Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mount Olympus, home of the gods

Our first visit was to Mount Olympus, the home of the Twelve Olympian gods of the Ancient Greek world. In myth, Olympus formed after the gods defeated the Titans. The Twelve Olympian gods lived in the gorges with Zeus as their leader. This certainly gave our drive a sense of mysticism, and the narrow road edged with rockfalls added a little drama. After a bumpy ride on a gravel road we finally reached our destination. Somehow you don't think of the gods having to travel over gravel.

Clouds were swirling around and we wondered if Zeus was about to unleash some thunderbolts. We had a look at the path higher up the mountain but it was definitely a path for hiking and not a leisurely stroll. After admiring the view from the first bridge we decided it was time for our salad lunch accompanied by bread and tzakiki, which we enjoyed surrounded by wild flowers, overlooking a lovely mountain stream.

Back in the car we headed down the mountain to visit the Orthodox chapel  built by Saint Dionysius of Olympus in the 16th century. The monastery was looted and burned by the Ottomans and in 1943 it was almost totally destroyed by the Germans, who suspected that it was a guerrilla den. The old church has now been restored. For me it was very interesting to watch an enthusiastic group of schoolchildren go around the church and cross themselves before each painting and then kiss the hand of whichever saint was portrayed. In fact one boy was ready to do some climbing to reach the hand of one saint before he thought better of it.

Outside the students gathered round a jolly looking Greek Orthodox priest and after a lot more hand kissing they sang a song for him. In the meantime we had a look around the refectory with its long wooden dining table, and the kitchen, where by the looks of it, lots of cooking was taking place.

There is still much renovation to be completed, which may take a long time as there seem to be only a handful of people working on it.

We continued down to the foot of  the mountain to the sacred Macedonian city of Dion, dedicated to Zeus and the twelve gods. It is estimated that the city flourished between 5 BC and 5 AD. Alexander the Great came here to make sacrifices and gather his armies before going off on his conquests.

We wandered through the ruins of temples dedicated to Zeus, Demeter and Isis. There were many statues and ancient columns around the sites. Remnants of the Romans were seen in the baths and Dionysius' house, which had a huge well preserved mosaic. The site is vast and excavations are ongoing. Sadly, much of the present excavations are not being maintained with mosaics left to the elements and grasses and weeds trying to reclaim the site. We did go in to the nearby town to visit the museum that houses more artifacts from Dion but since it was after 2 o'clock the museum was shut.

Back in Veria, we explored more lane ways ending up at a recommended restaurant called 12 Degrees. The ambience was lovely sitting outside but once again the food was a major disappointment with veal scallopini that was far too thick and majorly over cooked. Undeterred we went off for another walk around the town losing ourselves in the interesting, cobbled backstreets. What a pretty town!

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