FOR INFORMATION, PLEASE SEE OUR REGISTRATION FORMS PAGE or CONTACT:
Ben Taggie or Louise Boudreau
Phone/Fax: 508-979-TOUR (8687)
msaculturaltours@comcast.net
btaggie@umassd.edu
Ben's Cell Phone: 508-264-4854

This tour will include three days on the Island of Corfu (ancient Corcyra), a day in Albania to visit the ancient ruins at Butrint (16 miles south of Saranda), and visits to the Ancient Oracle of Dodoni, the incredible mountain peak monasteries of Meteora, Thermopylae (of the 300 Spartans), Delphi, and Athens.

ITINERARY

DAY 1. DEPART FOR GREECE

DAY 2. ARRIVE CORFU, TOWN of CORFU, GREECE.

corfu   

Corfu (known as Kerkyra to the Greeks) is one of the seven mountainous Ionian Islands which are more reminiscent of Italy than the barren Aegean Islands. The origin of the name Ionian is obscure but thought to derive from the goddess Io, one of Zeus’s consorts. According to Homer it was important during Mycenaean times. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus is washed ashore with the help of Athena and awakens to the laughter of princess Nausica and her friends. He was taken to the Phaecian Palace and after revealing his identity to King Alcinous he is given a ship to take him safely home to Ithaca. During the return trip the Phaecian ship is turned to stone by Poseidon who was angry at them for helping Odysseus. By the 8th century BC the Ionian Islands were under the control of the powerful Greek city of Corinth. Corfu (known as Corcyra in ancient times) had a powerful navy, freed itself from the Corinthians, and became an allied of Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC.). As things turned out, Corfu picked the wrong side and suffered as a result. In 229 BC the Romans took control (of all the Ionian Islands) and used it as an important naval base. Nero, Julius Caesar, Vespasian and Cicero all visited the island and many wealthy Romans had estates there. Roman rule lasted from 229 BC to 395AD and there are still Roman ruins to be seen on the island.

From 395 to 1267 Corfu was part of the Byzantine Empire and eventually became part of the Venetian Empire (much evidence of this still can be seen in the city today). Corfu has the distinction of never having been under the domination of the hated Turks. Thus, unlike other parts of Greece, little is to be seen on the Island of Turkish culture (including its coffee). After a period of time under French rule during the Napoleonic Era (1779-1815) Corfu came under British domination in 1815 where it remained until 1864.

While British rule was sometimes harsh, the British did construct roads, bridges, schools and hospitals and stimulated the Island's economy. Because of the British influence, Corfu has the only Cricket Field in all of Greece. The Ionian islands did not become a part of Greece until 1864 even though Ioannis Capodistrias was elected the first President of Greece in 1827 and assassinated in 1831.

The Italians invaded Corfu during WWII and when Italy surrendered in 1943 the Germans in retaliation massacred thousands of Italians who has occupied the Island and sent the Island's Jewish population to Auschwitz.

      

Since the 1950 the Island has been a holiday Mecca for European and American travelers.

 

DAY 3. TOUR CORFU

Day 3 will be given to sightseeing parts of the Island outside of Corfu town.

We will visit the Classical Greek site south of town dating to the 5th century BC. We will also tour Northern Corfu which is the most dramatically diverse part of the island with spectacular views of the sea and towering mountains. We will also make a stop at the Kalami, Mount Pandokrator and the beautiful monastery at Palaiokasritsa.

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DAY 4. EXCURSION TO ALBANIA

We will take the ferry from Corfu City to the charming little town of Saranda (7.5 miles) which has the most attractive waterfront in Albania.

The town is named for an early Christian monastery Ayii Saranda which was dedicated to 40 Saints (Saranda means 40 in Greek). Most of Saranda’s attractions are a little out of town, like the mesmerizing ancient archaeological site of Butrint (19 miles) that we will visit.

BUTRINT



Linked to the Mediterranean Sea, Butrint was settled in a prime location for the establishment of a commercial center. The settlement quickly became an important stop along the merchant trade routes, and by the fourth century B.C. became one of the major maritime and commercial centers of the Ancient World. Throughout its history, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Venetians have inhabited this location. The present archeological site, therefore, contains structures and remnants that represent each period of the city's development. It was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that systematic excavations were carried out.

Today, the rediscovered city of Butrint stands within Albania's cultural landscape as a unique treasure. The city is a microcosm of almost 3,000 years of Mediterranean history—its sixth century, B.C. fortification evokes the city's military power, and its third century, B.C. amphitheatre symbolizes the rich culture of the once thriving ancient city.

     

Further, on the walls of the decaying temple dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine, are the only examples of writing ever discovered in Butrint. As a result of continued political instability in this region and the threat of coastal development that would encroach on the unique ruins and artifacts of this ancient settlement, Butrint was included on the World Heritage List in 1992.

 

      

 

DAY 5 - DODONI

Although the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi was more famous, the Oracle of Zeus at Dodoni (second only in importance to Delphi) is much older. It was the site of religious ceremonies as early as 2000 BC (with the Oracle of Zeus dating to 1000 BC). The site is in a beautiful mountain setting 14 miles southwest of Ioannina. The Oracle focused on a sacred oak tree surrounded with tripods that held bronze caldrons, each one touching one another.

The questions were written on a lead tablet (some have survived and can be seen in the local museum in Ioannina) and passed to a priest who read the question to the oracle.

The answer was the priest’s interpretation of the noise made by the leaves on the oak tree and the sounds from the cauldrons when struck by the priest. The sacred tree was uprooted by the Emperor Theodosius in  AD 393.The main feature of the site today is the 3rd  century BC theatre which was excavated in 1959.

With a capacity or 17,000 and massive supporting wall raising 69 feet, it is one of the largest in Greece. The sanctuary to Zeus was located right next to the theatre. Dodona fell into ruin in the 6th Century AD when the Emperor Justinian founded the more defendable city of Ioannina.

 

DAY 6 - METEORA

Varlaam Monastery

The Greek word Meteora means "suspended in the air", and our words meteorite and meteorology come from the same root. The conglomerate rock at Meteora, Greece, has eroded into fantastic peaks upon which medieval monks built monasteries, several of which are still active. The isolated monasteries of Meteora helped keep alive Greek Orthodox religious traditions and Hellenic culture during the turbulent Middle Ages and Ottoman Turk occupation of Greece (1453-1829). In 1988, UNESCO declared Meteora to be a World Heritage Site.

Although it is unknown when Metéora was established, as early as the 11th century AD, hermit monks were believed to be living among the caves and cutouts in the rocks. By the late 11th or early 12th century a rudimentary monastic community had formed centered around the church of Theotokos (mother of God), which still stands today. The hermit monks, seeking a retreat from the expanding Turkish occupation, found the inaccessible rock pillars of Meteora to be an ideal refuge.

Although more than 20 monasteries were built, beginning in the 14th century, only six remain today. These six are: 'Great Meteoron (or Transfiguration), Varlaam, St. Stephen, Holy Trinity, St. Nicholas Anapausas and Rousanou. There is a common belief that St. Athanasios (founder of the first monastery) did not scale the rock, but was carried there by an eagle. Access to the monasteries was originally extremely difficult, requiring either long ladders lashed together or large nets used to haul up both goods and people.

In the words of UNESCO, "The net in which intrepid pilgrims were hoisted up vertically alongside the 373-meter cliff where the Varlaam monastery dominates the valley symbolizes the fragility of a traditional way of life that is threatened with extinction." In the 1920's, steps were cut into the rock, making the complex accessible via a bridge from the nearby plateau. During World War II the site was bombed and many art treasures were stolen. Only six of the monasteries remain today.

Of the six monasteries, five are inhabited by monks, one by nuns. Each monastery has fewer than 10 inhabitants and attracts numerous tourists every year. The monasteries are now some of the most popular tourist sites in the world and serve primarily as museums.

 

DAY 7 THERMOPYLAE

Thermopylae (Greek:Θερμοπυλαι) is a mountain pass in Greece. The name means roughly "hot gateway", named for several natural hot water springs there.The pass runs from Locris into Thessaly between Mount Oiti and the sea (Maliac Gulf).

In the time of Leonidas I (5th century BC) , King of Sparta, the pass was a narrow track (probably about 14 yards wide) under the cliff. In modern times the deposits of the Spercheius have widened it to a breadth of 1 to 3 miles broad to the foot of the hill.


In the Battle of Thermopylae, which occurred in August 19, 480 BC (described in detailed by the ancient historian Herodotus), an alliance of Greek city-states fought the invading Persian Empire at the pass of Thermopylae in central Greece. Vastly outnumbered, the Greeks held back the Persians for three days in one of history's most famous battles. A small force led by King Leonidas I of Sparta blocked the only road (possibly only about 14 ft wide at the time) through which the massive army of Xerxes I of Persia could pass.

After three days of battle, a Greek named Ephialtes is believed to have betrayed the Greeks by revealing a mountain path that led behind the Greek lines. Dismissing the rest of the army, King Leonidas stayed behind with 300 Spartans, 700 Thespian volunteers, 400 Thebans who had been pressed into service, and 900 Helots.


The Persians succeeded in taking the pass but sustained losses disproportionate to those of the Greeks. The fierce resistance of the Spartan-led army offered Athens time to prepare for a decisive naval battle that would determine the outcome of the war. The subsequent Greek victory at the Battle of Salamis left much of the Persian Empire's navy destroyed and Xerxes retreated to Asia, leaving a force in Greece under Mardonius, who was to complete the subjugation of the Greeks. The following spring a Spartans led Greek army  defeated the  Persian at the Battle of Plataea. The performance of the defenders at the battle of Thermopylae has become a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

 

DAY 8 - DELPHI

Located amidst breathtaking scenery in central Greece, Ancient Delphi is the site of the Sanctuary and Oracle of Apollo, the most important sacred site in ancient Greek religion. Nearby is the Sanctuary of Athena, which includes the Tholos. The archaeological site also includes the excellent Delphi Museum.

Tholos

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Delphi Museum Sculpture
Delphi Charioteer


For the ancient Greeks, Delphi was literally the center of the world. According to Greek myth, Zeus released two eagles from opposite ends of the earth and they met in the sky above Delphi. Impaling one another with their beaks, they fell to the ground on the very center of the world. The site was marked by the Omphalos, or "navel" stone, a Roman copy of which can be seen in the Delphi Museum.

Omphalos


According to legend, the serpent Python was the ancient guardian of Delphi's Castalian Spring before being killed by Apollo. Python was the son of the Greek Earth Goddess Gaia, significantly the name Delphi is related to δελφός (delphos), "womb." It is probable that an Earth Goddess was originally venerated at the site before Apollo arrived.


Excavations reveal that Delphi was first inhabited in late Mycenaean times (as early as the 15th century BC), and that priests from Knossos on Crete brought the cult of Apollo to Delphi in the 8th century BC.


As the center of the world and dwelling place of Apollo, Delphi attracted pilgrims from across the ancient world. Generals, kings, and individuals of all ranks came to the Oracle of Delphi to ask Apollo's advice on the best course to take in war, politics, love and family. After the inquirer made a sacrifice, a woman known as the Pythia uttered cryptic pronouncements which were then translated by a priest.


The Temple of Apollo seen today at Delphi dates from the 4th century BC.:

There were two earlier temples on the site: the first burned in 548 BC, the second was destroyed by an earthquake. Some archaic capitals and wall blocks are preserved from the first temple and many wall blocks and some pediment sculptures survive from the second.


The Pythian Games held at Delphi were one of four Pan-Hellenic games held in ancient Greece that attracted competitors from all over the Greek world. Founded in the 6th century BC in honor of Apollo, they originally centered on the talents the god exemplified - music and poetry. Soon however, athletic competitions were added, the best known being a great chariot race, held in the stadium that can still be seen at Delphi. The winners of the Pythian Games received a laurel wreath from the city of Tempe in Thessaly, where Apollo was said to have picked a laurel on his way to Delphi. The ruins of the stadium which seated 7000 people can still be visited today.

Delphi Stadium Starting Line


The 6th century BC saw the political rise of Delphi and the reorganization of the Pythian Games, ushering in a golden age lasting until the arrival of the Romans in 191 BC. Numerous treasuries were built in the Sanctuary of Apollo to house votive offerings of grateful pilgrims. In the 4th century BC, a theater accommodating 5,000 spectators was constructed between the Temple of Apollo and Athletic Stadium. It was restored in 159 BC by the Pergamum king Eumenes II and later by the Romans.

Delphi Theater


The oracle of Delphi was abolished in 393 AD by Emperor Theodosius (who also had the Sacred Oak destroyed at Dodoni), who made Christianity the official religion of the Byzantine Empire.


Archaeological excavations began in 1892, and continue to the present day. Delphi was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The museum has a very impressive collection of sculpture and architecture remains second in importance only to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The most famous and impressive exhibit is "The Charioteer" discovered in 1896 but created around 478 B.C.

 

Delphi, as it looks today

DAY 9 - Morning

Hosios Lukas

Monastery of Hosios Loukas

History
The monastery of Hosios Loukas (Holy Luke) is situated at a scenic site on the slopes of Mount Helicon. It was founded in the early 10th century by the hermit St. Lukas, whose relics are kept in the monastery. The hermit (who died on 7 February 953) was famous for having predicted the conquest of Crete by Emperor Romanos. Built around 1101 (an extension of an earlier church built 944), Osios Loukas is one of Medieval Greece's most important structures. The octagonal style of the main church became a standard for late Byzantine churches while the mosaics within the church are among the best produced by late Byzantine culture.


The main shrine of the monastery is the tomb of St. Lukas, originally situated in the vault, but later placed at the juncture of the two churches. The monastery derived its wealth (including funds required for construction) from the fact that the relics of St. Lukas were said to have exuded myron, perfumed oil which produced healing miracles. Pilgrims hoping for miraculous help were encouraged to sleep by the side of the tomb to be healed by incubation.

The church of the Theotokos, the oldest in the complex, is the only church known to have been built in mainland Greece in the tenth century. The Church of the Theotokos adjoins a larger cathedral church, or the Katholikon, tentatively dated to 1011-12.

Hosios Loukas is the largest of three monasteries surviving from the Middle Byzantine period in Greece. It differs from Daphnion and Nea Moni in that it is dedicated to a single saint. St. Lukas's prophecy about the reconquest of Crete is commemorated by the image of Joshua on the exterior wall of the Panagia church: Joshua was considered a model "warrior of the faith", who’s help was especially effective in the wars waged against the Arabs.

 

The Katholikon contains the best preserved complex of mosaics from the period of the Macedonian Renaissance. However, the complex is not complete: the original image of Christ Pantocrator inside the dome is missing, as are the figures of archangels normally placed between the upper windows.


The monastery was known all over Byzantium for its lavish decoration liberally applied to all surfaces. Only a fraction of these items are still in situ, most notably colored marble facings and window grilles. Notwithstanding the losses, the Katholikon gives the best impression available anywhere today of the character of a church interior in the first centuries after the end of Iconoclasm.

 

DAY 9 - AFTERNOON ATHENS WALKING TOUR

Walking tour will commence at the Acropolis, we will walk through the districts known as the Plaka and Monastiraki, the Agora and Hadrian's Library and on to Constitution Square and the Parliament Building (where hopefully we will see the changing of the guard) the Temple of Zeus and end at the 5th Century BC Theatre of Dionysus.

  

Acropolis

Hadrian's Library

 

DAY 10 - AFTERNOON, CONTINUE VISIT OF ATHENS AND FREE TIME.

WHAT YOU SHOULD VISIT DURING YOUR FREE TIME:

1. The Acropolis, Agora, and Theatres of Dionysus and Heroides Atticus. 2-5 hours

Theatre of Dionysus

2. The Acropolis Museum 1-2 hours

3. National Archaeological Museum 1-3 hours

4. Temple of Hephaisteion, one of the best preserved Doric temples. 30 minutes

Hephaisteion

5. Temple of Zeus - 30 minutes

6. Stroll at your own speed through the Plaka and Monastiraki (wonderful shopping, restaurants and ambience).

 

DAY 11 - RETURN TO U.S.

 

FOR INFORMATION, PLEASE SEE OUR REGISTRATION FORMS PAGE

or CONTACT:

Ben Taggie or Louise Boudreau
Phone/Fax: 508-979-TOUR (8687)
msaculturaltours@comcast.net
btaggie@umassd.edu
Ben's Cell Phone: 508-264-4854