Sunday, December 11, 2005


Where did we leave off.......oh, yes, the oracle at Delphi. The original oracle of the santuary was dedicated to Ge, the Earth Goddess. Later when Apollo came here he had to face may challenges, including a battle with the python who guarded the sanctuary of Ge. He was successful and established his own sanctuary with an oracle referred to as Pythia (after the snake). Through the Pythis he was said to hear the will of Zeus. As the years passed by, many pilgrims came to this place to hear the prophecy of the oracle. The process went something like this: outside the sanctuary (on the left side of the picture beyond the columns) the piligrim would bathe and then make a sacrifice (maybe a goat or somthing). After this, "he" would enter the sanctuary which held three rooms. One room held the pilgrim; one held the priest; and in the center was the oracle. The pilgrim would then pose a question: "will I live a long life?" The priest would pass this on to the oracle. She would then smell the vapors that arose from the ground and go into a trance and mumble some things. The priest, who was the only one who could interpret the oracle, would then give the answer: "long not short." So, we have no clue what the oracle might have said (such as: leave me alone--I'm into my vapors) but the priest would always give a double answer so he would never be wrong. Was it "you'll live a long life, not a short one" or "a long life you will not live, instead it will be short."

There is one really interesting story about a specific pilgrim to visit the oracle, and that is Alexander of Macedonia. As you know from our previous postings, Alexander has been a recurring feature of our trips (like those darned dexters). According to a recent biography (Brent just read), Alexander stopped to make a dedication to the oracle before one of his long quests to conquer land. He was refused a visit because it was an unfavorable day. This did not deter him and he hauled the oracle to her shrine requiring her to say if he was "invincible." She admitted that he was. While the reality of this story is questionned, the story was told far and wide, and therefore was "rich in its conseqences." Alexander's troops believed the oracle's prediction and they were encouraged to spread the word. It is believed that this tale was an important reason his troops grew so large and why he faced relatively limited resistance. Later, in Athens, Alexander proposed he be seen as an invincible god. Only one hero had ever been claimed to be invincible, and that was Heracles, son of Zeus. We have heard that Alexander subsequently made claims to be descended from Heracles (he also claimed to be related to Achilles). What a guy! Here he is with his lion helmet.

There were a lot of activities to take place at Delphi, inlcuding the Pythia games. These were the second most important panhellenic games after the Olympic. Because Greece was divided into many small city-states, these games served the purpose of bringing people together and maintaining bonds.

In the beginning the games were every 8 years and focused on musical performances. After 582 BC the games moved to every 4 years and new events were added. One was track and field. There were many running events where men would start at one end (the starting blocks are pictured here) and run end to end several times. We even took a jog down and back to get in the mood.

Another field event was a type of long jump. However, what made this event a bit unique is that the men started by holding a set of weights (pictured here) and at some point in the jump let the weights go and propelled themselves even further. Not sure I get it, but I'm sure it was fun to watch.

One very popular event was the chariot race. As with the winners of the other events, the winning driver received a laurel wreath (from the tree sacred to Apollo), and he had the right to erect a statue of himself within the area of Delphi. The "treasure" of the Delphi museum is this bronze statue of one chariot driver, which dates to 470 BC. He is Polyzalos-- the tyrant of Gela in Sicily. We heard that one year Nero of Rome came to the Pythia and won ALL of the events. (Would you try to beat him?) He received many laurel wreaths and now we now how this fashion in Rome began.

What would a trip to Athens be without going to the archeological musuem--one of the best in the world. We spent all afternoon there on Monday and found ourselves rushing at the end just to say we saw a bit of each room. The bust of Alexander above was there, along with lots of other statues. One interesting set of statues were those discovered in the shipwreck of the Antikythera. Found in 1900 by fishermen, these bronze statues were probably headed for Rome around the first century and were copies of originals dating back to the 5th century BC.

While you cannot tell this from the selection of photographs we've included, many (it seemed like most) of the men are carved nude. What a refreshing change (in my opinion, I won't say it was Brent's) from looking at naked women in paintings all the time.

The famous gold death mask of Agememnon was here, but of course it could not have been Agamemnon because it dates long before his birth. But it was part of the find that helped "rediscover" a part of history that for years was thought to be myth.

Upstairs were a couple of frescoes and pottery found on the island of Santorini. The artwork (as old as much of the other items we saw at the museum) was very different in terms of its colors and schemes. Dominating much of the work was sea life, including lots of paintings of dolphins.

On our last morning we went up the remaining hill for some final views. The picture of us from the last blog was taken from Filiopappas Hill next to the monument built for the Roman consul (Filiopappas) in 115 AD. Next to this monument was the Hill of the Pnyx, which was a meeting place of the Democratic Assembly in the 5th century BC (Here's Brent giving a lecture). After this time, the meetings moved across to the theater of Dionysos below the acropolis.

As Athens was our last adventure out of Bulgaria, this will most likely be our last blog for the trip. We have lots of grading, and of course we need to pack. However, I don't want you to think that all we did was travel. It felt like that sometimes, but really, we did have a job this semester at the American University in Bulgaria. If you return to one of the first entries you can see my discussion of the very interesting set of students that I taught in Introduction to Sociology. They comes from 8 countries and speak 15 languages among them. While I still cannot pronounce all of their names very well, I feel as though I learned a lot about southeastern Europe and the former-Communist countries through interactions with these students. So, I leave you with a picture of us taken on the last day of class. Some of the students were having fun, making part of the OSU gestures from my school [Pam, take note, they don't get the S right here either.]

Dovijdane. See you soon!!

Thursday, December 08, 2005


We have just returned from our last adventure out of Bulgaria. This time we spent 5 days in Greece. We really had the weather gods on our side as it was warm and sunny the entire trip.

Our first day was spent getting the lay of the city: which way is north and how do you use the subway. Since the museums close at 3pm in the winter we decided to just walk until we found a place to eat alfresco. On our walk we passed the parliament building just in time to see the changing of the guard. Interesting looking outfits and what about those shoes?

Our first full day was spent at the acropolis ("edge city") with the Parthenon. The main buildings at the acropolis were built by Perikles between 449-431 BC. They stood without much damage until the 17th century. Of course their functions changed with the spread of Christinaity (buildings used as churches) and then when the area was under Ottoman rule (buildings used as mosques). But in the 17th century the Parthenon was used as a munitions storage unit and the invading Venetians blew it up. Just as damaging was the "acquisition" of much of the buidings by Lord Elgin. Many statues and other parts of the Pathenon are are on display in the British Museum.
So, since we were just there I will post both a picture of the Parthenon and the bits in England. You have to enlarge this to see the parts of the side friezes and in the back the statues that used to be on the upper arch. As with other "historical treasures" there is controversy over where these bits should reside. Some say they belong to Greece while others say they are a "wonder of the world" and are safer in the museum. The biggest challenge facing the acropolis currently is not looting, but acid rain. Serious reconstruction efforts are going on (there was scaffolding and cranes all over the hill) and the Parthenon should look quite different in a couple of years.

Lots of other interesting sites around the acropolis, including the remains of ancient Agora, the theatre of Dionysos, and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. We saw it all and have pictures, but they'll just have to sit patiently on my mac for a slide show. One interesting bit of history we found in the museum of ancient Agora (a political gathering center) were some of the first official ballots. On pieces of clay you could see names. Some names were for candidtates that men wanted elected to office while others had names of men that they wanted ostracized. Interesting idea. its not.....

Our second full day was spent on a road trip to Mycenae on the Peloponnese (the southernmost extremity of the Balkan peninsula). The Peloponnese is connected to mainland Greece by the Ismuth of Corinth. There a canal was built in 1893. To the east is the Agena Sea (shown here) while to the west is the Ionian Sea. The two main draws for this day trip were to the theatre of Epidarus and to Mycenae. First stop, the theatre. This was part of the santuary of Asclepios-the god of healing. The theatre is thought to be the best known and preserved of all ancient theatres. It was built in the 3rd century BC and originally held 6,200 people. Later it was expanded to hold more that 12,000. (yes, I have a picture of me doing the O chant, but this time it is for the UofO to "go big" in the Holiday Bowl).

Next it was off to Mycenae (my cee' nee). There is a great, but very long, story behind this site, so let me give you just a couple of the highlights. The mythological founder of Mycenae was Perseus, son of Zeus and Dane.

Over the years many "smaller" gods, and then men, were chosen to rule over Mycenae. Two famous names are those of Atreus and his son Agamemnon. Many of you may recall Agamemnon from his success in the Trojan wars. After the wars Agamemnon returned to Mycenae with Cassandra (a person always bearing bad news). Agamemnon's wife wasn't too pleased and she killed Agamemnon and Cassandra.

But what goes around, comes around, and her son (with Agamemnon) Orestes killed her. Homer told these stories and included a reference to much gold. For many years these stories were told as myths. However, in the late 19th century a German archeologist ("with his Greek wife" as they say here) named Schliemann came to Mycenae and uncovered a city and a pot of gold. He also found several "beehive" tombs with one thought to be either that of Atreus or of Agamemnon. So the site has two names: Agememnon's Grave and the Treasures of Atreus. One other interesting feature of Mycenae (by the way this site dates back to the 17th century BC) are the walls.

They are called Cyclopean Walls because the stones are so large than only the Cyclops could have picked them up and brought them here. If you enlarge the picture of the tomb you can see a couple of the long rectangular stones that have been here (according to archeologists) for over 3500 years. Can there be any other explanation? The pictures shown here are of Brent at the Lion's Gate (entrance to Mycenae), Agamemnon's tomb, and finally the ruins showing where the kilos of gold were discovered by Schliemann.

So, I must leave you for today. It was pretty funny this morning as Brent and I were lifting weights over at the dorms the song "It's the final countdown" by Europe came on (I'd hum a few bars if I could). We are definately counting down the days. One more lecture, one more exam.....only 10 more days. I will try another Greece entry in the days to come. To give you a hint at what's to come, I'll leave you with a photo of me at Delphi. I had just seen the oracle and she said "long not short."

Monday, November 28, 2005


We just returned from a quick trip to London. While there was no turkey on the plate for Thanksgiving (we ate Indian food instead) we enjoyed the weekend very much. We were unable to escape the cold weather. As you can see from this picture of Buckingham Palace, it was definately time for gloves and scarves. But, for those who have been at this very spot, don't you love the lack of crowds?

We even had the chance to tour the Queen's private collection without a queue. The other times we've been there the lines were hours long. There was a very nice show of Canaletto's drawings and paintings of Venice. The Queen also owns a Rubens (more on him below), which was on display. (The picture of me here is in front of the Queen's newly expanded gift shop. I couldn't help getting a picture of a decorated Christmas tree--with crowns!)

Before we left we had decided to see a couple of shows. My choice was to see Mamma Mia at the newly restored Prince of Wales Theater in the west end. This late 19th century theater (that used to present burlesque shows) was just reopened (by the Prince himself) this past September. Brent wanted me to keep this a secret (sorry Brent--I saw you tapping your toes as well). What a fun time. We also saw Les Miserables which is celebrating something like 20 years on stage and is already booking into 2007.

On our last evening we went to the Odeon in Leicester Square to see Harry Potter. This VERY large theater gives you the option to purchase your exact seat which is nice for arriving just in time for the show. They even let you know the exact time for the movie to start so you don't have to sit through the previews. I won't spoil anything for you Harry Potter fans, but let me say just one thing: VIKTOR KRUM is one awesome dude (Hermione thought so as well). In case you don't know (or don't remember), this character is part of the important tri-wizard tournament. Both the character and the actor who plays him (Viktor Stanislav) are from Bulgaria. So don't forget to check out all those Bulgarian flags and listen closely to the Bulgarian language. It was a little of "home" while we were away.

One of the really nice things about London is the Underground (or tube). You can get most places in central London in no time at all. And, the stations and lines have pretty fun names. For example, our hotel was across the street from the Marleybone Station on the Bakerloo line. I also like hearing the taped voices at some stops, such as Picadilly Circus: "mind the gap." One thing I learned is that flash photography is not allowed in any Underground station. I was chastised over the loud speaker for this photo (I believe he said, "if you want a picture, go to the train museum). Yikes--but it is a nice picture.

No trip to London would be complete without stops at the great museums. This trip we hit the British Museum and the British Gallery. In addition to the "standards" at the National Gallery there was a special exhibit of Rubens: A Master in the Making. This exhibit traced about 15 years of his career. While he was known for his very large paintings of epic battles and his study of nudes (especially men), my favorite was one of his last paintings of his daughter Clara. Lovely.

The British Museum has probably one of the best collections in the world (including the rosetta stone) and this fall there is a special exhibit called "Forgotten Empire: The World of Ancient Persia." The material exhibited came from the time of Cyrus the Great (550 BC) up through about 3300 BC. The land controlled at its height went from the Black Sea (and part of current day Bulgaria) to the Arabian Sea. The Empire came to an end as it was conquered by Alexander, the king of Macedonia (you might call him Alexander the Great, but when in Bulgaria it makes sense to know him as our neighbor).

In addition to museums, there are also the great churches. We hit both St. Pauls (climbing its 500 steps to get the panoramic view of London) and Westminster. While the buildings have not changed as much, the organization of our experience in them has. Both charge fees and now have audio tours in many languages. Instead of being asked to stop to have a moment of prayer and reflection once an hour, we were asked to press the pause button once an hour.

Lots of other fun stuff, but the work is piling up. We'll be back on next week with some highlights from Athens. Only three weeks left......what will we do? For now--cheers!

Friday, November 18, 2005


Before launching into more churches and museums (sorry, no more dexters), let's start with a nice trip up the Bosphorus. While the weather was not the best (it reminded us of a non-raining day on a Seattle ferry), the views were spectacular. As we've mentnioned before, travel at this time of year may not be the best for tanning, it is nice for crowd reduction. We had two options: a tour with a guide (more spendy) or the regular ferry (2 hours up, 3 hours in a fishing village, 2 hours back: and no one to give you a clue what you are looking at). We chose the former and went with 12 other people on our own ferry. We all sat on the top deck and listened to the history of the Bosphorus. Let's start with the name. Boshporus means "cow's gate." It is told that Zeus, the king of Gods, got a bit frisky with a woman named Io. When Hera, his wife, found out she was a bit ticked off. Fearing for her safety, Zeus turned Io into a cow. Io jumped into the river and swam all the way to Egypt (one pretty buff cow)--the river was her gate to freedom (Zeus, of course, did not have to swim to Egypt but that's another story).

If you don't know, the land to the west of the Bosphorus is Europe while to the east is Asia. All along the trip from Istanbul to Anadolu Kavagi we could see castles and houses that must be pretty cool places to be. Some are hotels, some are museums, and others are the summer homes of the rich. We were told that these summer homes go for around $20 million. Anyone want to go in on a place?

Also as part of this tour we were taken to the Spice Market. If any of you know about Istanbul you know that there are outdoor markets here (the big one being the Grand Bazaar) where you can buy a lot of things BUT the prices are not set. We read about the process, got some good advice from our friends, BUT in the end I couldn't do it. I walked through the Grand Bazaar with sunglasses on and even in the Spice Market I walked as fast as I could. How does one decide on the price of a sponge, or tea, or gold, or a carpet?

I am sorry that I lost my nerve. If only I could have had someone to help me. I bet one of these locals could have helped me get a deal!!

By the way, we really enjoyed watching men here interact on the street. In Turkey and Bulgaria men seem to be the big talkers. If only we knew what they were saying!)

Now on to the museums: the first stop will be at the Kariye (Chora) Museum. “Chora” roughly means countryside and the “original” church received this name because when it was originally built (by Constantine in the 4th century) it was located outside the city walls. As most things from this era, the church was rebuilt several times and during the early part of the 14th century there were beautiful mosaics and frescos added. Of course these were covered during the centuries this church became a mosque, but have been partially restored.

The mosaics depict the lives of Christ and Mary. One of the domes has a stunning depiction of Jesus and his ancestors. No flash was allowed so the pictures just don’t do the place justice. One of the pictures I include here shows mosaics on the ceiling and wall in the second room. These show a bit in the life of Mary.

A side chapel, which was built to hold the tombs of the church’s founder and his relatives, is decorated with frescos. The themes of paintings are death and resurrection. Most striking is the paining known as the Anastasis showing Christ raising Adam and Eve out of their sarcophagi. Saints and kings surround him. Below his feet are the gates of hell.

Brent’s favorite museum is the Istanbul Archaeological Museums. There are three buildings here housing a variety of interesting artifacts. One is the Tiled Kiosk, which is beautiful outside and in. This building is considered to be the oldest surviving “nonreligious” Turkish building in Istanbul. It was used for watching sporting events. The tiles that have the best reputation are those that came from the Iznik region in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Another building here holds the Museum of the Ancient Orient. The stuff in here is really old. There are panels from ancient Babylon (600 BC) and a copy of the oldest surviving treaty (shown here).

The Kadesh Treaty was drawn up in the 13th century BC between the Egyptians and Hittites. I didn’t read its translation, but I did read the translations of some other very important stone documents. One was to break an engagement because “the woman preferred the farmer.”

The final building in this complex is the Archaeology Museum which displays Hellenic and Roman statues and sarcophagi. In one end of the museum is the “famous” Alexander sarcophagus dating from the last quarter of the 4th century BC. It is not Alexander’s sarcophagus, but that of King Abdalonymous.

It is called the Alexander sarcophagus because his figure appears on both sides. The pictures of this sarcophogus didn't turn out as clear as I'd like so I'll put another picture of Alexander here from the other side of the building. Pretty good looking guy! Several other rooms contain statues made by artisans at Anatolia’s main sculpture centers. Here’s another view through the rooms that show statues of Athena, Oceanus, and Zeus.

This is getting us really in the mood for our trip to Athens. Still, there is so much to do. We are winding down in terms of our classes, but the grading never seems to end. We are taking off for Thanksgiving, then we will head down to Athens the first part of December. Travel is getting a bit more “iffy” as winter has come to Bulgaria. It has been snowing for the last couple of days and we are hoping that it is just a brief cold snap.

We'll end here with a picture of Brent in front of our Sofia apartment (Alexander in clothes). We'll definately miss that place!

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. We'll be back soon.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Instanbul Part I: A ROOM WITH A VIEW (and yet another dexter)

Sorry its been so long since we've posted. The trip to Istanbul was fabulous. We stayed at a refurbished Ottoman "wooden house" that had Becky's dream of "A Room With A View" (don't go to sleep on this one Steve!). From our room we looked out over the Marmara Sea. We would rise shortly after the 6am "call to pray" from our local mosque and watch the ships as they headed north to the Bosphorus through to the Black Sea (or in reverse to the Agean Sea).

The hotel provided breakfast up on the terrace. From there you could look get an even broader view of the sea, but could look up the hill to the Blue Mosque. This mosque was built between 1606-1616 by Sultan Ahmet I. His goal was to build something that would outshine the Aya Sofya (coming shortly). We hear it was quite controversial with its six minarets as the only other mosque with as many is in Mecca. The courtyard in front of the main entrance is claimed to be the largest of all Ottoman mosques. The name ("blue") refers to the color of the Iznik tiles that are part of the interior. No flash is allowed inside any of the buildings here, so maybe our camera breaking in Hungary was a "good thing." [This is a cool picture if enlarged. It's better than some of the postcards of the mosque interior, if I do say so myself.]

Leaving the Blue Mosque we headed to Aya Sofya. It is also called Sancta Sophia, Hagia Sophia, and the Church of the Divine Wisdom. It was built/started by Emperor Justinian in the early-mid 6th century. The outside is pretty impressive (note, of course, the minarets added by Mehmet the Conqueror after his conquest of Constantinople in 1453), but again we found the inside to overwhelm the senses. While its the huge dome that has been the marvel historically (30m in diameter) scaffolding set up by UNESCO for restoration made it appear somewhat small. Instead, we wandered around the two floors looking at what is left of the gold mosaic tiles. I say "what is left" because some have worn, but also many were "casualties of theology."

First, there was some discussion about their appropriateness as the Bible makes clear that "images" should not be worshipped. After some serious debate, however, most of the mosaics stayed. However, with the Conquest, they had to go. Islamic art (as laid out in the Quran, the story goes) shouldn't depict anything with an immortal soul.

As luck would have it, many were covered in plaster and later restored. It is pretty hard to pick just one for the blog. But here's my choice for "mosaic of the day." [Another "must enlarge" picture.]

Istanbul has so many outstanding museums. Several can be found in the complex known as Topkapi Palace (home to the Sultans). Mehmet the Conqueror bulit the first stage of the palace and lived here until his death in 1481. It remained the home to Sultans until Mahmut II (1839). After this time, Sultans moved to other palaces built along the Bosphorus (we have pictures of those too if you are interested). Because of limited time (I have 34 midterms to grade this weekend), I've decided to make comments on only two parts of this palace complex.

One is the Topkapi Harem (or the private quarters of the Sultan). Here is the story we were told: the women of the Harem were schooled in Islam and Turkish culture and language as well as music, reading,writing and dance. They could leave after a period of time and could marry (Free education. Sounds good- huh?). The Sultan was allowed by Islamic law to have four legitimate wives, but could support many more concubines. Our guide said only up to 12 "favorites" were kept for sexual relations, while the rest (could be hundreds) were only for entertainment (each required to play a musical instrument) But this may not always have been the case as Murat III is reported to have had 112 children, so go figure (not sounding like as much fun anymore). The picture shown here has Becky in the Harem--yikes, get me outa here. The reason I picked this is to highlight the gorgeous tiles and point out the great "turban shelves." (Also, I heard that my mom likes to see pictures of me.)

The other interesting museum in the palace complex is the Treasury. I am not including a picture of it (not interesting from the outside, and no pictures allowed inside) but rather a picture of another interesting exterior shot (the Circumcision Room). So, inside the Treasury are some pretty amazing things. There are 48kg candlesticks, jewel encrusted swords and thrones (one beautiful one "received" from India), and the "spoonmaker's" diamond. This teardrop shaped stone is 86 carats and was worn by Mehmet IV at his coronation. The reason for its name is that it was found at a garbage dump and sold by a street vendor for three spoons. But now we reach the most interesting item (I leave it up to you to decide its authenticity). Displayed in a lighted case was a skull and hand fragments (cased in jewels) of St. John the Baptist. This trip is turning into the tour of "dexters" isn't it?

I must take a break from blogging (and my sister leaves work in an hour--so here you go Pam). You'll need to stay tuned for Istanful, Part II. Not sure what the theme will be-- but I'm sure it will include more mosaics and maybe a bit on the Bosphorus.

Until then I leave you with a picture with some relevance to us here in Bulgaria. This completely (inside and out) cast-iron church was constructed from pieces shipped down the Danube and across the Balck Sea from Vienna on 100 barges in 1871. During the time of the Ottoman Empire the Orthodox church faced considerable "ethnic" divisions. The leader, a Greek, wanted no recognition of ethnic divisions, but only ONE church. The pressures of nationalism were too great and the sultan was forced to recongizse some sort of religious autonomy for the Bulgars. The gates were locked, but the caretaker let us in for a look. Inside we found icons of the now-known-by-us Ivan Rilski. A little bit of "home."