A Day in Mystras

By Preston Thym and Mary Daley

Today we said farewell to the hotel in Pylos and headed to the archeological site of Mystras. This site was originally built around 1249 by William of Villehardouin and was later conquered by the Byzantines, then occupied by the Turks, and then the Venetians. The site has been pretty much abandoned since 1832, leaving these gorgeous stone ruins. There are a few churches still standing, and the church of St. Maria is still occupied by a few nuns and has an active sanctuary.

Outside of the sanctuary, we got to meet some new furry friends.

Early Christian monasteries were mostly built on the countryside. It was a practice for monks to be separate from the noise and distractions of the main city spaces. Emperor Theodosios the first passed a legislation banning monasteries from cities. The founding of monasteries within urban areas began in the 6th century.

Professor Salowey described the mosaics on the ceilings and walls depicting biblical narratives that were well known and also relatable stories visually presented in consideration for those who visited the church but could not read.

Going to this Byzantine site helped connect to our academic theme of “East Meets West” as the influences here were most definitely eastern.

After visiting the site, we went to a wonderful cafe in Mystras where we experienced some local food and the crop of the area: Oranges.

After settling in at the hotel, Zoe James led us in an engaging presentation on heteronormativity and gender roles in ancient writings and ancient times.

The Greek Agora, the Roman Agora, and the Modern Marketplace

By Vanessa Taylor & Mary Daley

Today was an early start for us, as we had to meet in front of the Panathenaic Stadium from yesterday at eight a.m. We walked through the Plaka all the way to the Ancient Greek Agora, where people would have sold their wares, practiced politics, worshipped, and talked with other Greeks. Professor Salowey showed us the boundary stone, which is exactly where the Greeks would have known they were entering the marketplace. Right outside of the boundary is where scholars believe Simon, a shoemaker and friend of Socrates, lived. Apparently, because young boys were not allowed in the agora, Socrates would borrow his friend’s house to educate them in the ways of philosophy.

Down the path farther is the Altar of the Twelve Gods, which shows up in ancient writing frequently as a way to measure distance. Professor Salowey described it as the center of Attica, and it’s an interesting way to see the combination of modern and ancient Greece, because almost all of the foundation is covered by train tracks!

After viewing the Altar, we were treated to our first presentation. Staren taught us all about Athenian democracy, and who was included in it.

Then, we climbed up the hill to see the Hephaisteion, a temple dedicated to the God of smiths, Hephaestus, as well as a version of Athena that excells in crafts. Professor Salowey took us all around the building, showing us pieces of the temple that were carved out so people could take the metals used to hold it together, and slots in between columns where sarcophagi used to be placed.

We climbed back down and proceeded to a museum, where artifacts found in the agora were on display. There were pieces from the Mycenean period, all the way to Roman occupation, and it was fascinating to see the evolution of art and sculpture.

After we left the Greek Agora, we walked to the Roman one. There used to be a direct path between the two, but now, we had to walk along the modern Athenian streets, though it wasn’t a problem because of the interesting differences in building styles and the various restaurants and vendors we passed.

The Romans, when they made their marketplace, actually mimicked the Greek style instead of using their own architectural elements, which speaks to the respect that the Romans had for the Greeks. While we were there, we saw a building that had been used to tell the weather based on where the wind was blowing from, and we also visited a museum in what used to be a mosque, focusing on photographs taken by Nazis during their occupation of Greece in World War II.

After finishing up at the Agoras, we trekked over to the modern marketplace. While many storefronts were closed when we first headed out for the day around 8, the scene had evolved dramatically into a hustle and bustle market with everything from luggage, hats, coats, and an interesting assortment of camouflage clothing; to a massive block of endless colors – fruits and vegetables freshly picked and displayed in a rainbow variety.

Another section of the market held fresh meats. And when I say fresh, I mean very fresh. It’s an unusual sight to many of us who have always been so far removed from farm fresh meat – pre packaged, cut, de-boned, etc. The only thing in my experience I could compare it to was the night markets of Taiwan, featuring a ton of freshly caught seafood.

Mariah and Lilly presented on the market and Greek food, giving us insight as to what we were about to experience.

After returning from the markets, half of our group got to partake in a cooking class, but neither Vanessa nor myself were in that group, so we will let them tell you about it.

Many of us enjoyed turning in for an early evening to journal, read for tomorrow, and rest.

Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds!