Visiting Archaeological Sites in Greece

Luther’s Malta and the Mediterranean Program, currently in its 27th year, offers students the opportunity to spend a semester exploring Malta's rich history and traveling to other countries in the Mediterranean region. Coursework includes Paideia II: Ethical Issues in the Mediterranean, a Service Learning class, where program participants teach English to recent immigrants to Malta, Maltese History and Culture and additional classes taken at the University of Malta.

To learn more about the program, visit the Malta Semester website.

In addition to enjoying some of the best orange juice we have ever had during our week-long trip in Greece, we visited impressive archaeological sites, including the Acropolis in Athens, Mycenae, and the Theater of Epidaurus.

On our first full day in Athens, we met our tour guide, Maria and walked from our hotel to the base of the Acropolis. After Professor Joyce and Maria got our tickets, we began our hike up to the top of the Acropolis. Some students were dreading the hike, but it turned out to be a relatively easy walk. We stopped along the way to see the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an ancient theater built next to the Acropolis, still in use today.

When we arrived at the top of the Acropolis, we enjoyed a spectacular view of all the ancient buildings, including the Temple of Athena Nike, the Propylaea or monumental gateway to the Acropolis, as well as the Erechtheion with its caryatid statues (the real ones are in the Acropolis Museum), and arguably the most famous building there, the Parthenon.

The Parthenon was completed in the year 438 BC and was built to be a temple to the Greek goddess, Athena, who was the patron goddess of Athens. After it was used as a pagan temple, the Parthenon was converted to a Christian church, and then, later, a mosque. It was also severely damaged during the Venetian bombardment in 1687, when gunpowder that was stored inside ignited and caused an explosion.

The Parthenon is also a great example of architectural refinements used by the Greeks to create an optical illusion causing the building appear perfectly straight--with a flat floor and vertical columns. In fact, the refinements used in the Parthenon's architecture include a slightly convex floor and columns with an inward lean. Had these architectural refinements not been used in the Parthenon’s construction, it would appear the building would be sagging towards its center.

We finished our visit to the Acropolis by seeing the Theater of Dionysus, which is thought to be the oldest theater in the world. We then went to the Acropolis museum, where we saw lots of Greek statuary from the Archaic period, as well as the Erectheon’s caryatids, and the exhibit meant to house the Parthenon Marbles, which are currently held in the British Museum, but are wanted back in Greece.

Later in the week, we traveled to Mycenae--an ancient site made up of a fortress and tombs located in the northeastern Peloponnese.  Here, we saw the Treasury of Atreus, a beehive tomb that was built around 1250 BC which has a massive,120 ton stone lintel above its doorway. We also saw the famous Lion Gate, which is the entrance to the fortress, and has a sculpture of two lions above the lintel of the gateway (see picture).

Once inside the fortress, we saw the location where archaeology pioneer Heinrich Schliemann excavated some tombs and found artifacts such as the Mask of Agamemnon, a gold funeral mask which we saw at the National Archaeology Museum in Athens (see picture). Schliemann thought this funeral mask belonged to Agamemnon, the king of Mycenae, but the mask actually dates to a different time period than when Agamemnon would have been alive, so it is unlikely that Schliemann’s theory is correct.

Several members of the Luther group and I also descended down a dark, damp passageway into a cistern. It was quite an adventure. We had to navigate down lots of slippery, stone steps with only the light from the flashlights on our phones. There wasn’t much to see at the bottom of the cistern, but it was fun to explore an ancient site like that-- seemed like the kind of thing Indiana Jones would do.

Finally, we visited another ancient Greek site in the Peloponnese: The Theater of Epidaurus. This Greek theater was quite impressive. It has great acoustics, which we tested out by clapping in the center of the theater and listening to the echo. We also stood in the last row of the theater up on the hill and listened to the sounds people made below. I even dropped a coin in the center of the theater, and other people could hear the coin hit the ground from the last row of the theater. Vitor also made the sound of a dog barking, which could be heard excellently throughout the theater, so well, in fact, that he was told to stop making the noise by one of the guards of the site. The Theater of Epidaurus is still in use today, and since the acoustics are so good, all the performances done here are still done without the use of microphones.

It was especially neat for me to see all these archaeological sites in Greece. I had taken a Greek archaeology class at Luther last year and had learned about many of the sites and artifacts we saw while in Greece, so it was an amazing experience for me to see these ancient remains in person and have a better understanding of what the Greeks were able to accomplish several thousand years ago.

The Acropolis
The Temple of Athena Nike
Caryatids on the Erectheon
Temple of Hephaestus
120 Ton Stone Lintel at The Treasury of Atreus
The Mask of Agamemnon
The Lion Gate at Mycenae
Passageway Into The Cistern at Mycenae
The Theater of Epidaurus