Northern Greece: Mistras, Delos, Crete
The motherland of Pelasgians
The Epirus of today was the motherland of the Pelasgians. There we find the ruins of the oracle of Dodona the oldest oracle in Greece- dedicated to Zeus.
Here the priests called Selloi or Helloi (from whom Hellen, the ancestor of all the Greeks or Hellenes was said to be descended), first worshiped Zeus and set the foundations of the worship of the twelve Gods of Olympus.
Here the chief of the Gods is called Pelasgean or Didonian Zeus and his priests interpreted the whispering noise made by the leaves of the sacred Oak and the babbling of the near-by brook as answers given by the god. In various parts of Epirus, we find traces of the massive Pelasgean or Cyclopean walls similar to those found at Tiryns, Argos and Mycenae which were built by the Doric people when they overran the whole of Greece in the 11th Century B.C.
Mythical Dwelling Places
The monasteries on the top of the high cliffs overlooking the plains of Thessaly, were built in the 14th Century A.D. and contain many interesting relics of the Byzantine Period.
The libraries contain priceless manuscripts that are being studied by many scholars today. Mount Olympus-a little further on, was the mythical dwelling place of the twelve gods and Zeus, who had his throne on its snow-covered peak was called Olympian Zeus.
The few scattered ruins in Macedonia are mostly Roman. Among these is the triumphal Arch Maximilian Galerian at Thessalonica and several churches built in the Byzantine style.
On the almost inaccessible peninsula of Hagion Oros or Holy Mount which ends with mount Athos, we find a group of twenty monasteries. They were built in the 9th C. and from a singular monastic realm. Famous for its libraries contains a wealth of manuscripts and for the many rare and priceless relics of byzantine art. Here, as at Thessalonica, a special research work on the Byzantine period is being carried on. In order that the minks may never be tempted, it is strictly forbidden that any woman or female animal can enter! Hagion Oros and Mistras are the two outstanding centers where a thorough study of the culture and art of the Hellenic Middle Ages is possible.
Mistras near Sparta is unique for the great variety and artistic value of its buildings. It was built by the Latins, the last of the Crusaders, in the 13th century where the glory of the Great Byzantine Empire was beginning to fade. It soon fell into the hands of the despots of Peloponnesus, the Paleologos. Constantine was the last Emperor of this dynasty.
It is a typical Byzantine city. A very few of its buildings, however, are in the Gothic-Style built by the Franks.
The style of this period is very ornate as one can readily see from the decorations in the fortresses, the palace and in the churches with the characteristic central dome and the intricate mosaics. We can’t help but marvel at and admire the beautiful and delicate carvings, mosaics, ceramics and paintings that are preserved in excellent condition. The Mysticism of the Christian Faith is amply expressed in the paintings that adorn the walls of the churches and palace and from them we can see the great artistic progress attained by the Byzantines just before their downfall.
And now we shall visit the famous Isles of Greece that inspires Byron and so many other poets. Two of these, Delos and Crete are of paramount importance because from the reconstruction of the ruins, we have been able to get a very clear idea of how they were at the height of their prosperity.
Delos according to mythology, was a part of land that broke off from Sicily and floated around. It was “without declared place” until Leto, whom Zeus had loved dearly, sought to find a safe place in which to give birth to her child. Since no land dared accept her because of fear of the jealousy of Hera, Zeus’ wife, commanded Poseidon, the ruler of the sea, to anchor down the island and thus it acquired a definite place in the sea and was called Delos. ‘Delos” comes from the Greek word “ekdelos” meaning manifest or made clear- because it stopped a manifest reason. All the surrounding islands are called the Cyclades.
Leto gave birth to the loved twins, Apollo, god of the sun and of light and Artemis, goddess of the moon of the chase. Mythology says that these two symbols of light -the sun and the moon- are born in the most easterly part of Greece of the union between Heavens (Zeus) and Night (Leto).
The Delian Festivals
The Delian Festivals, next in splendor and importance to the Delphic were held every four years in honor of Apollo. Pilgrims of all over Greece came to worship and commerce, fostered by the favorable situation of the island, made Delos one of the wealthiest centers. We find ruins of open- air marketplaces with various buildings, stoae and warehouses and offices for the commercial firms in the space near the temples.
The collaborate temples to the twin gods had large peristyleae or rows of columns around the court where the statue of Apollo once stood also treasuries similar to these at Delphi most famous of which was that of the Naxians. There were “Aesclepaea” or hospitals for the sick, the famous carved Lions that flanked the road that lead to the tiny lake where Apollo was said to have been born. Of the nine lions that were originally there five still exist. There were also palestrae, gymnasiums and the agora or Market of Theophrastus, a large building, surrounded by columns, which served as a money exchange at that period.
Across from Delos is a tiny Necropolis or Cemetery which was used exclusively for the burial of the dead because no burials were permitted on Delos itself – the birthplace if the god of Light- In the tombs were found vases, pottery and other Ceramics of notable artistic value as well as many carved tombstones.
From these ruins and from the myths and legends, we form our conception of the splendor and beauty of the ancient Sacred City of Apollo.
C R E T E
And finally, we come to the ruins of the Cretan Civilization which reached its height between 3000-1200 B.C. The excavation of these ruins of rare historical importance were carried out only a few decades ago and brought to light the relics of people that had reached an unbelievably high type of culture. This period known as the Minoan Age derives its name from the mythological hero and king Minos, who founded a dynasty that ruled over Crete until the decadence of that Era.
The King Minos and a mythical dynasty
Poseidon, in order to punish Minos for failing to sacrifice a white bull that Poseidon had sent to him, caused Pasiphae, Mino’s wife to become enamored of it and follow it through the meadows and pastures. In order to gain the bull’s affections, she had Daedalus, the cunning architect who had built the splendid place of Cnossus, disguise her as a calf and out of this unnatural love a monster, half human, half bull, was born. She was forced to hide it in the Labyrinth and there it lived on the youths and maidens that were sent as tribute by the subject’s states.
Theseus and Minotaur
Theseus, the son of Aegeus, king of Athens, determined to rid the world of this horrible monster and accompanied the seven maidens and seven youths that the king had been forced to offer every nine years. He succeeded in doing so with the help of Mino’s daughter, Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him. Theseus had promised his father that if he survived the endeavor, he would change the black sail of his ship to white on the homeward journey. He forgot to do so and Aegeus, who was watching for his return from a high rock over-looking the sea, thinking that his son had been devoured by the Minotaur and that the ship was still in mourning, leaped into the sea in his grief despair for his son and since then the sea bears his name: Aegean Sea
The modern world stood amazed at the high degree of culture and civilization that the Cretans had attained. The abundance of material found during the excavations at Cnossus, Phaistos, and Hagia Triade give us a very clear picture of their achievements.
The luxurious residence of the king at Cnossus was a group of buildings around an immense central court and occupied an area of more than five acres. Great broad stairways lead to the main parts of the palace and to the chambers of the Queen who occupied a separate three-story building. The alabaster throne is beautiful in its elegance and simplicity. Around it were the seats of the courtiers. The walls of the huge chambers and halls were covered with exquisite frescoes some of which can still be seen. There were large cisterns and baths with tile floors, cellars and a hydraulic system of tile pipes for hot and cold water and, most astonishing of all “a drainage- system that has not been equaled in Europe between that day and the 19th C.”. One marvels at the great technical progress of that distant period!
Temples, alters, for the worship of the gods, theaters used for athletic exhibitions and for dancing with special seats for royalty all there are found in the precincts of the palace. Underground there were storerooms with huge earthenware jars for wine and olive oil. The statues, vases, pottery and paintings on the vases as well as the frescoes on the wall clearly show the great artistic development for this Age.
Illustrated edition dedicated to the Grecian Civilazation.
Year V. Period III. Supplements 18-25
Dir. Z. A. Macatounis- Athens 1949
Pesmazoglou St. 1a
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