|20 Mar 2023|
|Written by Hannah Castle|
On Thursday 9th March, 39 Classicists and their teachers set off full of excitement on the first Classics trip abroad since the pandemic. Upon arrival at the hotel in Athens late afternoon, we ventured into Monastiraki Square, well-known for its shops and cafes, to get a view of the ancient agora and Acropolis, soak up the atmosphere and do some all-important shopping! This was to be our first - and last day! - of rest as we had three very full days of sightseeing ahead. So, after an excellent buffet supper, we all headed to bed, weary after a long day of travelling.
Day two started auspiciously with bright sunshine and clear skies. On the way to Delphi, we stopped at the 10th century Hosios Loukas Monastery. We were told to expect amazing views and they did not disappoint. Nestled in the Parnassus Mountain range, this beautiful monastery is decorated with numerous Byzantine frescoes and mosaics, all perfectly preserved. A further unexpected attraction were the resident cats, who captured the attention of some of the animal lovers among us!
Delphi, site of the Omphalos – ‘the navel of the world’ – was truly awe-inspiring. Our guide, Aggelike, explained the geographical reasons as to why the Greeks might have chosen this particular site for the sanctuary of Apollo, the home of the Pythia and the most famous oracle of the ancient Greek world: two fault lines intersect directly below the Delphic temple, releasing hallucinogenic gases rising from a nearby spring and preserved within the temple rock. It was these gases that the Greeks believed inspired the Pythia with the god’s prophecy, which would then be interpreted by a male priest. The students enjoyed exploring all aspects of the site, taking some very artistic photos and deciphering Greek and later Roman inscriptions.
In the evening, we ate traditional Greek food in a restaurant in central Athens and were treated to some local Greek folk dancing. Culinary highlights included the fresh sweetness of the tomatoes, the creaminess of the Greek yoghurt and the filo pastry parcels with both sweet and savoury fillings. During the dance show, the LV were particularly enthusiastic in their calls of ‘Opa!’ and all year groups enjoyed their impromptu dance lesson after supper!
Day three was another big day of sight-seeing. Having stopped at the Corinth Canal, for more obligatory souvenir shopping, we arrived at the dramatic citadel of Mycenae. Many students study this site for their GCSE course, so it was particularly interesting to see the huge scale of the place. The so-called Treasury of Atreus – a tholos tomb – was hugely imposing with its 36-meter-long entrance and 120 tonnes lintel and still has the largest corbelled dome in the world. We then stopped at the Lion Gate before entering the citadel itself. All the Classics teachers were very pleased by the students’ ability to point out and talk about the different parts of the citadel, such as the megaron, the sally ports and the tunnel to the underground spring!
We were then all very much ready for lunch, although many of us did not realise that the different dishes of local specialities that came out were just a starter! The teachers were impressed by the students’ enthusiasm to try new food, which all went down well.
Our next stop was the theatre at Epidauros. After Mrs Durant’s introduction of the site and challenge to the group to perform something to some friends sitting in the back rows to check the acoustics, we all enjoyed some virtuoso performances – including Miss Cavanagh’s recital of the Jabberwocky! This theatre was part of a much wider ancient complex that included the temple to Asclepius, god of healing. Miss Cavanagh, who is our expert on Greek religion, described the experiences of those seeking a cure for their illnesses – although Zara and Soraya’s discovery of a bone sparked discussion as to whether all visitors were lucky enough to be cured! A final highlight of this site was the athletic stadium; here the students relived the foot races and demonstrated their fierce competitive spirit!
After our final supper in the hotel, as is tradition, we dressed up, played some games as one big group and had the ‘Beard Award’ presentations, awarded to those students who have shown special enthusiasm during the trip. Congratulations go to all the winners of these awards and in particular to Summer for winning the fancy dress competition, dressed as Medusa.
We woke on Sunday knowing that soon our Greek adventure would come to an end, but also excited that it would culminate in a tour of the Athenian Acropolis and seeing some of the sources we study in the OCR textbooks in 'real life'. The National Archaeological Museum in Athens houses some of the most significant ancient finds, including the treasures discovered by Schliemann. It was quite something to ‘gaze upon the face of Agamemnon’ as Schliemann claimed he had done and to decide for ourselves whether it was a fake or a genuine archaeological discovery.
Just a couple of stops down the underground and we found ourselves in the Acropolis Museum. Here the most impressive feature by far was the reconstruction of the Parthenon, to its exact dimensions on the glass-walled top floor of the museum, overlooking the actual Acropolis and Parthenon. The Parthenon frieze, famous reliefs found around the outside walls of the Parthenon – also known as the Elgin Marbles – were notable in their absence, replaced by replicas. Stephen Fry has compared Elgin’s act to the removal of the Eiffel Tower from Paris or Stonehenge from Salisbury; standing there in Athens, it was hard not to be moved by the arguments for their return, although this controversy is likely to continue for some time yet.
The Acropolis looks stunning from the city centre below and after a break for lunch we started on the climb to the top. Again, we were struck by the scale of everything as we explored the structures and temples within. Now, equipped with the information shared by our guides in the museum, we could more easily imagine what it would have been like as a Greek in 5th century Athens worshipping the different gods.
The students were all fantastic throughout this trip; enthusiastic, unfailingly polite and a lot of fun. I would also like to thank the staff that accompanied this trip, without whom this trip would not have been possible – Miss Cavanagh, Mrs Durant, Ms Holloway and Mrs Villalobos-Ruiz all provided tremendous support throughout, sharing their knowledge and expertise of the sites generously, and always with a great sense of humour.
Mrs Lucy Weeden
Head of Classics
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