Mediterranean – Eastern

Mediterranean – Eastern

 

So much to see and limited time to take it all in.   We are always intrigued by all the history – so much to learn, so many questions needing answers.  Unfortunately I did not experience far away places and other worlds when I was young.

We’ve been to the Eastern Mediterranean visiting  some of the places that I am going to touch on, more than once.

The one area that I am going to omit is Ephesus, Turkey as I have included it in my ramblings about Turkey.  Simply, go to My Travels and click on Turkey or click on the link below.

https://hmflath.wordpress.com/Turkey

Here my focus is on several Greek islands, Jerusalem and Acre in Israel and Bethlehem in Palestine.

 

CORFU, Greece

This legendary ‘island of the Phaeacians’ (The Odyssey), mountainous Corfu is named for the nymph Kerkyra (daughter of the river Assopos).   The highest peak is 3,000 foot Mr. Pandokrator, but several flat areas include the broad Ropa Valley.  Corfu (‘town on the summit’) was originally the name of the mountain fortress.  The first known inhabitants were 8th century B.C. Corinthians.

Corfu Town is the island capital but we did not spend any time exploring the town.  Instead, we headed out into Corfu’s lush and verdant countryside of olive, orange and lemon trees.  We caught a distant glimpse of Vlacherna Monastery and Mouse Island with its 13th century cathedral.  According to mythology, Mouse Island is Odysseus’ petrified ship, turned to stone  by an angry Poseidon.2010-01-17_0210

We visited the Mon Repo Palace, built in 1828 for the second British Lord High Commissioner of the Ionian Islands, Sir Frederic Adam.  It was then utilized as the summer residence of the High Commissioner, while the official residence was the Palace of St. Michael and St. George in Corfu itself.  The second son of King George I, George II was born here in 1869.  2010-01-17_02132010-01-17_02152010-01-17_0214The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip was born and baptized here in 1921.  This palace is where the Greek Royal family would spend their summers.

 

The mansion of Acchillion was built by the Empress Elisabeth of Austria.2010-01-17_0223 2010-01-17_0220 She was the last Kaiser to rule Corfu.  This palace was the ‘comfort of her soul’.  She was assassinated in Switzerland in 1898. 2010-01-17_0222 The palace was later owned by Kaiser Wilhelm II.  the beautiful gardens and statues have been left intact for visitors to admire.2010-01-17_0221

 

KATAKOLON, Greece

 

Our first visit to Katakolon was on a day when we were weary as we had been touring for many days previous so we took the opportunity to explore only the beach area of this port.IMG_1160  Katakolon is a shore side villageIMG_1162 in western Ilia in the municipality of Pyrgos.  The city center has a gulf overlooking the Ionian Sea.  Katakolon is situated on a peninsula and its Lighthouse, first opened in 1865, can be found on its southwest side.

Katakolon is the gateway to Olympia, where the ancient Greeks used to flock every four years for more than a thousand years to celebrate the sacred games dedicated to Zeus.  On our second visit to Katakolon, we boarded a bus and travelled to the ancient games site. IMG_1161 Famous are the ruins of the Sanctuary, with its athletic square stadiums, temples and treasuries.IMG_1174IMG_1177

Following an exploration of the ruins, we visited the modern Archaeological Museum, a treasure house of Ancient, Classical and Roman sculptures, including the famous statue of Niki, the Winged Victory.IMG_1192IMG_1191

On my next visit to Katakolon (if I should ever be so fortunate to visit a third time), I will explore the village of Katakolon.

 

SANTORINI, Greece

 

We were  required to tender in at this port where the tenders let you off at the base of a cliff.  The town of Fira is at the top of the cliffs and in order to reach that location you could walk, ride the donkeys2010-01-17_0006 or take the cable car.2010-01-17_0004

We had reserved a rental car for the day, picked it up at the top of the cliffs and set off.  We  drove south and looked at Black beach and Red beach.2010-01-17_0012  2010-01-17_0015Santorini is a volcanic island which covers an area of about 73 square miles with a population of about 7000 permanent residents.

We drove along the west side of the island, the side which plunges abruptly into the Aegean sea.  We stopped, walked and explored among the houses, shops, walkways, etc.  White buildings with the distinctive blue domes dotted the rugged volcanic terrane.2010-01-17_0038-12010-01-17_0042

We drove to Ia, a lovely traditional village on the northwest side of the island, built along the rim of the caldera, the crescent rim of what was once the crater of the volcano.   In Ia we dined on a wonderful Greek lunch, enjoying the baked feta in a tomato sauce, not to mention the cold Heineken beer.2010-01-17_0043

Apparently on the east side of the island, where we didn’t get to, there is fertile land which extends gently until it reaches the water and turns into a black sand or pebbly beach.

Santorini is noted for its wines and succulent tomatoes.  Today the majority of its inhabitants, formerly farmers and seafarers are now primarily engaged in tourism.2010-01-17_0054 2010-01-17_0055

 

CRETE, Greece

 

At the port of Heraklion on the island of Crete,IMG_1230 we hired a taxi which took us on a little tour of Heraklion and then through the lush countryside where the hillsides were covered with olive groves, orange and lemon          groves.IMG_1193 IMG_1194

As we drove along, our elevation was continually increasing until we reached our destination, Knossos Palace, which is believed to be the original Labyrinth of the Minotaur and 3700 years old. IMG_1197IMG_1210 IMG_1207IMG_1205Visiting these ruins took us a few steps back in time.  Crete holds a special place in Greek mythology and was an influential location in the evolution of Hellenic civilization.IMG_1206IMG_1211

Following our somewhat lengthy visit at the ruins, we drove back down to the city of Heraklion and left our taxi in the downtown area from where we made our way on foot.  On our way back to the ship, we rested our weary feet in a fish spa.IMG_1224IMG_1223

 

ATHENS, Greece

 

Piraeus is one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the busiest in the world.  It certainly is one of the most important points of continental Greece due to its proximity to the capital, Athens.  Piraeus has been the Athenian port since Ancient times with the continuous flow of people and ships from all parts of the world.

On our first visit to Athens we took a guided tour but on our second visit a few years later, feeling more confident and comfortable we used the hop-on-hop-off bus IMG_1498 IMG_1499as we made our way around the city with its cosmopolitan life atmosphere.  It was interesting seeing the prevalent use of motorbikes with parking lots filled with them.IMG_1557  Orange trees heavy with oranges lined the boulevards.IMG_1535

The Olympic Stadium was used for the original Olympics in 1896 and then again, refurbished for the Olympics in 2004 where the opening ceremonies were held.2010-01-17_0099-12010-01-17_0100

The Acropolis dates back to the 5th century B.C.  A great democratic leader, Perikles, over saw the building of the Acropolis, temples to the Greek gods and goddesses.2010-01-17_0116

The Parthenon was built and used by the Greeks and when the Romans came, it was used by the Romans.
 The Christians came next and they too used this Parthenon as a place of worship.2010-01-17_0120  The Parthenon was originally dedicated to Athena, daughter of Zeus and goddess of many things;  wisdom, law, intelligence, etc.

The Porch of Caryatids on the temple of Erechtheion has statues of women used as columns.  This temple, built between 470 and 432 B.C was dedicated to the goddess Athena.2010-01-17_0122IMG_1516

The theatre of Herodes Atticus was built in 161 A.D.  It was restored in 1955 for the Athens festival and is used today for outdoor plays and concerts.IMG_1508IMG_1507

The Acropolis stands 230 feet above the city and from there the the views of the city are awesome.2010-01-17_01272010-01-17_0118-1

 

Jerusalem, Israel 

The port  where we docked is Haifa which is an important port and industrial centre.  It is the second busiest Israeli port after Ashdod.  Currently Haifa has a multi-ethnic and multi-religious population, with a Jewish prevalence,IMG_1368 but also with Muslim, Christian and Druse presence.

 

With the cruise line, we booked an all day tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  It was a two hour bus ride from the port to Jerusalem.IMG_1312 IMG_1313

We visited the old walled city with its interesting sloping walls, IMG_1321IMG_1327

cobbled stones and paving tiles.IMG_1332IMG_1331

 

A stop at the Holy Sepulchre brought us to the Stations of the Cross where it was believed that Jesus was crucified.  It is very interesting here how places are built on top of another.  A temple could be destroyed and another one is simply built on top.IMG_1335IMG_1344IMG_1352IMG_1351IMG_1342

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We made a stop at the Western Wall – a place of Jewish worship which also forms part of the outer wall of the destroyed temple.IMG_1359IMG_1363IMG_1370

After leaving the old city, we drove by the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.IMG_1381IMG_1382IMG_1383

 

Bethlehem, Palestine 

It was interesting coming across the border between Israel and Palestine.  Each person required a special pass but they were only superficially checked when we entered Palestine.  It was a little different when we were going the other direction.

In Bethlehem,IMG_1299 IMG_1239     we went right to Church of the Nativity which is built over the place where it is believed that Jesus was born.IMG_1248

 Here too, there were layers of structures, one church built over top of another, over top of the place believed to be the manger of Jesus.IMG_1273IMG_1279IMG_1275IMG_1284IMG_1255IMG_1277

Built right along side is another church, also called the Church of the Nativity and it is the one often seen on Television on Christmas Eve when a church service from Bethlehem is broadcast.IMG_1280

It took us a long time to get out of Palestine.  The lines at the border were long and very slow moving as every visitor card was checked by the armed guards.  High concrete walls separate Israel from Palestine around Bethlehem.IMG_1303

Haifa, Israel

Back in Haifa,  we visited the Stella Maris Monastery    IMG_1395IMG_1394         and the Bahai Gardens.

IMG_1402IMG_1400

A trip to Acre (Akko) where we toured the Old City and learned of some of the secrets of the city above and the city below.  In the Old City there exists a preserved Crusader city being unearthed, located directly under the city built above it.   IMG_1413IMG_1409

Akko Port was built between 285 and 246 BC, transforming Akko into an international port city and the gateway to Israel.  It reached its zenith during the conquest by the Crusaders. IMG_1438IMG_1437 In the 13th Century, Akko became the capital of the Crusader Kingdom in the Holy Land.  After the Ottoman conquest, the port was neglected, reduced to a fishermen’s harbour.IMG_1419IMG_1415

The Old City of Akko is recognized as a UNESCO world Heritage Site.  There are walls and fortresses, knights’ halls, churches, synagogues and mosques, all reminders of the city’s conquerors and religions, from the Canaanites and Romans to the Crusaders,Turks and British.

The Templars were a monastic military order that guarded European pilgrims arriving in the Holy Land to visit the holy places.  The order’s main fortress in Akko was built at the western end of a long tunnel.  The tunnel, the bottom section of which is cut in natural stone and the upper section comprising hewn stone, extends from the Templar fortress to the port, a distance of 350 meters, serving as a strategic underground passageway linking the fortress with the port.  This location is the last known of the Templars before their collapse.IMG_1426IMG_1435

2 thoughts on “Mediterranean – Eastern

    • Thank you for reading. We are returning to the Eastern Mediterranean, rather the Balkins, in fall of 2016. I sure do hope that the refugee situation will have settled down by then. Will add a page to my Travels when we return from that. Also, we are off to Mexico for almost three months beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

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