Experiencing Greek Antiquity at the Acropolis

I first became compelled to visit Greece during my undergrad studies as an Art History major. Many of my Art History courses emphasized Greek Antiquity, and its undeniable impact on both contemporary art and the connection of art to collective memory. While learning about the construction of Greek society through its art, I needed to personally experience the ancient history of one of the most visited attractions, the Acropolis, and admire the architectural details of its ruins.

dscn1183.jpg
Parthenon on the Acropolis, 2013

The Acropolis is a 5th century BCE complex that sits on an elevated outcrop overlooking the city of Athens. While the Persian Invasion  of 480BCE on the Acropolis negatively transformed it’s landscape, a renowned sculptor, Pheidias, helped fulfilled the visions of a powerful statesman, Pericles, for the reconstruction of the sacred site.

This citadel has become synonymously viewed as an icon of democracy and the birth of western civilization.

One of the most important structures on the Acropolis is the Parthenon. It’s a classical-style temple that was erected for the warrior goddess, Athena. The temple has Ionic characteristics and is supported by Doric columns. Where the Parthenon currently stands, an older Athenian temple stood but was ruined during the Persian Invasion.

When I backpacked for 2 months around Europe in 2013, I booked a ticket to Greece. On my second day in Athens I went to the Acropolis. The walk towards the citadel’s ruins filled me with anticipation because the nearby streets encircling the outcrop offer numerous vantage points of it.

Although I arrived before noon, the site was still congested with tourists. In hindsight, I’m glad I wore appropriate footwear that would accommodate the steep slopes, dusty terrain, and slippery marble.

At this time, all of the Cultural Heritage workers on site were unpaid due to Greece’s economic crisis. Signs and banners were hung throughout the site informing tourists about their hardships.

In 2013, the Parthenon was partially hidden away by scaffolding due to an ongoing restoration project led by the Greek Ministry of Culture. This project started in 1983, and is to ensure the integrity of the architecture and stability. The Chicago Tribune recently posted an article that states the restoration is nearly complete and provides detailed photographs of the accomplishment.

Don’t miss these noteworthy places at the Acropolis:

  • The Entrance
  • Propylaea
  • Erechtheon with the Caryatids (read more about one of my Art History professor’s interesting research concerning the hairstyles of these women)
  • The Temple of Hephaestus
  • Athena Nike Temple

In addition there are two museums in Athens worth a visit. The first is the National Archaeological Museum, which displays famous Greek artifacts and paintings. When I went to the National Archaeological Museum I was blown away by the size of its collection and explored for over 2 hours. The second is the Acropolis Museum, which faces the Acropolis and houses artifacts collected from the site for conservation purposes. Replicas of the original extractions are at the Acropolis.

DSCN1197
View of Athens from the Acropolis, 2013

Chichen Itza, A Slice of the Mayan World

In the last week of April, I took a tour from Cozumel to the Yucatán peninsula to visit the ancient Mayan archaeological site, Chichen Itza. Even though each way took three hours because of a ferry ride to the mainland and a shuttle service, it was well worth it. 31543518_10156962242623797_420894816344211456_n

Chichen Itza (At the edge of the well of the Itzaes) used to be one of the main Mayan cities. The site was settled largely in its present location because of its close vicinity to two cenotes, which are accessible areas that lead to underground pools of water. The site is historically significant due to the synthesis of Mayan and Mexican architectural stylization. The stonework and hieroglyphs on the buildings were painted with local colors, some residual colors can still be faintly seen.

The Kukulkan Pyramid or El Castillo is the iconic, large pyramid that attracts millions of tourists each year to learn about Mayan history and culture. Recently in 2017, it was established as a Wonder of the World. Although tourists are no longer able to climb up the stairs of El Castillo, the site is still impressive. A quirky feature to El Castillo is that if a group of people clap before it, the sound of a squawking bird will echo back.

Here are some other noteworthy areas on the complex to see:

  • Temple of Warriors with its many columns and a statue of Chacmool, where human sacrifices occurred.
  • The Great Ball Court and the North Temple (Temple of the Bearded Man)
  • The Osario Group is a short pyramid
  • The Observatory is a tower with a circular staircase that is thought to be used by the Mayan people to study astronomy.
  • Temple of Xtoloc
31563906_10156962242718797_6273618124646383616_n
Panoramic shot of the Temple of Warriors

When I visited a few days ago, the temperature was beyond 90 degrees Fahrenheit It’s important to frequently drink water and apply sunblock. The ideal time to go is in the morning because the site will be overwhelmed by tourists in the afternoon. I heard the site was commercialized, however I was stunned by the persistent vendors that lined many main pathways on the outskirts of the site.

Don’t forget to taste Xtabentún, a local liquor made from honey and anise seed.

31562388_10156962242673797_6414441959024230400_n
The Osario Group with El Castillo in the background

A Minute in Manila

asdWhen I visited Manila, Philippines for work in October, I didn’t have much time to explore because of my schedule and the city’s unbelievable traffic. However I was fortunate to visit Fort Santiago and Cathedral Manila, and as my hotel was in the business district, Makati, I shopped in several of Manila’s well-known malls like SM Mall of Asia, Glorietta, Glorietta 5, and Greenbelt.

The highlight of my travels was seeing Fort Santiago, which sits within the walled city, the Intramuros. The Fort offers a wealth of history as it’s purpose changed throughout different time periods. While it was originally constructed during the 1590s by a Spanish Conquistador, it became occupied by the British, and then later seized by the U.S. Army. During WWII, the Japanese repurposed the site as a prison for Americans and Filipinos.

 

 

In its current state, the Fort has a park, ruins, and a museum dedicated to the author and national hero, Jose Rizal. Tourists can even intimately wander about the Fort’s historical remains, and overlooks the Pasig River and the Binondo skyline.

IMG_5232

Savoring Sicily

Have you been to Sicily yet? Have you considered going? Sure, Rome, Venice, Florence, and Naples are great, but standard tourist sights. I’m not saying skip any of those, but I don’t know why Sicily hasn’t become a HOT destination. In fact, the only types of tourists I met were from Eastern European countries, students/Erasmus students, or Italians (from the it’s larger counterpart). In this post I’ll detail my favorite Sicilian destinations.

To be honest, before I committed to a Workaway program at a hostel in Catania, I never thought much about visiting Sicily.

1476640_10152685728583797_1382274733_n
View of Mount Etna smoking from a terrace in Catania, Sicily (2013)

My first introduction to Sicily was when I was younger. After my dad recounted the story of my great grandfather leaving an obscure village in southern Italy called Bocchigliero, he pointed a finger to an island off of Italy’s foot on a map. He warmly referred to Sicily as Italy’s soccer ball (or should I say football? Sorry, I am American after all).

Sicily is nestled within the Mediterranean and offers beautiful beaches, mouth-watering cuisine, delicious wines (please try Nero, like now), and fascinating archaeological sites. Sicily is a blend of ancient cultures because the island was conquered only a few times (ie. the Spanish, French, Greeks, Germans, Italians, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Phoenicians, Arabs, and British). These conquests are evident in their architecture and historical sites. If you’re interested in learning more about Sicily’s history, visit here – the material is broken down in a digestible manner.

Mount Etna
Smoke emitting from Mount Etna’s crater

Recommended Sites to visit in Sicily

  1. Catania
    • Located on the eastern part of the island, and is the second largest city in Sicily after Palermo. I’m biased about Catania because of my month-long Workaway at a hostel mere steps away from its most prominent square, Piazza del Duomo. In the this square is the Catania Cathedral are great cafes, the Fontana dell’Elefante, and the daily Fish Market. Nearby is a lengthy shopping strip, the University of Catania, and Bellini’s theatre. This place is an Art Historian’s fantasy because of the breath-taking baroque architecture. There’s also a variety of places that feature live music and nightlife and because of the students.
  2. Mount Etna
    • The largest, active volcano in Europe. Yes, I hiked all the way up and back down the volcano. Yes, it was arguably one of the most physically taxing things I have ever done, and yes I wanted to die. Was it worth it? Yes! I value this photo because it shares my accomplishment. If you hike it, wear good shoes that don’t ‘breathe’ – the volcanic rock and debris will sneak into your shoes and become incredibly uncomfortable after hours of trekking.  Also take it easy if you’re not used to that kind of altitude. It sits 10,991 feet above sea level.
  3. Agrigento Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi)
    • A UNESCO Heritage site dedicated to 7 Greek deities – Zeus, Juno, Heracles, Concordia, Asclepius, Pollux, and Vulcan.
  4. Taormina
    • This town is also on Sicily’s eastern coastline. Taormina is known for its incredible beach, Isola Bella, and its ancient Greek Theatre. It’s Old Town is quaint to explore, and provides picturesque sights to enjoy a glass or two of wine.
  5. Scala dei Turchi
    • A natural limestone rock formation on the coast of Realmonte. Since we took local transportation and walked to Scala dei Tuchi, it was a little difficult for us to find it. While the sunset was incredible, it’s best to go early in the day because we missed our last bus and hitchhiked back to the bus station.
  6. Alcantara Gorges
    • This gorge is very close to Mount Etna, and approximately an hour long drive from Catania. The gorge was crafted thousands of years ago by the volcano’s lava, and the river that winds through the gorge cut into the hardened rock to create it’s textural geometric appearance. Although I went during a humid autumn day, when the cold evening settled in, I saw the best starry sky. Also, please be careful of leeches!
    • You can find more detail about this site in a previous post.

If you’ve travelled to Sicily before, comment with some of your favorite spots! I’d love recommendations.

Scala dei Turchi
Scala dei Turchi

Machrie Moor Stones at Isle of Arran

On the 5th of March, I wanted to get out of the fine city of Glasgow, and since I enjoy the coastline thats the direction I wanted to head towards. As I grew up on the coastline back home in the states, I really miss not being able to see the beach from my house. On a random Friday, I took an hour long train ride down to Androssan Harbor, coupled with an hour long ferry ride, which reminded me of the ferries that frequent Long Island.

9573_10154542208753797_7140773807402476575_nThe Isle is enormous – and boasts itself as a ‘miniature Scotland’ – I can confirm. The snow was a recent touch, as some of the locals excitedly told me.

The northern part of the isle, includes some of the highlands. There are caves, various golf courses, waterfalls, bike paths, seals, hiking trails, and Neolithic monuments. The island even has seals, except we didn’t find any during our brief time on the isle. Since I really wanted to see the Machrie Moor Standing Stones, which is located on the far West side of the Isle, I took another bus ride. However this one last just short of an hour. Since the weather was so decent,  I was tricked and wore Converse. Never wear Converse when doing a hike with questionable Scottish weather – truly a rookie mistake.

12938338_10154542208893797_6420562211153555135_n

The bus deposited us off at a carpark, in front of a farmer’s field with a pathway caked with mud and sheep bits…. During our trek of approximately 30 minutes, we experienced a hailstorm, rainy downpour, and angry gusts. We had our packs with us, and I did use my (unreliable Primark) umbrella for brief stints of protection when it would cooperate against the wind. My converse were no longer black, but encrusted brown and sopping wet by the time we reached the stones in the gapping countryside. My toes were numb, and I could merely feel my heels.

It was worth it – but I’ve never been so fatigued from a 2 mile walk. I’m contributing it to the weather. There are various series of short and tall standing stones peppered throughout the fields. fs

By the time we returned to the bus stop we waited patiently for a half hour and noticed it past due. We were lucky to flag down an upcoming bus. Although the bus driver finished his shift, he explained there were no more available busses for the day, but was kind enough to offer us a free lift back to the port. Otherwise we would have been stranded, since we were pressed for time to catch our ferry back to Androssan. Unlike our earlier bus route, this driver cut through the center of the isle, which has very narrow paths. During the majority of the ride, we spoke with the friendly driver and found out him and his wife are Glaswegian! When his wife retired, they moved to the isle since that’s their favorite holiday location. I could definitely understand why!

We made it back in time to catch the ferry. That night, we stayed in a small town called Largs through an inexpensive cottage listed on Airbnb.

I’m planning to explore more of Scotland’s Isles :).

Stirling Castle

I spent over 3 hours at Stirling Castle with a few of my friends in my MSc program. We were impressed by the sheer size of the castle. It offers a variety of interactive modules such as – dress up in medieval regalia, games, instruments, movies, and impersonators. The castle has been owned by a myriad of hands and this influence is demonstrated architecturally.

12508846_10154366282978797_2167914144354265941_n

The tapestries are impressive, and the unicorn decorations are a pleasant surprise.
If the weather is fair – go along the wall walk, a footpath that surrounds the parameter of the castle. The castle boasts many views of Stirling and the Wallace Monument. Cue my Game of Thrones reference, I felt very ‘watcher of the wall’ esque.
In no way was I compensated to do this review. I paid full price of 14.50£, as there is no student discount. However! If you find yourself touring throughout Scotland’s heritage sites, I will say that joining their membership program would be the ideal way to visit.

A Field Trip to Archaeological Conflict Sites

As I’m planning to focus my dissertation on (cue the drum roll, please) HERITAGE my academic advisers in the International Relations program are allowing me to focus 3 of my 6 courses on art and material culture/heritage/archaeology.

I’m currently taking a Battlefield Archaeological course on Art and War, and was invited me to come on their field trip, with the stipulation of doing a brief presentation on Tantallon Castle (also, I frequently audit Methods and Concepts of Heritage on Wednesday mornings, because I’m me – a nerd).

11049532_10154191704853797_5187432375179045856_n

Last Thursday at 9:00, we drove to the Borders area of Scotland and England. It was around 2.5 hours to Braxton to visit Flodden Field, where an infamous Jacobite rebellion happened in 1513. Unfortunately, the area is largely populated by farmland and nearby homes. The trafficking of archaeological artifacts happens here, and at other battlefields by disrespectful individuals; check eBay. Since the early 90s, the community of Battlefield Archaeologists are striving to rectify legislative policies with organizations to secure these areas from trafficking, commercial farming, and urban development. After all, heritage is significant to preserve a site’s historical context because its symbolic of national and cultural integrity.

12144907_10154191704523797_4049046506323599138_n

Our second stop was Berwick-upon-Tweed to see the Elizabethan Fortification. It’s incredible because the fort actually manipulates the land, where it rises gently and drops dramatically. There was supposed to have been a protective moat around it for defensive-offensive purposes too.

Our finally stop was in North Berwick to admire the grandeur of Tantallon Castle. It dates back to the 14th century, sits promontory, and was first constructed of red sandstone, but post-second-siege by King James V, it was remodeled with green sandstone. I’ve heard Tantallon is off the beaten path for tourists, but it’s an impressive castle! If the weather is a agreeable and you can make the quick stop – you should! You’re can climb up winding stairways, and walk on external passageways to see the panoramic view of Oxroad Bay. Mind the wind. It was remarkable and I felt as though I were transported back to my childhood as if I were wildly playing on a playground. I was the last person out at closing time.12141563_10154191704788797_6652216059890848755_n

When I lived back in the states, I made a fuss about ‘how we have no history,’ or ‘our history is destroyed,’ or ‘everything here is too new’… however in my archaeology class, I’m learning how a lot of these heritage sites aren’t protected, except maybe from road and/or city planning. Many battlefield archaeologists in the UK are inspired by the United State’s initiative at preserving their own conflict sites, and are struggling to acquire similar regulations.

Oh, if you were wondering, my presentation went well. Thanks for asking!

Vandalized in Pompeii

When I first visited the ancient remnants of Pompeii in 2013, I was astonished by the lack of security and sources of conservation. Unfortunately, as I admired the frescoes, cobbled streets, columns, I recognized evident signs of rampant vandalism and destruction blatantly created by the tourists. I worried I wasn’t allowed to explore certain areas I cautiously toed around the grounds, however I watched as others felt entitled to sneaking into places that were obviously restricted the general public. Sure, there are iron gates blocking entry into some areas, but it doesn’t cease someone from simply scaling it.

Untitled

I hope that this new regulation will deter some of the issues that Italy and UNESCO faces, however I believe more restrictions are required, and will be instated in the future. This is just the start.

Untitled 3

Firstly the grounds are too spacious to hire a handful of guards and conservators. It could take someone days to see EVERYTHING in Pompeii. Secondly, it would be too costly for the amount of security to ensure the safety of the monuments. Until Pompeii receives necessary resources, it will continue to suffer the brunt of tourism. Thirdly, how will it best be executed? Italy and UNESCO can’t hide everything under glass and fences… it will tarnish the near natural reality of Pompeii as an eerie archaeological site. Perhaps it’s a borderline impossible project. Ultimately, people will need to acknowledge and accept the importance of preserving this city for educational purposes and future generations, if it should remain.Untitled 4