Monday, March 11, 2013

Corinth, Mycenae and Nafplion

Nafplion is a small port on the Peloponnesus, the peninsula that makes up the southernmost portion of Greece. From Nafplion one can get to the ruins of the ancient cities of Corinth and Mycenae.

The ancient city of Corinth was burned by the Romans in 146 BC and re-founded by Julius Caesar in 44 BC. It became one of the leading cities of the Roman Empire. The Apostle Paul spent at least 18 months in Corinth and wrote two epistles to the Corinthian Christians. It was destroyed by earthquakes in 375 and 551 AD. In 856 AD another earthquake is reputed to have killed 45, 000 people. Much of what was left was destroyed by another earthquake in 1858. Following that event a new city of Corinth was begun near the ancient city.

Below are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo.

Some of the Jews in Corinth were angry with Paul and his teachings and had him brought before the Proconsul, Gallio. They accused Paul of various crimes against Jewish law and tradition. Gallio said that Paul had not broken any Roman laws and let him go. The people watching this trial were incensed at the Jews for wasting their time and proceeded to beat Paul's accusers. The place where this trial took place is shown below. As you can tell there is ongoing archaeological work at this site.

Mycenae is the site of a Bronze Age culture. Howard Schliemann, the 19th century archaeologist, found and excavated Mycenae by following descriptions of Homer and other Greek texts. He believed that this was the city from whence Agamenon set out for Troy in about 1250 BC.. He also found what may well be Troy but that is another story. As you can see in the photo below, Mycenae sits on a hill. The palace was at the top of the hill.

Entrance to Mycenae is by walking on a broad roadway and passing through the Lion's Gate in the wall, shown below.

The photo above is taken from the roadway on the city side of the Lion's Gate looking up to the top of the hill. The two photos below are of grave circles just west of the roadway below the city. Many grave goods were found in these graves including many golden objects. A golden death mask was found in a grave at Mycenae and labeled by Schliemann as Agamennon's death mask. It now resides in a museum in Athens; there is no proof one way or another that it is Agamennon's.

There is another type of tomb here called beehive tombs. As you can see below they are large structures, underground, in the shape of a beehive. When you consider that they were built 3000 plus years ago their construction is quite remarkable.

The photo above shows the entrance to a beehive tomb. As you can see the stones at the bottom of the entrance walls are huge. They are called cyclops stones because some of the people after the Mycenaens thought that the mythical race of giants with one eye, the cyclops, must have put them there. The next photo is of the interior of the dome and a little bit of the top of the door.

The port of Nafplion was controlled by the Venetians for a considerable period of time during the Middle Ages-Renaissance. The Palmidi fortress shown below was built by the Venetians and finished in 1714. It was captured by the Turks in 1715 and then by the Greeks in 1822.

Below is the harbor at Nafplion. The fortress is called Bourtzi and was built by the Venetians in 1473.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Rome and the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri

Rome is a great city to visit but I don't recommend going there on an official holiday. I was never sure what the name of the holiday was but on this trip most if not all the attractions were free because of the holiday. We arrived at St. Peter's square about 0900, just like three years ago(see blog post of 10/09/09). Then we basically walked into St. Peter's with little or no wait and had to wait briefly to get into the Vatican Museum. This time people were lined up all the way out of St.Peter's square and down the street. Having seen the inside before as well as the Vatican Museum, we declined to spend hours in line and went on. Below is the only photo I took of St. Peter's.

Classical old Rome is a relatively small area and is a great walking city. I think we took one cab from St Peter's and then walked where we wanted to go.

The photo below shows the Arch of Constantine with the Coliseum in the background. The Arch was the last of the Roman triumphal arches. It celebrates Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge October 28, 312 AD. The Arch was dedicated in 315 AD.

We came on the fountain shown below while strolling along. I like it but have been unable to find out anything about it.

I think the fountain was near the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. This church, built in the 17th century AD, has on it's portico a first century AD sculpture entitled La Voca della Verita, in English the Mouth of Truth. The legend is that if you put your hand in the mouth and lie, your hand will be bitten off. As you can see below, The Old Cowboy must have been telling a little white lie because he apparently got nipped.

The Mouth of Truth is near the Spanish Steps, shown below. These steps are called the Spanish Steps because at the top is the Spanish Embassy.

If you're tired of walking you might try one of these.

Near the Spanish Steps is the Trevi Fountain. It is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome. Designed by Nicola Salvi, construction began in 1732 and was completed in 1762 after Salvi's death(1751). It underwent restoration in 1998 and now has recirculating pumps. A new restoration has just been announced, supposedly the most extensive in the fountain's history. It was difficult to photograph because of the huge crowds and because part of it was covered by scaffolding/screens(not shown) on the left.

While we were walking around, quite by accident we came upon the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli e Martiri, or St. Mary and all the Angels and Martyrs. This church was constructed by converting the Baths of Diocletian on Quirinal hill into a church. The baths of Diocletian were dedicated in 306 AD and were the largest and most sumptuous of the imperial baths. Pope Pius IV ordered the baths to be converted into a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the Angels and Martyrs. Michelangelo designed it in 1563-64. He died in 1565 and a pupil of his carried out his design. Michelangelo used the frigidarium(cold room) for his church. Much of the original walls and roof still existed. The church is huge, built like a Greek cross. As big as it is I believe it takes up only about one third of the original baths. Another church is there along with a museum and some other things that were originally part of the baths.The two photos below show the front of the church, including a close-up of the entrance. This is the exit of the baths and utilizes the original walls. No true facade.

  As you can see in the photos below this is a huge church. At the same time it is quite light.

Below is the apse.

This column is original to the baths and is made of rose granite. There are a number of these columns in the church.

Below is the beautiful dome. This church was an amazing, unexpected experience. A tribute to Roman engineering and the genius of Michelangelo.