greece 4: olympia, home of zeus and the olympic games

The Palaestra where the athletes trained for the contests in wrestling, boxing and jumping, 3rd Century BC

There was scarcely any city which failed to stage games in honour of the gods, but the attention of all Greece was drawn to the four great Pan-Hellenic festivals: the Olympic Games at Olympia and the Pythian Games at Delphi, both held every four years; and the Nemean Games in Argolis and the Isthmian Games at Corinth, each held every two years. These festivals drew athletes from all parts of Greece who competed as individuals, not as teams, on a passionately amateur basis. Wars were put aside for the Games. Greatest of all the Pan-Hellenic games were the Olympics held at Olympia. Continue reading

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

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

egypt 2: pyramids of saqqara and giza

Memphis and Saqqara

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara

Memphis, the capital of the Old Kingdom (2686-2160 BC) was a magnificent city and important, both as a commercial hub, as well as a cult centre for the god Ptah, creator of the universe. The temple of Ptah was Memphis’ most impressive building. Unfortunately, it was destroyed a long time ago like other temples dating back to the time as they were then made of mud-bricks. Memphis today is a pleasant open air museum; the main attractions a colossal statue of Ramses II as a young king and a New Kingdom sphinx.

Two kilometres from Memphis, in the bleak golden dunes of the desert, lies the necropolis of Saqqara, the burial ground of the Old Kingdom pharaohs and nobles. Continue reading