Day 6 WEDNESDAY 3RD OCTOBER.
Took off early on my own this morning to take some sunrise photographs. Later we visited the Temple of the Gods then drove to Pachia Ammos, a beach on the southern side of the island.
It is not usual for Bev and I to separate on journeys such as this but she was a bit hard to get moving this morning and the sun doesn’t wait so I had to go.
Before the loss of traction experience with the little car I thought I might have driven up this track.
So far in this blog we haven’t bored you with talk of ancient ruins but today is the day and for a very good reason. We are taking you to the Temple of the Gods; it was there that Nike, pronounced as in the girl’s name and not as in the sportswear brand, once stood. Most people associate Nike with the Ecstasy emblem on the Rolls Royce radiator or the symbol on a pair of Nike joggers.
I would like to be able to report that the statue in the above photograph is the real thing but it’s not, it’s a plaster cast. The original was unearthed within the walls of The Temple of the Gods by a French archaeologist in 1863 and taken back to France where it was eventually put on show in the Louvre. I bet the Greeks would like her back because she is an important part of Greek history. If the Greeks had Alexander the Great at the helm these days his army would be into Paris in a flash and retrieve what is rightfully theirs.
The statue of Nike was dedicated to Dimitrios the Besieger following his victory in a naval battle off Cyprus. Nike was carved by a sculptor from Rhodes and stands 2.5 metres high and was erected in the sanctuary in 190BC.
Another reason you should stick with me on the tour of the Temple of the Gods is so I can tell you that there was a momentous event here in one of the buildings, or maybe it was under an olive tree, that had far reaching ramifications for hundreds of thousands of people in the known world at the time. The event…. Alexander the Great’s parents had a close encounter and made Alex.
Philip II lost one eye in battle but it was no handicap. This photograph was taken near the Museum of Archaeology in Thessaloniki.
The sanctuary where the worship of the Great Gods commenced has undergone various stages of development and decline since it first became established. The worship of the Great Gods involved the Mysteries ‘observation’, a cult activity where initiates confessed past sins, were purified before animals were sacrificed and the mystic symbols revealed themselves. My understanding is that there was a lot of merriment associated with initiation and a lot of eating and drinking and debauchery as well. I am of this opinion because shown on friezes in the museum nearby there are a lot of naked figures frolicking, dancing and making merry.
It is interesting that the origin of ‘it’s a mystery to me’ might well come from the ancient Samothracian mysteries revealed during initiations.
I like the simplicity of Doric order columns. They are simple in design, strong and unencumbered. I developed this appreciation when Bev and I first visited Greece in 1972. The slab on top of the columns is called a guttae (architrave) and attached to the architrave was a wooden framed terracotta tile-covered roof. Below is a sketch I made of the columns at the Parthenon in Athens.
Around the sanctuary there are many fallen buildings, not of much interest to the casual reader of Greek history but fortunately there are many original and well preserved retaining walls which attracted me.
The feature here is how perfectly each stone interconnects. In 1984 I had the opportunity when living in England to observe a stonemason building a wall and because the technique has not changed over the centuries I can tell you that building a wall like this requires a lot of patience and skill. Stonemasons were revered and had a very high status. Masons belonged to secret societies (unions) and to get in you had to be initiated and part of the initiation included a test of skills.
As I said, building a wall like the one above is a test of skill and a lot of help was required as it was a very physical undertaking. The master mason acted more as a foreman directing the assistants. One of the main attributes of the master mason was a keen eye as he selected the appropriate rock to fit without excessive gap between. When compiling this blog I probably look at an individual image a dozen times such as selecting the image, reducing it in size, cropping, positioning and deciding what the caption will be and in the case of the above image I stop and look closely at it every time and every time I’m awestruck as to how perfect it is. I consider the cost of getting to the Temple of the Gods (Perth to Samothraki) is outweighed by having the privilege to see this wall. Go back and have another look, it’s amazing.
The wall here was built around the large naturally existing basalt rock (about 1.5 metres in diameter) in the middle and I assume it was left there because it was too hard to move. I can imagine the builders of the wall scratching their heads and saying to the master mason in charge, ‘What do you want to do about this, boss?’
Look closely at how perfect the stones mesh with each other, especially the one I have my hand on. It was a huge effort building a wall like this when you consider the size and weight of each boulder.
What I like about this wall configuration is the way the key stone locking the two walls together has been specifically shaped to fit. The rock here is hard limestone so it would have taken days to make a stone this shape.
By now you are probably getting stoned out but there is one last image I must share with you and that’s the entrance to Ptolemy II’s digs.
At first I thought the arch was over a creek passing under a building but it was an actual entrance way. I walked part way through so I could join the ghosts of a thousand people before me. To build a structure like this a wooden form is placed in position and the stones are laid on top of the form. When all stones are in position the formwork is removed and the stone arch stands free. The best place to be in an earthquake other than in open space is inside such an arch.
The Sanctuary has seen a lot of different occupiers come and go, including the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Genoese and the Ottomans (Turks). By 1821 the Greeks were fed up with all these foreigners wanting to dominate so they waged an unsuccessful war of independence against the Turks. It wasn’t until 1913 when the Turks’ guard was down (they were worn out following WW1) that the Greeks managed to get their island back. During WW2 the Bulgarians came but after the war the island finally became Greek. I’m telling you all this because it helps to understand the architecture, language, culture and why some Greeks have a distinct dislike for some of their neighbours. Fortunately the English never occupied Greece so if you speak English and come from Australia you are made very welcome. Most Greeks have a relative living in Australia. I’m glad they came otherwise we would never had the pleasure of the Greek café.
After the Temple of the Gods we headed to another amazing place, Pachia Ammos, along the southern edge of the island.
Pachia Ammos is without doubt a very popular spot in summer as there is a café at one end and packed under the cafe veranda were hundreds of deck chairs and beach umbrellas, all stored for the winter.
Bev and I sat with our backs against ancient rock at the western end of the beach and tried to work out why the place had the magical charm it did. We came to the conclusion that it was the ancient BC history laid over the ancient geological history that made the beach and mountains hereabouts so mysteriously interesting.
After the Pachia Ammos experience we returned to Aleka’s. The route was most scenic. Following are a few images relating to our trip home.
There are not many of these types of craft left these days. They have been replaced with zonky fibreglass and plastic imitations.
The elevated view of the coast and beach from the cafe was idyllic. We had beer, feta cheese, olives and bread. How Greek is that! The two dunny-shaped structures are changing facilities for beach goers.
Usually power lines are ugly but these had a charm. Maybe it was the simple pole lights that attracted me.
Tomorrow we are moving camp for a few days.