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Thousands of years in one day

I saw the news on a sunny spring day, traipsing through ruins where theOracle held court, in a place once deemed the centre of the Earth.

I saw the news on a sunny spring day, traipsing through ruins where the Oracle held court, in a place once deemed the centre of the Earth.

The report was dated by a couple of thousand years, carved in ancient Greek letters on a marble slab, filled with passages of the era’s noteworthy events.

Our journey included stops in the Bronze Age, the Golden Age, the eras of the Roman occupation and Byzantine influence, with side steps to the paths of the disciples of Jesus, and some of the wonders of the ancient world.

Travelling on an organized tour, we started in Athens, where a third of the Greek population lives and works. The city spreads out below the Acropolis, which glows under lights by night for an awe-inspiring view from virtually anywhere in the city. We joined a crowd on the same stone pathway once traversed by throngs as part of an annual rite, known as the Panathenaic procession, to the site of the grandest of temples around 500 BC.

We clambered past the ruins of the formal entrance, the Propylaia, and stood before the remains of the Parthenon, where a huge statue of the goddess Athena once stood.

Nearby and also remarkably intact is the Erechtheion, famous for massive statues of women used as supporting pillars. Below the walls is the Theatre of Herod Atticus, dating to AD 161 but now restored and in use. From here, we followed the footsteps of Socrates through what was once the political centre of Athens — the Agora.

Athens offers enough history to consume months or years of sightseeing, so these highlights are just a sample. But there’s so much more outside the city, not only in terms of history but also natural beauty. Marathon Plain, northeast of Athens, was the scene of the Athenians’ battle victory in 490 BC over the Persians.

In Delphi, we were again following the footsteps of the ancients on the Sacred Way on the slopes of Mount Parnassos. The upward path brought us past the ruins of the temple of Apollo, dating back several hundred years BC, and the excavated site of the Oracle, whose ambiguous incantations came at a price in sacrifices and donations. Still intact is the conical stone marking the mythological centre of the Earth.

Our next stop, Olympia, presented the route to the site of the first Olympics in a constant contrast between the old and modern: A space-age cable-stay bridge carried us to Peloponnese, a peninsula on the other side of the canal at Corinth. At the foot of the bridge was a well-preserved fort dating to the days of the Crusades. Homes along the way, featuring traditional orange tiled roofs, also had rooftop hot-water heaters energized by the abundant sunshine.

And mountaintops once considered the realm of the gods are now the domain of a newer power —energy. Numerous wind farms have sprouted along high ridges that streak across the island.

We stood at the site of the ritual lighting of the Olympic flame, which even today is lit in the ancient way, using the sun’s rays and a mirror, and then under the vaulted arch leading to the stadium.

A bowl carved into the earth provided room for thousands of spectators. And the field is open. We were among the visitors who could not help but try a quick dash across the hard-packed dirt.

 
 
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