Home News Oracle on a Tripod — all Greek to me

Oracle on a Tripod — all Greek to me

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  Delphi Theatre
Delphi Theatre

In 2014 my wife and I went on a tour of the Ancient Wonders of Greece along with a group of people from Ireland. In keeping with the classical theme, I brought along my latest Leica, an M240, together with some Leica classic lenses, 28mm and 35mm Summicrons and a 75mm Summarit for the occasional ‘long shots’.

The first stop was in Athens, the epicentre of the then recent Greek financial crisis. Dominating the city is the Acropolis which was undergoing substantial refurbishment at that time with cranes on the horizon.

When we visited the Acropolis, it was difficult to get good shots because of the crowds and the building works. The scene of visitors around the main entrance very much reminded me of the epic films of Cecil B De Mille.

Beside the Acropolis is an open area or ‘field’ called the Agora (market in modern Greek) which was the ancient equivalent of the Roman forum. It contained many interesting buildings. One of the most attractive was the Stoa of Attalos which is, in fact, a reconstructed building from the 1950s, based upon the original which dated to between 159 and 138 BC.

I really like the way that the 28mm Summicron lens has handled the rows of columns in this.

After the Agora and lunch, we visited the Acropolis Museum. One of the most impressive exhibits there was that of the Caryatids. These statues originally held up the porch of the building called the Erechtheion in the Acropolis. They were removed and replaced by replicas in the 1970s. These are the originals in the museum.

The following day we started with a visit to the Panathenaic Stadium. This was the site of the ancient Greek games and, of course, it was the site of the first modern Olympics in 1896.

It was not possible for us to get access to the site and so I took the above shot with the gates and flag poles framing the stadium.

We then moved on to visit the National Archaeological Museum where we saw some wonderful treasures.

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Photography without flash was allowed in the museum. This led to an amusing little incident with our guide. A flash went off from a camera belonging to one member of our group; honour prohibited me from identifying that person. Our guide immediately rounded on me as the culprit as I had the nicest camera. I had some difficulty explaining to her that not only did my camera not have a flash, I would not use one in a museum anyway as I knew how to photograph indoors without a flash. I just ignored her then but when we were having coffee later, I tried to show the ‘guilty party’ how to set their camera so that the flash would not come on automatically.

The following day we went on an island-hopping tour. In Piraeus harbour on our way out, we saw the Hellas Liberty which is one of the last remaining Liberty Ships from WWII.

Greek entrepreneurs bought 526 such ships after the war. This one was originally the SS Arthur M. Huddell which was transferred to Greece as late as 2008 for conversion into a maritime museum.

We navigated our way out of Piraeus harbour and set forth for the islands.

The first island which we visited was Poros

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There is a little story here. We were told on arrival that there would be a strict departure time and that anyone not making this would be left behind. As we departed we noticed that one of our number, a lady from the West of Ireland, was still on the quayside as we pulled away; she can be seen on the lower right side of the photo on the right above. Perhaps her watch was still on West of Ireland time. Anyway, thankfully, the captain was not as good as his word as he reversed up the ship and she was able to board to a large round of applause for the captain and crew, as much as for herself.

The next visit was to the beautiful island of Hydra.

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The middle photo above shows the ‘island car park’. Cars are not allowed on the island and these little horses and mules must do the job instead.

The final island we visited was Aegina.

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The middle picture above shows that both horses and cars get a look in on this island.

On our way back to Piraeus we were presented with a wonderful Aegean sunset.

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I really like the clouds in the last photo on the right above. They are built up vertically, in individual clumps, in a manner that I saw more than once on our trip.

The day after our island trip we set off for Delphi in the mountains. On the way we stopped at the Monastery of Hosios Loukas.

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This is one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine Architecture and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mosaics and frescoes in the church were stunning.

Delphi is one of the best known and visited ancient sites in Greece. It is located in a beautiful mountain setting on the south western slopes of Mount Parnassus. The photo at the top of this article gives an idea of the location.

The first building, which we visited at the site, was the reconstructed Athenian Treasury.

Here a battle took place, not in ancient times, but when we visited in 2014. Our Greek guide entered into verbal altercation with an Italian guide who was leading a group of Italian tourists. Apparently, only Greek guides are allowed to work on the site. Calling the police was mentioned in the exchange which lasted for a few minutes. We just stood around somewhat bemused as all of this went on. Nobody intervened to say that this was a UNESCO World Heritage site, although at one stage I thought that we might have to call in the United Nations peacekeeping forces.

The next building we visited was the site of the Temple of Apollo. This was where the Oracle of the Pythia, in the form of a priestess, sat on a tripod (a three legged stool, no cameras in those days) over a chasm from which fumes were emitted. This apparently put the Oracle into a trance and, while she was in that trance, Apollo spoke through her about various matters in words which were to guide his followers.

At the end of our trip we visited the Delphi Archaeological Museum where one of the most striking exhibits was this statue of a young charioteer. This is considered to be one of the finest bronze sculptures of its era.

After our Delphi visit we went to the seaside town of Itea for lunch and on the way back we saw our first rain in Greece.

This reminded us of home and that it was the day of the All Ireland Hurling Final between Tipperary and Kilkenny. Back in our hotel, I managed to get a one match subscription to watch the event on my iPad using very weak WiFi signal. In the hotel bar we managed to get this subscription onto a laptop connected to a large screen. The barmen were bemused with our ancient game, but they were making good money at the bar. For our part, it was good to be able to watch the game in such a remote mountain site; a long-way-to-Tipperary and all that. Perhaps Apollo and the Oracle were looking after our case connectivity-wise.

The following day we headed towards the Peloponnese peninsula. For the previous two days I had been trying to get a picture of the top of Mount Parnassus. I did manage to get this one shot from the bus as we departed. Apollo and Dionysus et al must have been up to something up there, however, as there was still a small blanket of cloud covering the top summit.

We entered the Peloponnese by crossing over the Corinth Canal.

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This was a remarkable engineering achievement when it was completed in 1893. Much emphasis was made by our guide about how it improved the cost of trade in the region. It is, however, too narrow for modern ocean freighters and it can only be used as a one way system. It is mainly used today by tourist ships.

Our next stop was at Mycenae where we visited the tomb of Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon, and the citadel.

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I like the juxtaposition of the ancient ruins with the modern olive plantations in the photo on the right above.

Another short stop on the Peleponnese was at Epidaurus where we visited a huge theatre with an acoustic sweet spot in the centre which we tested.

One of our group decided that she was not going to have anything to do with such nonsense and she used the theatre seats as originally intended. Epidaurus had a sports stadium which was very much a poor relation of the one in Athens; above right.

We then stayed for a few days ‘downtime’ at a seaside resort called Tolo. Beaches and swimming pools normally bore me to death. For the first day there I had a heavy cold but it was helped by a bottle of something from the local pharmacy that would probably require a doctor’s prescription in Ireland.

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In the afternoon of the first day we had a thunderstorm that relieved the heat and brought about a lovely rainbow; above right.

On our second day, I had recovered enough to make the trip into the nearby town of Nafplio.

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There we visited the fortress of Palamidi and walked around some very nicely decorated streets. There are 999 steps up to the top of Palamidi, but we managed to avoid 913 of them by taking a bus to the main gate, which was partially outside the town.

On our way back to the airport we visited the main Corinth archeological site where there were ancient streetscapes.

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The commercial buildings were very nice, perhaps the ancient equivalents of Apple Stores.

Our final stop for a late lunch, before going to the airport, was the unprepossessing seaside resort of Loutraki

I would normally avoid such places like the plague. There was a small late season crowd of tourists there, mainly Greeks, Eastern Europeans and Russians.

In summary, therefore, here are some thoughts on Greece as we found it. At the time of our visit Greece was supposed to be in the throes in a massive economic collapse, but there was not that much evidence of this, other than the fact that a lot of the street lamps were not working on the night that we came back from Piraeus port.

The people we met in Greece were generally warm and most welcoming. Some aspects of Greek culture reminded me of the Middle East. I found it very much an east-meets-west sort of place. While Greece has given us a lot of the things we value in Western European society, such as democracy, philosophy and the arts, it remains today, in my eyes, as being just as close to the East as it is to the West. Hopefully, the relationships between Greece and Western Europe can remain and flourish. We owe a lot to Greece and its culture, which have shaped the world in which we now live.

As expected, the Leica M240 and, particularly, the lenses I brought with me produced the images I wanted. Coming as I do from Ireland it was nice to have so much blue sky in my photos. In that respect, Apollo and the Oracle on a tripod certainly looked after us on our journey.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. So when did you realize you are a descendant of HOMER ? Thank you very very much, or shall you be known as Thucydides 2nd or Herodotus the younger?

    • Thanks John and Kwesi for your kind comments. As for a Greek name, I will leave that to the Irish Hellenic Society who, I believe, may be interested in seeing a presentation of my photos. In times past the Celts (Gallic) were involved in invading Greece, but they were defeated at Delphi and their leader Brennus died of his wounds or poisoning, which may have been self inflicted. He had earlier been successful at the Battle of Thermopylae.

      William

  2. Wish I had the benefit of seeing our photos in this post before I went on my vacation in Greece October 2016. I have very fond memories of Greek people as well.

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