing satyrs on Greek pottery.

During the Medieval period came the influence of early Christianity. Often the human body was carefully covered from neck to ankles and the body itself seemed to disappear under the drapery.

The exception is the heart-stopping crucifixions of Christ whose body poignantly expresses his suffering. Beautiful religious art was created for the Byzantine and Romanesque Churches and eventually the sublime Gothic Cathedrals.

Historically, the Renaissance follows; the word means “rebirth,” indicating the return to Greek Humanistic values. Once again Biblical characters were depicted, both barely clothed or at times luxuriously appointed in silks and brocades to reveal earthly wealth. Often Greek myths were the subject of works of art and were presented for all and everyone to see, even in churches.

In traditional African art nude carved wooden figures are meant to represent human fertility, but they also address the cycle of life and death, the reciprocity and complementary balance of feminine and masculine and a worshipful attitude toward an unseen higher reality. Some pieces are “dressed” not to cover their lovely bodies, but to add magic using feathers, shells, fabrics, beads, etc. This was done to connect the sculpture with the world of nature, spirit and ancestry. Rarely is there a hint of pornography or the desire to incite prurient interest. 

Shakira makes plea for Lebanon peace July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Live Gigs.
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Pop star Shakira made a plea for a cease fire in Lebanon Thursday, before performing infront of a crowd of more than 20,000 at a concert in Athens.

“So many mothers and children are dying every day and that’s something we cannot tolerate, not today, not in the 21st century,” said the Colombian singer whose father is from Lebanon.

“I want to call (on) the US leaders to stop this war, because we all know that they can stop it,” she said. “I just hope that there is a diplomatic and international intervention right away, I think it’s necessary.”

Shakira is on her Oral Fixation world tour. Her remarks were well received in Greece, which has evacuated 1,700 people from Lebanon 500 Greece and 1,200 non-Greeks and where near daily demonstrations have been held against the Israeli attacks.

Late Thursday, about 500 people marched to the Israeli embassy to protest the bombings. At the rally backed by Greece’s Communist Party, youths chanted “Israelis, Americans Killers,” and burned two homemade Israeli flags.

A stroll through Athens July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.
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Greeks call it the volta.

The daily stroll is a beloved ritual. It helps reduce the stress and anxiety of life in the city, especially in such a live city as Athens is.

The proper stroll, with the proper effect, must be slow. It can never be rushed.

Visitors to Athens need only put on their walking shoes to partake in a favourite pastime and discover the other side of one of Europe’s most lively capitals.

A new cobblestone promenade around the base of the Acropolis offers history on two levels: the ancient monuments and a taste of turn-of-the century Athens before traffic and runaway development turned the city into a sprawl of nearly four million inhabitants.

“The great walk,” as is called by its architects, winds for four kilometres past elegant neoclassical buildings, poppy-dotted knolls and the epicentre of antiquity, including an arched 2,000-year-old open-air Roman theatre (Herod of Atticus theatre) ringed by olive trees. Above, the ruins on the Acropolis offer a visual feast.

The Olympics provided the momentum for the project, part of a long-overdue facelift to Athens’ centre, but the work continued even after the athletes and spectators went home.

Under the program, called the Athens’ Unification of the Archaeological Sites, a program inspired by late Minister of Culture Melina Merkouri, hundreds of neoclassical buildings have been restored, unsightly billboards have been removed and much-needed green spaces have been planned.

“The Athens downtown will be aesthetically, environmentally and culturally upgraded,” according to the unification program’s plans. “The residents and visitors of the Greek capital city will be able to enjoy a ‘vast open museum’ that will include all the archaeological sites and monuments of Athens, along with the traditional districts of its historic downtown.”

Along the majestic Dionissiou Areopagitou Street, lovers nuzzle on a stone wall, cafés serve iced coffees and an outdoor cinema advertises this summer’s movie lineup. The classics are on tap, from the 1935 Anna Karenina to 1951’s The African Queen.

All is quiet. Footsteps tap on the cobblestones, tourist click their cameras and the senses are aroused by the aroma of flowers and grilled oregano-sprinkled souvlaki.

One of the most tangible changes is Athens’ revamping project that includes the foot trail around the Acropolis. It makes up, somewhat, for the city’s lack of public green spaces and bike trails so common in other European cities.

Crete’s luxury hotel and spa July 21, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Hotels Greece.
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Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. operates the Blue Palace Resort & Spa on Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands.

A 204-room luxury resort in the upscale coastal area of Elounda, the complex is nestled into a small cliff opposite the pretty isle of Spinalonga. More than half of the bungalows, suites and villas have their own private swimming pools.

Travellers seeking a hedonistic getaway have a new option to consider. The Blue Palace Resort & Spa.

Dotted with mature palm and olive trees, the new property just outside of the village of Elounda on the Island of Crete comprises a series of spacious bungalows and suites, three villas and 106 private pools. It also boasts two bars and five restaurants.

The property also boasts a prawling 2,000-square-metre thalasso therapy spa, the Elounda Spa, using seawater, seaweed and heat.

The spa itself includes 22 treatment rooms and three thalasso pools, and is located near a 200-metre-long beach, which hotel guests can access by using a panoramic lift.

For more information

Blue Palace Resort & Spa
Elounda, Crete 72053
tel: 28410 65500
fax: 28410 89712