B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


The May 2011 Tour to Greece was a great success. The group included: Bronwyn Ison, Lesley Kitchen, Lidia Peruzzi, Jacinta Prentice, Di Thompson, Brenda Wass, and Jan Whalan - the tour was led by me, Michael Birrell, and we had assistance from a number of local Greek guides.

We arrived in Athens in the early morning of the 6th May and checked into the Electra Palace Hotel in the Plaka. We met Nikos, our Greek guide, who would be with us for the following week. From here we walked down to the Athenian Agora, the ancient heart of the city. This fascinating area retains numerous ancient structures from the classical period including the superb Temple of Hephaestus. We saw the Agora Museum in the reconstructed Stoa of Attalus which contains a wonderful selection of artefacts from the Agora area. We happened to meet up with Alex Radford, a regular attendee of lectures at Macquarie University - the people you meet in far off places! We had a late lunch overlooking the agora and later on had a light supper with a superb view of the Acropolis from the restaurant on our hotel roof.

The view of the Acropolis from our hotel - magic!
The Temple of Apollo at Corinth

The following day we walked down to the Roman Forum and the Tower of the Winds, a Hellenistic monument decorated with reliefs showing the major winds in Athens. We then walked to the Temple of Olympian Zeus at the base of the Acropolis, a magnificent temple completed by the Emperor Hadrian, and made our way (via a coffee stop of course!) to the Theatre of Dionysus and the Asclepius Shrine, both located on the south slope of the acropolis. We climbed to the summit of the Acropolis to see the Parthenon and Erechtheion Temple - there were very few tourists for a change which meant we could relax and enjoy the feel of this special place. We then saw the new Acropolis Museum - it contains the fascinating sculpture from the excavations, displayed in an interesting new purpose built museum. In the evening we had a very pleasant meal overlooking the Roman Forum.

The next day, the 8th May, we went to the summit of Lykavitos Hill to look at the superb view over the city - it is fascinating to look down on the Parthenon from a higher vantage point! We then had an extended look at the wonderful National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The museum was very quiet with very few tourists - the Europeans were not travelling much this season because of the economic problems so we could enjoy the galleries almost to ourselves. Highlights included the bronze statue of Poseidon, the Mycenaean treasures and the excellent display of artefacts from Akrotiri on Santorini.

On the 9th May we left Athens and made our first stop at the Corinth Canal, which was cut across the Isthmus that separates the Peloponnese from the mainland. We then travelled to the summit of the Acrocorinth where we saw the majestic Venetian-Ottoman castle which provides a superb view over the Gulf - Di had an even better view as she trekked to the top of the hill! We then saw the ruins of the Greco-Roman city of Corinth with its temple of Apollo. In the afternoon we headed to the picturesque seaside town of Nauplion where we check into our hotel - this was our base for the next 3 days.

The Lion Gate at Mycenae - notice the lack of tourists!
The superb theatre at Epidauros

In the morning we travelled north to see the impressive Late Bronze Age city and tombs at Mycenae - we had the place to ourselves for the first hour, which was great! The enormous tholos tombs are particularly impressive as is the famous 'Lion Gate'. The site museum is always fascinating. After lunch we saw the recently reconstructed Temple of Zeus at Nemea which has ever more columns set in place and the nearby stadium for the Nemean games.

On the 11th May we visited the site of Epidauros, home of the healing god Asclepius. A highlight of the visit was the famous theatre, one of the best preserved from the ancient world I quoted from Euripides to test the acoustics and we also heard some dodgy operatic singing from an Italian tour group. Later we headed to Tiryns to see the 'cyclopean' Mycenaean city walls and palace. The spring wild flowers were out in full colour around the fields. The next morning we visited the newly renovated Nauplion Museum which contains Mycenaean armour and numerous grave goods. That afternoon we drove across the Peloponnese to the Mycenaean site of Pylos where we saw the Palace of Nestor and a fascinating collection of artefacts in the local museum.
We then headed north and checked into the Europa Hotel in Olympia - a very comfortable place to stay with an excellent restaurant. The following day was devoted to exploring Olympia, a large site with many well preserved buildings. Most impressive are the tholos temple and the Doric Shrines of Hera and Zeus. The Olympic running track also gives the visitor a good impression of the games - Di demonstrated the Olympic dash in good style. After lunch we explored the site museum which contains a superb display of pedimental sculpture from the temples we celebrated Di's birthday with a chocolate cake.

In the morning we travelled to Delphi, crossing the impressive suspension bridge over the Gulf of Corinth. The route was very scenic as we looked out over a wide valley leading down to sea. We checked into the Akropole Hotel in Delphi and then walked down the hill to see the remains of the Athena Temple and gymnasium complex - the scenery was superb! We enjoyed a very pleasant meal overlooking the valley down to the Gulf of Corinth. On the 15th May we explored the splendid archaeological finds in the Delphi Museum - a highlight was the sculpture from the site. Brenda fed all the Delphi cats from the breakfast buffet. In the afternoon we walked up through the ancient sanctuary exploring the remains of numerous 'treasuries' to the Temple of Apollo, god of light and music, and saw the theatre and stadium. In the evening we went to the nearby village of Arahova for a very pleasant meal overlooking the valley.

Exploring the sanctuary at Delphi
The view on Santorini

On the 16th May we left Delphi and headed south to Athens airport where we caught our one hour flight to Iraklion in Crete. We checked into the Kastro Hotel which was our base for the next few nights. We explored the small Venetian fortress in Iraklion harbour and had dinner overlooking the sea. The next morning we visited the fascinating ruins of Knossos, which were extensively 'restored' by Arthur Evans in the late 19th Century - the palace remains are extensive and we explored them fully with our local guide Marina. We had lunch in Arhanes and in the afternoon we saw the Iraklion archaeological museum which contains artefacts from the Minoan palace sites.

The next day we headed into the interior of Crete, passing through pine covered hills on our way to the archaeological sites of Phaestos and Aghia Triadha. We stopped at Arhanes again where we saw the fascinating collection of artefacts from the Minoan Temple site of Amenospilia, including artefacts associated with human sacrifice. From here we headed to Phaestos, a major Minoan palace with a spectacular view of the snow capped mountains in the distance; the private rooms of the palace are very well preserved. Aghia Triadha is a small Minoan palace near the coast with many well preserved rooms.

On the 19th May we caught a high-speed ferry to the island of Santorini. The 80 km trip took about 2 and half hours. The island is a flooded volcano and the towering cliffs rise above you as you approach. We checked into the Kavalari Hotel and went for a walk through town - we had lunch with sweeping views over the caldera. There was free time in the afternoon and some members of the group took the cable car to the harbor. The next day we explored the Hellenistic site of Thera which is perched on a high mountain - the site has great views over the Aegean. In the afternoon we visited the Fira Archaeological Museum. Later that day we flew to Athens and checked into our hotel. In the morning we headed to Marathon to see the famous battle site. We saw the tombs of the Athenians and the Plataeans and artefacts from the area in the local museum. We had lunch by the seaside on the end of the Attica Peninsula before making our way to the picturesque Temple of Poseidon at Sounion. This beautiful Doric shrine was visible from the sea and travellers left votive gifts here - it commands a stunning view across the Saronic Gulf.

Exploring the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion
The Akropolis at night - magic!

Our last day of touring, the 22nd May, was spent visiting the beautiful island of Aegina, located to the south of Athens in the Saronic Gulf. We caught the morning ferry from Piraeus Harbour to the island - some of our group liked the voyage so much that they stayed on board! I had visions of them ending up on Crete, but the ferry brought them back again after half an hour. We explored the beautiful Temple of Aphaia, a Doric shrine located on a high point overlooking the sea which is incredibly well preserved. We also saw the ruins of the fortified Bronze Age city near the port, including the temple of Apollo.

The following day we boarded our plan for the flight to Australia - Lidia, however, headed off for adventures in Italy. I enjoyed the tour greatly, made all the better for the fun and interest of the group.

Michael Birrell

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