Day 10, Wednesday - Delphi, Ossios Loukas, Thebes, Athens
Early in the morning, we started out for Delphi, beginning with the temple of Athena overlooking the mountain slopes. It is one of a very few circular temples structures in Greece. We proceeded to the sacred waters where supplicants had to bathe to purify themselves before questioning the oracle. In ancient times it was believed to have miraculous healing powers. Not one to pass up a medicinal cure, I rubbed some on my eyes to cure and nose to cure my allergies. Alas, it had no affect. I guess I was 2000 years too late.
The site of the famous oracle of Apollo was located on a hillside surrounded by a large complex of buildings with treasuries housing donations from various Greek cities. Early Christians added a nearby Byzantine church. I suppose the early Christians wanted all the pagan religious centers covered. If pagan Greeks insisted on having religious ceremonies here, at least they could be Christian ones.
At the very top of the hill (which was the top of the mountain we had driven up the day before), was a stadium where music and sporting events were held annually in classical times. Because the stadium was built into the hillside, seats dug into the hill were still in good condition, while seating opposite had fallen away during earthquakes due to lack of support. It is the best preserved classical stadium in Greece.
The tourist buses from Athens arrived at 10:00 a.m. at the site of the oracle. It was the first time we were overwhelmed by tourists. The crowds which we had barely managed to avoid at the Parthenon finally caught up with us. Tourists get a lecture and 20 minutes to walk around and see everything. Pam and I spent two to three hours. I don't think any of the tours saw the stadium at all.
Next stop was the museum which was also crowded. Like the one at Olympia, it had sufficient lighting to take pictures without a flash. Unlike the one at Olympia, the signs were in English. We saw Mycenean artifacts proving this was a religious center in 2500 B.C. or earlier. When the Dorians came in 800 B.C. it was already ancient. The ruined monuments that can be seen now were renovations of the originals on a grandeur scale dating only from 600 B.C.
The famous statue of the chariot driver was in a separate modern building. It was Roman in origin dating from 100 B.C. It was not as impressive as it looks in photographs. The facial expression was lifeless and lacked a sense of movement common in classical Greek sculpture.
We checked out of the Xenia hotel and left for Athens. The current highway to Athens is apparently the same road traveled by foot and donkey for thousands of years to the oracle at Delphi, called the sacred way. A sign post indicated the spot where Orestes reputedly slew the sphinx on his way to Thebes.
At about this juncture we took a side road to a medieval monastery named Ossios Loukas (Saint Luke). The main church was covered with frescos and was in good condition. Below ground there is a chapel named Saint Barbara built by Father Loukas himself dating to 800 A.D. His remains are here having been returned from a extended sojourn in western Europe thanks to 12th century crusaders. The local caretaker swore that sick people left here overnight had been miraculously cured of their diseases. I thought about trying another cure for my nose and eyes, but it was rather dark and spooky down there. I didn't have all night anyway.
Just outside the monastery there was a gift shop run by the local denizen. I bought some Byzantine church music and an icon of Saint Nicholas for my friend, Nick Fartuch. The lady at the store tried to sell me another icon for $150 which she said was 2000 years old. We aren't as dumb as we apparently looked, so we declined.
We almost passed Thebes by it was so small. Its hard to believe it has been here for over 2500 years. There didn't seem to be much of a plaka. We were tired, however, so we stopped to have a cup of coffee.
There was no problem finding our hotel when we got back into Athens. Our major problem was all the dirty laundry we had accumulated during our excursion into the Peloponnesse. The hotel clerk told us where to find a good laundry. When we started looking, however, we could not find it. Pam kept trying to tell me which way to go even though she was only guessing. My natural sense of direction saved the day, however. I can usually find my way around quickly, although a map never hurts.
After returning the car, we walked back to the hotel. The clerk called Rhodes for us to make our reservation. He also recommended a good restaurant in Pireaus. We were too tired to go that evening, so we went to a cafe recommended by Frommers's guide book. While the view was excellent, I am finding his food recommendations are of little use. Our meals were nothing special. I don't think he knows much about Greek food.
The room was much better than the one we had before. The air conditioner was working. The radio was working. There was even hot water! The morning coffee was much more drinkable than before. I mentioned this to the clerk. He said it was because he made it this time. He hadn't been there when we stayed before, and he said only he knew how to make coffee right. He was very pleased I noticed.
Evan C. Economos
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