Turquoise

…like sapphires in colour, only that it is paler and more closely resembles the tint of the water near the sea-shore in appearance.

(Pliny the Elder: Natural History, XXXVII.56)

It is found in the countries that lie at the back of India, among the Phycari, namely, who inhabit Mount Caucasus, the Sacæ, and the Dahæ. It is remarkable for its size, but is covered with holes and full of extraneous matter; that, however, which is found in Carmania is of a finer quality, and far superior. In both cases, however, it is only amid frozen and inaccessible rocks that it is found, protruding from the surface, like an eye in appearance, and slightly adhering to the rock; not as though it formed an integral part of it, but with all the appearance of having been attached to it. People so habituated as they are to riding on horseback, cannot find the energy and dexterity requisite for climbing the rocks to obtain the stones, while, at the same time, they are quite terrified at the danger of doing so. Hence it is, that they attack the stones with slings from a distance, and so bring them down, moss and all. It is with this stone that the people pay their tribute, and this the rich look upon as their most graceful ornament for the neck. This constitutes the whole of their wealth, with some, and it is their chief glory to recount how many of these stones they have brought down from the mountain heights since the days of their childhood. Their success, however, is extremely variable; for while some, at the very first throw, have brought down remarkably fine specimens, many have arrived at old age without obtaining any.

Such is the method of procuring these stones; their form being given them by cutting, a thing that is easily effected. The best of them have just the colour of smaragdus, a thing that proves that the most pleasing property in them is one that belongs of right to another stone. Their beauty is heightened by setting them in gold, and there is no stone to which the contrast of the gold is more becoming. The finest of them lose their colour by coming in contact with oil, unguents, or undiluted wine even; whereas those of a poorer quality preserve their colour better. There is no stone, too, that is more easily counterfeited in glass. Some writers say, that this stone is to be found in Arabia also, in the nest of the bird known as the “melancoryphus.”

(Pliny the Elder: Natural History XXXVII.33)

In response to Ailsa's travel theme: Turquoise.

Sun-Drenched

I don’t know about you but at around this time of the year, I invariably reach the point when I could murder for sunshine, flowers and the ability to go out without a coat.

(Not to mention it’s Monday.)

So what we need right now is a little sunshine:

Wishing you all a happy sunny Monday! (Click on the images to enlarge.)

The Case for the Elgin Marbles

I was reading Keats last night:

My spirit is too weak – mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagined pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick eagle looking at the sky.
Yet ’tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep
Fresh for the opening of the morning’s eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time – with a billowy main –
A sun – a shadow of a magnitude.

(On Seeing the Elgin Marbles by John Keats)

I have to say it threw me a bit. Not quite as easy as “Then I felt like some watcher of the skies / When a new planet swims into his ken” (On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer also by John Keats). In fact, after much mulling over what some of the phrases actually meant, I had to seek enlightment from Mr Anglo-Saxonist who upon reading it pronounced that it was s**t poem and there was no need to rack my brains about what it meant. (He particularly objected to the sick eagle.) Well, I wouldn’t go quite as far but I have to agree: not one of Keats’s best. Nevertheless I do like the last few lines, in particular:

… mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old time…

Which is why today we’re going to talk about some Greek grandeur and the rude wasting of old time.

Continue reading “The Case for the Elgin Marbles”

Sappho: Midnight Poem (Fragment 48)

The Temple of Poseidon at night. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Temple of Poseidon at night. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Back in the winter of 570 BC or thereabouts, on the island of Lesbos, an elderly Greek woman wrote:

Δέδυκε μεν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες, μέσαι δὲ
νύκτες πάρα δ᾽ ἔρχετ᾽ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω.

Which has been translated as (one of the many translations):

Continue reading “Sappho: Midnight Poem (Fragment 48)”

Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar

There is a line by Pindar, a fifth-century-B.C. Greek poet, in which he describes the island of Delos, one of the most barren and inhospitable of all Greek islands, as ‘the dark earth’s far-seen star’:

Hail, god-reared daughter of the sea,
earth-shoot most dear to bright-haired Leto’s children,
wide earth’s immoveable marvel,
who of mortals art called Delos,
but of the blessed gods in Olympus the dark earth’s far-seen star…

Dark earth’s far-seen star – the island as seen from above by the gods, glowing with light in the dark sea – is one of those memorable phrases that turned the famous Roman poet Horace into one of Pindar’s life-long fans. Sadly, not much else of this Procession Song survives today (you’ve just read half of what there’s left).

Continue reading “Dark Earth’s Far-Seen Star: Delos Through the Eyes of Pindar”

Hills (And What People Built On Them)

Hills are a natural choice as locations for some of the most beautiful structures mankind has ever erected: castles and temples, statues and palaces, lighthouses and crosses – I’m sure you all can think of many stunning examples. Today, in response to Ailsa’s weekly travel theme Hills on her blog Where’s My Backpack, I thought I’d share with you some of the hills I had the good fortune to climb in the Mediterranean. And I chose these particular hills for one reason: what people chose to build on them.

The Old Town of Toledo

Toledo
Toledo

The old town of Toledo was built on a hill which is almost fully encircled by the River Tajo. This view shows the Roman bridge across the river with the Alcázar of Toledo topping the crest of the hill. For this view alone, Toledo will always be one of my favourite cities.

Continue reading “Hills (And What People Built On Them)”

Mediterranean Vote

Stuck indoors with Young Friend of the Elephants, who is engaged in the fifth labour of Hercules (cleaning the Augean Stables, aka her bedroom) so I thought I’ll take a look at the results of the Mediterranean Mondays vote: it was dismal. (Scroll down to see the results.) Political apathy I could understand but this apolitical apathy?

So I made you a slideshow:

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Click Here to Vote

The results so far:

Travel photos: 2
Bits of history: 2
Holiday destinations: 1 (the second one was me testing the poll)
Travel anecdotes: 1
Bits of poetry: 1

(A politician would have presented this in percentages to hide the fact that hardly any of you bothered to vote but I’m not a politician.)

Delphi: Shaping the Future of the Past

Delphi is just a small town built into the hillside under Mount Parnassus – home to the Muses – and overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. It’s three hours drive from Athens and even at the height of the tourist season you can escape the crowds here.

Gulf of Corinth view from Delphi P1010130
View of the Gulf of Corinth from Delphi

Continue reading “Delphi: Shaping the Future of the Past”

Greece in Black & White

Since so many of you seem to like black & white pictures from around the Mediterranean… 🙂

No pictures of the Acropolis, I’m afraid, because – would you credit it! – on the day we forgot the camera. On the other hand, sacrilegiously, I dared to turn Santorini into black & white. Continue reading “Greece in Black & White”

The Caldera of Santorini

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The collapsed caldera of Santorini. View from Fira.

“The most expensive lunch I’ve ever had in my life,” is how my husband refers to our visit to the island of Santorini – possibly the most photographed tourist destination on Earth – in the summer of 2013. The lunch in question, ferry tickets included, cost us some four hundred pounds. “But it was worth every penny,” he adds.

Continue reading “The Caldera of Santorini”

Of the Mani, Manhattan and Alexander the Great

What kind of a book would a chain-smoking former Special Operations Executive officer write? A man who at 18 had thought he had nothing better to do but to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople with a volume of English verse and Horace’s Odes in his pocket? A man who felt equally at home in shepherds’ huts and in aristocratic palaces?…What kind of book?!

And English readers, who know exactly whom I’m talking about, here answer in unison: a travel book, of course.

A travel book, yes. Er… sort of.

Continue reading “Of the Mani, Manhattan and Alexander the Great”

The Labyrinth of Knossos

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Knossos

The archeological site of Knossos, near Heraklion on the island of Crete, was discovered in 1878 and excavated by Sir Arthur Evans from 1900 to 1935. The palace of Knossos was the centre of the Minoan Civilisation and was abandoned towards the end of the Bronze Age. There’s a theory that the Minoan Civilisation collapsed as a consequence of the explosion of the volcano at Santorini, with the ensuing tidal wave destroying the low-lying coastal areas of Crete and volcanic ash falling over the island; there’s another theory that the Minoans’ downfall was brought about by large scale Mycenaean invasion (who destroyed Troy too). Or you can take the two in combination – how the Minoans, weakened by the consequences of the volcanic eruption, were unable to resist the invading Mycenaeans.

Continue reading “The Labyrinth of Knossos”

Polyglot Good Morning

Buenos días • Bongu • Bon jour • Dobro jutro • Καλημέρα (kalimera)  • Bon giorno

 

Images:

  1. Sunrise over Barcelona – Photo by Andrew E. Larsen via Flickr
  2. The military band en route to the changing of the guard in Valletta
  3. Sailing boat leaving the harbour of Marseille – Photo by blandineschillinger via Pixabay
  4. Sunbathers on the Adriatic coast near Trogir – Photo by Mária Dobi
  5. Table laid for breakfast in St Thomas B&B, Athens – Photo by St Thomas B&B
  6. Tourists on their way to St Peter’s Basilica, The Vatican, Rome – Photo by Mária Dobi

With thanks to the Facebook page of jotdown.es for the idea of a photographic Good Morning.

How To Be Plied with Free Raki

If you’ve ever been to Greece, you know that the Greeks are both hospitable and friendly. (They’re also not averse to take the clueless foreign tourist for a ride, but that’s another matter.) And one of the surest way to win their hospitality is to make the effort and speak a smattering of Greek. This generally holds true in any country, by the way, and the more obscure the language, the more your effort will be appreciated by the natives. Take this as travel tip of the week. 🙂

Continue reading “How To Be Plied with Free Raki”

The Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion

Place me on Sunium’s marbled steep,
Where nothing, save the waves and I,
May hear our mutual murmurs sweep;
There, swan-like, let me sing and die.

Lord Byron: The Isles of Greece

Byron wrote these lines about the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion which he visited during his Grand Tour (carving his name into one of the columns).

The Temple of Poseidon was built in 440 BC, when Athens was led by Pericles. The first temple on the site, dating from the Archaic period, was destroyed by the army of Xerxes during the Persian invasion of Greece in 480 BC. If you need help to imagine what the temple might have looked like, the Temple of Hephaestus on the agora of Athens was built at about the same time, possibly by the same architect, and is in a much better shape.

Cape Sounion is a promontory on the southern tip of the Attica Peninsula, not far from Athens. You can reach it by coach from Athens taking either the coastal route or an inland route passing by the ancient mines of Laurium (whose silver enabled Athens to build its famous fleet). According to legend, Cape Sounion is the spot where King Aegeus threw himself off the rocks, giving his name to the sea in which he died. Cape Sounion is also famous as the location from which to watch the sun set over the Aegean Sea. There is a path leading down from the temple to the bay below and you can finish your visit with a swim in the crystal clear water. (Shame about the ugly hotel.)

Meltemi

On the northern beaches of Crete, such as Ammoudara, the several kilometres long wide sandy beach directly west of Heraklion in August you see the red flag flying – forbidding swimming – almost every day. (Not that anybody takes the slightest notice.)

The reason?

The beach is fully exposed to the meltemi.

Continue reading “Meltemi”

The Aegean

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View of the Aegean from Cape Sounion

The Ship with Black Sails: How the Aegean Got Its Name

After King Aegeus of Athens lost a war to King Minos of Crete, Athens had to send seven young men and seven maidens to Crete every nine years to feed the Minotaur – the half man-half bull monster kept in the labyrinth at Knossos. Eventually, Aegius’ son, Theseus, volunteered to go to Crete and slay the monster. With the help of King Minos’ daughter Ariadne, who fell in love with him, Theseus succeeded in killing the Minotaur and escaping from the labyrinth.

Continue reading “The Aegean”