Mainland Cities

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One of the first places outside of Athens we visited on the main part of Greece was Meteora, an amazing area of unusual rock formations and the monasteries perched on top of them. This City of Monastic Life on Rocks stands as the most important and the largest center of Orthodox Monasticism in Greece after Mt. Athos. The first monastery was built in the 14th Century. Since that time, 24 monasteries have been built in the area. Most are ruins; only six remain inhabited today.
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A book on the area says: Holy Meteora are in their entirety holy ground; it is an area sacred, Godmade and Godguarded, for every rock has been sanctified, as well as every cave, stone, or crevice . . ." Monks have retreated here and sanctified the area for over 600 years. Meteora towers over the city of Kalambaka.
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It is here that a monk and his family produce beautiful hand-painted icons for tourists and the local faithful. The icons are produced for the local faithful but also for eager tourists. On the way to the ancient city of Delphi we spent several nights in the town of Arachova.
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There was a chance to walk into town, enjoy a leisurely meal at a sidewalk cafe and wander the streets of the small town which is something we really enjoy. This is where you get to see people as they live each day. The cemetery was interesting. Grave markers are built to contain memorabilia of the deceased.
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Arachova sits at the base of a snow-capped mountain. Like many of the cities in Greece, the modern city of Delphi clutches the side of a mountain. The ancients believed that Delphi was the center of the world because that is where the Oracle sat. A museum at the site shows many of the items that had been excavated at the ancient city.
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Delphi was a rich city. Much gold was found during excavations. A woman serving as the oracle would sit in a temple on the site and answer questions submitted by people who came from all over the world at that time. There apparently was a rock chasm here that exuded strange vapors and helped the Oracle deliberate. The answers were vague, much like fortune cookies, but people nevertheless believed in the Oracle.
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Delphi is a large and complex run. One of the most visible landmarks is the Sanctuary, or Treasury of Athens, There is also a small theater and a stadium where games were once held. Nearby the main ruin is the Tholos, a fourth century BC rotunda whose original purpose remains a mystery. Nearby is the Castalian spring where those approaching the Oracle purified themselves.
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The modern town of Delphi is a haven for tourists who enjoy wandering through its narrow, winding streets. Other famous sites on the mainland include the ancient city of Olympia, the home of the best known ancient games and the place where the ceremony for all current Olympics begin. A museum there shows relics from the major site that was the headquarters for the original games.
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Olympia was the most sacred of the sanctuaries of the ancient Greeks. It was the place in which Zeus, chief among the gods, was worshipped, and where the Olympic Games were held in his honor. Archaeologists have found the remains of buildings on the site dating back to 2000 BC or beyond. Not much but a few columns remain on the site today but it was a massive complex which included an stadium where the first games were held.
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This is the site where the Olympic torch is lit before it makes its way wherever in the world the Olympics are held. In addition to the main Olympia Museum there is a fine new museum dealing with the ancient history of the Olympic games, in which participants competed sans clothing. While in Athens, we got a chance to see the stadium used for the Olympics in the 1880s as well as the huge modern complex just recently used for the 2004 games.
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In the intervening century much has changed; the 2004 Olympic Stadium is very ornate and complex. It was during our stay in Olympia that we got a chance to spend some time in the home of a fine Greek family, that of Vasilis Galanopoulos. Neither he nor his wife Vasiliki spoke English but their 14-year-old son George did speak some English. It was here that we had the best food during our entire trip.
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Vasilis is a railroad switchman. The family grows their own vegetables and fruits including grapes for wine. Their home was very much like a middle class home in this country. The site was like a spa, the sanctuary of the healer-god Ascelpius. It was one of the most important religious sites of the ancient world. Performances of ancient Greek works are still held here each summer. At Epidaurus we tested the excellent acoustics of the theater which was built in the fourth century BC. The sound is so good that someone on the top row of the 12,000 seat theater could hear a person on the stage strike a match.
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A large excavation is present at Mycenae. During ancient times this community was the center of the Mycenaean civilization. Entry is through the Lion's Gate which is in its original form. According to mythology Mycenae was founded by Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae, and his descendants ruled there for many generations. The city dates back to at least 1350 BC. Son of Atreus, one of the Mycenian rulers, was Agamemnon and located on the site is his huge tomb.
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As we traveled further south in the peninsula of Greece we stopped for a brief time in the city of Patra. It is here were the apostle Andrew preached and where he was martyred. A large fairly new St. Andrews church stands here as a monument to the town's patron saint. It is said that contained within the church is a part of the actual x-shaped cross upon which Andrew was crucified.
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The large church is fairly modern. Next to it is the original St. Andrews which is over 400 years old. A highlight of our visit to the area of Corinth was a first look at the Corinth Canal, an engineering feat not well known to those outside Greece. Built in 1888 the Canal is about four miles long, in some places with cuts 250 feet deep and with a water depth of about 25 feet. It connects the Sardinian and Corinthian Seas and can handle ships up to to 10,000 tons.
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A unique feature at the Sardonic entrance to the canal is a sinking bridge. Rather than being raised to allow the passage of ships, the bridge actually sinks to the canal floor to allow ships to pass over. There is not much left of the old city of Corinth itself. Corinth was one of the richest cities of the Greek world. There's not much to see at the excavation. Our guide did point out at a distance the place where Paul is believed to have preached while in Corinth. The old city was leveled by an earthquake in 1858 and was moved to a new site closer to the sea.
High above the ruins is the Acrocorinth, after the Acropolis of Athens, the earliest inhabited place in Greece to have been continuously occupied.

Last updated: 5/24/06