The Greek Isles
In the fall of 2015 we had a wonderful opportunity to sail the Greek Isles aboard the four masted, square sail tall ship, Sea Cloud. This magnificent vessel was originally designed and built in the 1930’s for the financial magnet E.F. Hutton and his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post. After a tumultuous history following WWII it was fully refurbished and is now used by a German company as an expedition vessel. It is leased by National Geographic and their Eco Tour partner, Lindblad, for four months of each year for expeditions, including the voyage around the Greek Isles.
In order to enjoy a bit more of Greece, and allow for adapting to the nine-hour time difference from Denver, we decided to spend a couple of days in Athens before the voyage. We stayed in the older part of the city called the Plaka, at the base of the Acropolis.
Athens from the pathway to the Acropolis
The left image shows a staircase that was destroyed in the earthquake. The right image is a mosaic of a fisherman that was found in the ruins. It is displayed in the archaeological museum in the town of Fira, about midway between Oia and Akrotiri.
The Parthenon The Temple of Athena
We found many photogenic opportunities here on Sifnos.
Our journey came to an end here and we boarded Sea Cloud for our return to Piraeus, a final afternoon in Athens and then our return flight home.
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The coast on Naxos
The cave is enclosed by a sanctuary and surrounded by a convent. Just down the hill is the large Monastery of St. John. This structure was built more as a fortress than a religious building. That was necessary to protect the residents from pirates.
The Agora Stoa - reconstructed
The view from the village of Chora is quite stunning. The image above and on the left shows the harbor with Turkey in the distance. The ever present Aegean mist shrouds it somewhat. The right image shows the view of the harbor and the town of Skala.
In the village of Chora is the Monastery of St. John and the cave where St. John the Divine is said to have dictated the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. This took place about 95 CE after John was exiled by the Roman Emperor Domitian. John would most likely have been in his 90's.
The Acropolis at night from our hotel roof restaurant
The Plaka is a mix of modern, old and very old.
The Temple of Zeus took about 700 years to build (520 BCE to 174 CE). Most of that time it lay in a state of partial ruin after a political insurrection. It was completed during the reign of Roman emperor Hadrian who was enamored with the Greek culture.The Arch of Hadrian was built about 131 CE and was the gateway between the old Greek City of Athens and the newer Roman city.
After our two days in Athens sped by, we were on our way to the port city of Piraeus just west of Athens. Here we boarded the Sea Cloud for our sailing journey to the Greek Isles.
The lighthouse was built in 1881 and had an oil powered light. In 1986 it was converted to electricity. On the way to the lighthouse we were treated to great views of the rugged coastline and the beautiful blue of the Aegean Sea.
Our next island was Naxos, just east of Paros. Naxos is off the normal tourist list and depends mostly on agriculture. Over the centuries the people of the Cyclades have developed very efficient irrigation and cistern technology to capture the limited rainfall. Naxos has relatively high mountains that snare clouds that generate rain allowing a solid agricultural industry.
The fourth island visit took us east of the Cyclades to the Dodecanese Islands. Here we put ashore on Patmos, an island within view of the mainland of Turkey. Patmos is quite different from the islands we had visited so far in that it had quite a number of trees, mostly eucalyptus brought in from Australia.
Temple of Hephaestus in the Agora
The 16th century Chapel of The Blessed Virgin
The path to the lighthouse traversed some rocky and tough landscape. Even the summer blossoms had given in to the dry conditions
Strolling the markets allowed us to see the island's produce.
Steps to the Temple of Apollo Floor Mosaic from a house
Greek Islands and Athens
The left image shows sunset on the middle of the caldera with the access road from one of the harbors. The right image is the sunrise over the rim.
A local liqueur made from citrus leaves.
The fruit is like a lemon the size of a softball.
There are many other monuments and ruins as you walk around the older part of Athens. They range from the Ancient Agora, which was the Athenian market place and political discourse forum, to Roman ruins from the second century CE.
We have chosen to use the terms BCE and CE vs. BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) in our descriptions of the Greek monuments and ruins. BCE stands for Before Common/Current/Christian Era. CE of course stands for Common/Current/Christian Era. This is more in keeping with archaeological terminology.
One of the more famous monuments on Delos is the terrace of lions, built at the end of the 7th century BCE and dedicated to Apollo. Archaeologists think there were originally 12 to16 of them. Today 5 complete and 3 partial ones remain. The outside statues are replicas, four of the originals are in the Delos Archaeological Museum.
The coastline of Sifnos is dotted with small coves and beaches. The villages are located on high ground. This method of building dates back to ancient times when raiders and pirates preyed on the settlements.
The harbor and the village streets were pleasantly quiet and open. Patmos has a limited tourist season. It is a summer vacation spot for the Greeks.
In spite of the Greek economic woes, local merchants are open for business
After our visit to Delos, we continued on to our second island, Paros. Paros is renowned for its brilliant white marble. The marble was used during the early building work on Delos until the Athenians convinced the builders to use theirs. The Athenian marble had more color (iron oxide).
The island is quite rugged and is dominated by a single mountain that slopes down to the sea in all directions. We used our time on shore to hike to a "modern" lighthouse. This gave us the opportunity to both get some exercise and see some of the more remote parts of Paros.
Images of Nature - Instruction - Workshops
Views of Nature Photography
Our first island visit was Delos. Delos is currently uninhabited except for a small number of caretakers/guards. The island is quite popular because of the incredible amount of archeologically significant ruins. Delos, in Greek mythology, is the birthplace of Apollo and his sister Artemis. Human presence dates back to the third millennium BCE. By 700 BCE Delos was already known as the religious center of the Aegean with a population around 30,000.
There are very colorful and photogenic artworks in and in front of the monastery chapel.
Athens is not immune to graffiti
The Temple of Zeus the Olympian Arch of Hadrian
From Patmos we sailed back to the Cyclades to the more touristy island of Santorini. The inhabitants of Santorini mostly live high above the water on the rim of a caldera. This geologic feature is the result of a volcanic eruption and collapse in 1628 BCE.
The major structures on the Acropolis hill, pretty much all in ruins, are the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena. Acropolis is Greek for a citadel or fortified city on high ground and many Greek cities have them, although most are not as grand as the one in Athens.
Santorini's largest town is Oia (pronounced ee ya). The whitewashed buildings and brilliant blue church domes are classic Greek Islands architecture. Note the dog sleeping near the church. Dogs and cats roam around most of the towns and villages. The local people care for them.
Santorini has a wonderful archaeological site on the southwest tip. The ancient town of Akrotiri was destroyed by an earthquake and then covered by hot volcanic ash in the eruption of 1628 BCE that created the caldera.
These artifacts from the site are also at the museum. The table is actually a plaster cast that was made by pouring plaster into an opening in the ash covering. The hot ash had incinerated a wooden table, leaving a perfect mold behind. The golden goat was found in a box in a house in Akrotiri, left behind as the occupants tried to flee the catastrophe.
We departed Santorini for our final stop, the western Cycaldic island of Sifnos. This small island has been inhabited for over 6000 years. In ancient times it produced a considerable amount of gold and silver making it one of the wealthiest of the Cyclades. The mines eventually flooded as they were pushed below sea level. Today Sifnos is a popular summer destination for Greeks.