Monday, May 26, 2008

Day 102 – Olympia and Kalamata

Mikki, Giorgo and I piled unto the car early in the morning and headed across the mountains to the famous site of Olympia (not to be confused with Mount Olympus, which is in northern Greece and too far for me to visit). It was a pleasant drive, but Mikki got a little car sick, so it was with happy relief that we got to Olympia around 10:30 am. The site is absolutely fantastic! It is all I have ever thought ancient Greece would be, with the rolling hills, the colorful sky with beautiful clouds, the vast olive orchards, and the spirit of the thousands of inhabitants and visiting athletes that made it one of the most famous cities of the ancient world.

Here is a picture of the temple where the Olympic fire was lighted every four years from 796 BC to 394 AD (abolished again by the prude emperor Theodosius as being a clear mark of paganism). Olympia was again the site of the first of the modern Olympic games in 1870 AD. Going back to the temple, this is where the famous sitting statue of Zeus Olympic—one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—was created by the sculptor Phidias circa 430 BC (the statue, which stood 15 m tall and was made of precious wood, marble, gold, and precious stones was destroyed in the 5th century AD).

It was very cool to go through the portal of the stadium, and to stand in the place where the competitions were held.

The competitions included racing, disk and javelin throw, boxing, and chariot racing, and throughout the city there were statues of Nike, the goddess of victory, and bass reliefs celebrating the triumphs of one athlete or another. Here is a bass relief celebrating the Labors of Hercules, who was himself a celebrated Olympic athlete.

The image of the fallen columns of the temple of Zeus Olympic gave me some food for thought. If the archaeologists have preserved their original position, it seems to me that all toppled in the same direction, which makes me think that an earthquake might have had a hand on the destruction of the temple.

The museum of the site is absolutely fantastic, and it would take forever to talk about all the beautiful pieces on display. Two displays deserve special mention, however: The first one is the display of the frontispiece of the temple of Zeus, which includes over 20 exquisite statues, the biggest of which is good four meters in height. To judge from this ensemble the whole complex must have been indeed magnificent.

The second is the statue of Hermes, the messenger of the gods, in the act of bringing the baby Dionysos to the Nymphs (circa 330 BC).

Finally, here is a photo for my amigo Gustavo, who has a faiblesse for bovines.

The visit to Olympia was at the same time too short and too long, so our plans to go visit another site farther south were thwarted by the Greek schedule. Instead we decided to go to Kalamata, world famous for its olives and olive oil (Auréle had asked me to bring back some olives, so I figured they should come from the best place). By the time we reached the outskirts of the city we were getting pretty hungry, so Giorgo was in charge of finding a good place to have a late lunch. “Stop”, he said suddenly, pointing to a little hole in the wall that looked more like a butchery than a restaurant. With unerring instinct he had spotted a place specializing in roasted pig, a Greek delicacy. Indeed, the patron wakes up at the wee hours of the morning, spits a pig and roasts it over an open fire, and by lunch time he has the whole masterpiece on display, for folks to come and buy big chunks (again by the kilogram) to take home. He was very gracious and arranged a small table for us, created a great Greek salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and onions topped by thick slices of feta cheese soaked in olive oil and oregano), and brought in yet another steaming mound of delicious roasted pig. I have died and gone to heaven!

As a city Kalamata doesn’t have much to offer, so after walking along the beach and buying olives we headed north toward Tripoli. This took us through the main area of last year’s summer fires. It was heartbreaking. Thousands of square kilometers of olive orchards and native forests have been destroyed. Naturally the green grass and flowers have come back, but this makes the image of the black trunks of the death trees all the more poignant. Only in one case I saw a landowner going through the painful task of cutting down the death trees, in preparation for a new planting next fall. Since it takes several years before a tree is in full production, the impact of the 2007 fire will be felt throughout Greece for at least 10 years. Very sad indeed.

My time in Greece is coming to an end, so to say goodbye I went for a long walk in the hills behind Luká. It was a long and beautiful walk, and I even saw a very pretty fox (she came out of the trees running in my direction, made a sudden start when she saw me, and with a bound disappeared through the undergrowth). This is truly a beautiful country, and I couldn’t help but thinking that I wouldn’t mind living here.

1 comment:

Fabs said...

Como? Horacio the Greek? =) Your trip to Greece sounds fabulous, and, as usual, you have managed to make friends who will show you the way the natives live. Very cool.