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Friday, May 22, 2015

EXPLORING SALAMINA


 Boat in Piraeus Port 

Salamina (Salamis) is the largest Greek island in the Saronic Gulf about 2 km off the coast from Piraeus. My friend Christina lives on Salamina so each time I visit Greece I always enjoy a few days on the island with her.

Last September when I was there we decided to do some exploring.  Salamina is a large island with an interesting history dating back to the Bronze Age. It is best known for the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC when the allied Greek fleet led by Themistocles, overpowered the Persian fleet. Today Salamis is the home of the Salamis Naval Base and a NATO base.



The island is one of the largest Greek islands with an area of 36 square miles.  It is mountainous and covered with pine forest. It's popular for holiday and weekend visits for Greeks from the mainland but not many tourists visit there. There is an island bus service but to really see around you need a car to reach some of the lovely more remote beaches around the island.

View from Christina's house

Christina's house is in the village of Aianteio on the southwestern part of the island. Her house has a magnificent view of the bay below and down the hill is a small, pleasant beach. This time when I visited Christina suggested we go exploring and see if we could find some of the ancient sites. According to the map there are several but they are not well marked so you need to be prepared to do some searching and hiking.




Our first stop was to go to the memorial for the Greek fleet from the Battle of Salamis.  Along the shore there is a memorial and nearby  tumulus where the dead were buried. Higher up on the hill is a beautiful bronze statue depicting the sailors aboard a ship.

Monument Honoring the Greek Fleet from the Battle of Salamis

From there we drove around to another part of the island, this time in search of  the ancient Mycenaean acropolis at Kanakia. The acropolis was on a hillside near the beach, but farther up the hill there are excavations and a memorial to Ajax, one of the warrior-kings who took part in the Trojan Wars. He is mentioned in Homer's Iliad and died at Troy, so a memorial had been built for him.


We found a dusty road leading up to where we supposed the excavations were and when we reached the top I heard some digging. Through the trees we could see some young people at work. They were the archaeology team.  So we went to investigate. And what luck! I just happened that the archaeologist was there, Yannos Lolos, who is well known for his discoveries. He welcomed us to the site and showed us around. When I mentioned my novel Shadow of the Lion which had just been published, he was very interested. That was definitely one of the highlights of my trip last year!
Archaeologist at Work 
Other interesting sites on the island include the Cave of Euripides. The poet was born on Salamis and this cave is where he wrote most of his works.  Christina has been there but said it was a difficult trudge up the mountain so we passed on that idea and went in search of a nice beach where we could refresh ourselves.


Salamina has several very pleasant beaches and we enjoyed a nice feast of Greek mezedes at the beach taverna in Kanakia before driving around to see more sites.

 One of many beautiful views

 The Monastary

A very old church dating to 1000's.


Home of the poet Angelos Sikelianos

Along the way we stopped at The Monastery of Virgin Mary Faneromeni that played a role in the Greek War of Independence in 1821 against the Turks. Nearby on the beach is the house of the distinguished poet Angelos Sikelianos . The author wrote many of his remarkable pieces here. It is now a museum


 Beautiful Views on the Island Drive

Church of the Virgin Mary Eleftherotria

On the way back to Salamina town we drove up into the hills to see the Euripidean Theatre and the beautiful Church of Virgin Mary Eleftherotria on the Patris Hill. The views from there were spectacular.

Back in town we visited the Folk Museum and also the archaeological museum that had displays from the Cave of Euripides and other excavations on the island.




Across the road we found a quaint old taverna and were welcomed in. It was like a mini museum with all kinds of Greek artifacts hanging from the rafters and decorating the walls.  The owner was a very friendly fellow and we decided this would be a great place to visit again. (Maybe this year we'll go there).

 The taverna in Salamis

Christina and me having fun

As usual my time on Salamina was full of fun and never a dull moment. It's always nice to get back to Chris's house and relax on her porch swing watching the collection of neighbourhood cats that like to come and visit. When I got back this year we plan to do more exploring as there are still a lot of undiscovered places to see.
 The Cats
 Feeding Time
 The little courtyard and the suite I stay in
 The terrace
Christina's beautiful house

Here's a link to a published story about Salamina: http://www.travelgeneration.com/travel-stories/greece-the-hidden-treasures-and-secrets-of-salamina/

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A DAY IN LARISSA, Thessaly Greece

One of the literary trips I made to Greece last September was a quick trip to Larissa, in Thessaly.  I have
passed through there by train or bus on various occasions either going to or coming from Macedonia in the north. On this trip I was invited there by Chryssa Velissariou to present my newly published novel SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON at a conference for World Poetry.
Town Square

I arrived by train from Athens in the afternoon. Chryssa had booked me into the Metropol Hotel right in the downtown area close to the town center venue where the conference was held. The hotel is on a street that opens onto the city square, a lovely park with shade trees surrounded by outdoor tavernas.

Frappe


 I strolled around the square, noting some of the curious sculptures, many of them sprayed with graffiti, a couple constructed of pieces of ancient columns. A group of children were having fun clambering over them.





Larissa (population about 200,000) is the capital city of Thessaly, located in an agricultural area surrounded by lush farmlands and imposing mountains. The area is fertile and produces cotton, grains, watermelon, tobacco, vegetables  and vineyards. The city has an interesting history. According to myth, this is where the Greek hero Peleus lived with his legendary son, Achilles.  The city was named after a nymph, Larissa. The name means "fortress". Larissa is thought to be where the famous Greek physician Hippocrates died. On the outskirts of the city there is a monument to the father of medicine where the tomb was discovered in 1826. Larissa was one of the chief cities of ancient Thessaly, once ruled by the Thebans until it was annexed by Philip II of Macedonia in 344 BC and came under the Macedonian control. It was known in antiquity for its horses and the Thessalian horsemen became an important part of Philip's cavalry.

In 196 BC Larissa became an ally of Rome and was headquarters of the Thessalian League. during the 1400s, it was under Ottoman control and became a predominantly Muslim city. It remained in Ottoman hands until 1881.

That evening the conference was held in the Town Centre.  I was warmly welcomed by Chryssa and the other members of the World Poetry who attended.  It was an evening of poetry and music which was very enjoyable, though most of it was in Greek.  I was given time to speak about my novel (translated by Chryssa). After the program some of us went to a nearby taverna to try some traditional Thessalian cuisine , mezodopoleia (little plates of food) including delicious meat dishes, cheeses and wine.

Young Musicians.

Chryssa Velissariou

The next morning I went on a walk through the commercial centre to explore some of the city and came across an ancient theatre. On the slope behind the theatre,  Larissa's acropolis hill is the church of Ayios Ahillios (Saint Achilles, the city's patron saint) there was once a fortress but today only the 15th century Turkish market survives. If I'd had time, I would have gone for a walk to Alkazar Park that stretches along the Pinios River.
Ancient Theatre



Street Scenes


My visit to Larissa was short and sweet. I appreciated the friendly welcome I received and enjoyed my half-day visit to this historical city.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

THERMOPYLAE: VISITING A FAMOUS BATTLE SITE

The Battle of Thermopylae:  This famous battle was fought in 490 BC between an alliance of the Greek city states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persians, led by Xerxes 1.  The battle took place over three days.
Battle site


The Greek force of approximately 7,000 men marched north to block the pass of Themopylae, which would simultaneously block the Persian navy at the Straits of Artemisium. According to some sources the Persian army was said to have numbered over one million but was likely much smaller (perhaps 1000,000 and 150,000).  The Greeks arrived at the pass some time in late August or early September and managed to hold off the Persians for seven days before the rear-guard was annihilated. During two full days of battle, a small force of Spartans lead by Leonidas blocked the road through the pass so the Persians could not enter. After the second day they were betrayed by a local resident named Ephialtes, who showed the Persians how to access the pass by a different route thereby cutting off and trapping the Greeks. Brave Leonidas, knowing that they were outflanked, sent back the bulk of the Greek army and stayed, with his 300 Spartans, 700 Thespiasn, and 400 Thebans to defend the pass. Most them, including the 300 Spartans, were killed.

 map of battle

The Pass 
Because our trip to the islands had been hindered by bad weather, after our bus tour group left the spa resort at Kamena Vourla, we were treated to a side-trip Thermopylae, known for its hot springs.
Thermopylae, known for its hot springs. It was also called the "Hot Gates" 

The day we were there

 We stopped  view the monument in honour of Leonidas and his brave Spartans, and a visit to the small museum where you can view videos explaining the whole battle.
Statue honouring Leonidas and the Spartans

Thermopylae Museum
There was also an amazing exhibit of helmets from bronze age to Classical and Hellenic eras.  The artist who made them was there to explain each one.  There were also interesting murals of battle scenes and other artifacts on view.
Museum exhibits and artwork




Spartan helmet

One of my favorite novels is 'GATES OF FIRE" by Steven Pressfield, who has been very supportive of me and my writing of Shadow of the Lion.  This book tells about the famous battle of Thermopylae and the life of the Spartans. I've also had the privilege of visiting Sparta on a couple of occasions. Although there are few ruins left it is interesting to see the location of their city. There is also a fine statue honouring Leonidas.

I was quite thrilled to get the chance to visit this new museum and if you are interested in this period of Greek history, I recommend you make the journey.  Up in the entrance to the pass there is also a monument to the 300 Spartans which I have seen on occasions when I took the bus from Northern Greece to the south.
(* note: some of these photos are from internet sources.)