Monday, October 11, 2010

Greece: Driving to Delphi

Who knew from Delphi? Greece is one of those singular nations where nearly every cloud in the sky, stone in the shoe, bend in the road or open plain is lodged in the brain, connected to some fanciful or fantastic story of human passion. Today, the second full day of touring this great nation found my friends and I on the northwest highway E962 heading towards Delphi, sacred oracle to the god Apollo. Second in importance only to Olympia, the sanctuary of Zeus, Delphi was a focal point of spirituality, sports and unbelievable wealth and subsequent influence throughout the ancient Greek world. And it was halfway up a mountain in the Pleistos Valley and overlooking part of the Corinthian Gulf.

The beginning of the drive was filled with its own excitement as we would be stopping in Thebes on the way to our destination. Wow was the only thing I could think to say, visions of cheesy Hercules movies running in my head as I imagined the great stone walls that surrounded this great rival to Athens looming eventually in to view. Before Athenian rule became the order of the day for the Hellenic world Thebes, as the major power of Boeotia, challenged Athens at every turn for supremacy, siding at one point with the Persians against their rivals at one point and putting an end to the power of Sparta at another. Thebes was a force to be reckoned with, controlling over half of mainland Greece during the height of its power.

If we hadn't stopped on purpose we could have driven right through modern Thebes today and not been aware of the history all around us and beneath the asphalt of the road we were on. A market town of maybe 25,000 today, to say that Thebes has shriveled on the vine of time is to be generous but sad indeed. Tourists in the area, like us, are often on the road to somewhere else as little has been done to preserve the history of the area beyond the battlefield at Plataea or the central fortress that once guarded the city. To look at the "Cadmea" fortress today is to shrug and hop back on the bus. We all stayed on the bus after a quick stretch at a local gas station and motored west to Delphi, the main purpose of our tour.

Though only halfway up Mt. Parnassus the ancient site and modern town are still up a sizable mountain and reached by the types of narrow switch back two-lane roads one would find anywhere else in Europe. The fact that we came overland from Athens made me think that "back in the day" the island powers would simply have sailed up the gulf to what is now the port cities of Kirra or Itea. There was still no getting around having to climb the hill, though, so no doubt only the serious at heart and rich of resources would venture here. I mean, horses to do the heavy lifting but standing in a chariot or worse, walking up this thing...and in sandals?

Coming around the corner on Highway 48 and coming at last in to view, what lay before us was simply miraculous. And these were only ruins.

Gotta go.

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