The Olympieion

A short distance south-east of the Acropolis are the remains of a colossal temple called the Olympieion, or the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  It was begun around 520 B.C. with the expressed purpose of being the largest and most impressive such structure in the Greek-speaking world, but it fell victim to political fortunes.  Work on the temple was abandoned around 510 B.C. when one of its advocates, Hippias, was removed from power and expelled from Athens.

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Kerameikos: The Spirits Of The Dead

Today I visted a site called Kerameikos in Athens.  It was a cemetery for many centuries, and contains numerous examples of funerary art.  The site was only rediscovered in 1861 during road construction in the neighborhood.  On the site is also located the famous Dipylon Gate, which was the main entrance into Athens during ancient times when the city was surrounded by walls.  The gate itself is said to have been the largest gateway in the ancient world, covering around 1800 square meters.  Constructed around 478 B.C., it had four large covered towers and a courtyard that also served as an official meeting place and a location for commercial activity.  I was excited to see the remains of the Gate, as I had read references to it in classical texts.

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The Lyceum Of Aristotle, And The National Archaeological Museum

Today I visited the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, as well as the historical site of Aristotle’s Lyceum.  The Lyceum was the place of origin of Aristotle’s Peripatetic school of philosophy, which took shape around 335 B.C.  Like the Platonic Academy, there is not much in the way of physical remains; but this did not matter to me at all.  Just to be able to stand on this ground was to me worth the effort in coming to Greece.  It was only discovered in 1996. How often do we read of Aristotle, and yet no one bothers to link a physical location to his memory?  This is why it was important for me to take these pictures, and show them to readers here.

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Seeing The Platonic Academy

I walked to the ruins of the Platonic Academy in Athens this morning.  Founded by Plato himself around 387 B.C., it persisted through many generations under a variety of scholarchs (i.e., heads).  It finally came to an official end during the reign of the emperor Justinian in 529 A.D., who ordered the closure of all the pagan institutions of higher learning.

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Starvation On The High Seas: The Ordeal Of The “Saint Le Jacques”

Perhaps it is well that the modern traveler remains serenely unaware of the extraordinary hardships endured by his itinerant ancestors.  For if he knew what travel in the pre-modern era truly entailed, he would be rightfully consumed by a sense of shame and inadequacy.  His concerns are whether he will have the chicken or the pasta aboard Delta Flight XYZ bound for one city or another; his ancestors, however, were grateful just to get a few moldy biscuits and rum during some miserable transoceanic ordeal.  Perspective is everything, or nearly everything.

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René Caillié: To Timbuktu And Back Alive

The modern traveler has little conception of the hardships and expense that were involved in the journeys of ages past.  Surrounded by comfort, his every whim catered to by a global tourism industry, he is blissfully unaware of the suffering and danger necessarily involved in travel to remote regions of the globe before the modern consumer age.  His chief preoccupations are the adjustment of his body to new time zones, the temperature of his air-conditioning, and the quality of his accommodations.  Perhaps it is well that this is so:  for nothing so unbalances the complacent mind than the realization that its perspective is based on narrow, parochial experience.  Knowledge can both liberate and destroy.

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The Travels Of John Bell In Persia and China

John Bell was born in 1690 in Antermony, Scotland.  He seems to have decided at an early age to study medicine, but was lured into the world of adventure and travel by hearing stories of Peter the Great of Russia, who was a famous figure in Europe in the early eighteenth century.  He resolved to visit Russia for himself, and set out to St. Petersburg in July 1714.  The czar was preparing a delegation under the command of Aremy Petrovich Valenskyto travel to Persia; and Bell, with his medical background, volunteered to join the party as an attendant.

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