greece 3: epidaurus and nafplio, greece’s first capital

Epidaurus, Classical Greece’s centre for healing

In the hinterland of Epidaurus, on green hills enjoying mild climate and plentiful water from healing springs, the Epidaureans founded the sanctuary of Asclepius, the most impressive centre of healing in the ancient world.

The worship of gods of healing in Epidaurus goes back to the prehistoric period. In the Mycenaean period, the hero-doctor Malos, or Maleatas was worshipped on one of the peaks of Mt. Cynortium. After 1000 BC, Apollo displaced the prehistoric deity, and assumed his name, Apollo Maleatas, continuing to be worshipped in his sanctuary until the end of the ancient world. His cult evolved into that of Asclepius, culminating in the 6th Century BC with the building of Asclepius’ major sanctuary of healing. According to mythology, Asclepius was the son of Apollo and Coronis and he learned the art of medicine from his father and Cheiron, the wise Centaur.


The Theatre of Epidaurus is the best preserved ancient theatre in Greece, 4th-3rd Century BC Continue reading

greece 2: ancient corinth and mycenae

Corinth Canal

The Corinth Canal, 6 kilometres long and 23 meters wide, was constructed in 1882-1893 by French and Greek engineers at the narrowest point of the Isthmus. I crossed the canal by bridge as I left Attica and entered the Peloponnese. The decision to build a canal on this spot was taken by many in antiquity: Periander, tyrant of Corinth and one of the seven sages of the ancient world, Julius Caesar, Nero, Hadrian, and Herodes Atticus. But it was only in the 19th Century that the idea received form. Nonetheless, the ancient Greeks had devised other means of bridging the gap between the two gulfs. In the late 7th or early 6th Century BC, they built a paved road called diolcus from the shores of the Gulf of Corinth to the shores of the Saronic, and ships were pulled on wheeled wagons from one side of the Isthmus to the other. Parts of the diolcus can still be seen today on the Gulf of Corinth.

Ancient Corinth

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The ruins of ancient Corinth Continue reading

greece 1: pericles’ athens—an education to [classical] Greece

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I was in Athens. After months of reading numerous books on Classical Greece, I was finally in the city which had given birth to democracy, intellectual freedom, and the concept of individuality. My breath caught in my throat in bated excitement as I took the long drive from the airport to the hotel, amidst much heat, pollution, noise, crowds, and huge run-down buildings lining traffic-laden streets.

Next morning I commenced my exploration of the city’s glorious art and history. The heavy cloak of modern urban Athens slowly parted to reveal the Athens I’d come to see from across the many seas, the Athens of incomparable beauty.

Athens: An education to [Classical] Greece

To fully experience the classical beauty of Athens is to understand the essence of Greek civilization. Athens, the “school of Hellas”, and in Pericles’ words, “the city that was an education to Greece”, was the cultural and intellectual well-spring of Greek life in antiquity. During Greece’s Golden Age, the period commencing with the defeat of the Persians in 479 BC to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war in 431 BC, it displayed a vigour that has no parallel in the history of man. And this golden age glowed brightest during the 30 years it had the leadership of the political genius of Pericles, the city’s first citizen, austere aristocrat, soldier, orator, and statesman. Continue reading

egypt 8: alexander the great’s alexandria and coptic wadi-el-natrun

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Fairytale Qaytbay Fort, built from the stones of the legendary Pharos Lighthouse

Alexandria, ancient capital of culture and learning

Built by Alexander the Great in 332 BC, Alexandria was intended to be the port which would link the old worlds of Egypt, Babylon, Persia, and Greece. Following Alexander’s death, Alexandria became a world city under the rule of the Ptolemies, the dynasty founded by his Greek General, Ptolemy. The Ptolemies used their resources to develop knowledge, art and culture and establish the city as a centre for science, religious thought and literature. It was within the complex of libraries, parks and halls of the fabled Mouseion that stood in the centre of the city that Euclid wrote his ‘Elements’, Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth, Herophilus pioneered the study of anatomy, and the ‘Julian’ calendar, based on the ancient Egyptian solar calendar, was devised. Continue reading