In October 2018, Aegean Odyssey will sail out of Athens for a very real voyage to the stories and art of Antiquity. This is a journey that will celebrate The Arts Society (formerly known as NADFAS) 50th Anniversary and with that comes a visual feast of art, architecture and the vivid stories behind them. Joining the sailing will be Archaeologist Gillian Hovell and aside from offering interesting lectures on board, she will also be exploring ashore. These are some of the ancient sites that await.
Our adventure back in time will take us back 3,500 years to the enigmatic and flourishing world of the Minoans on Crete. This is the land of the mythical monstrous half-man, half-bull Minotaur. And the site of the impressive labyrinth of a palace, awash with the brilliant colours of its vibrant frescoes and dazzling processions and rituals that wound their way through its columns and sunlit open spaces.
That’s just the beginning of the old, old stories we shall encounter. We shall have the chance to explore the home of the Mycenaeans who took control of Minoan Crete; unlike the Minoans in their bright and airy colourful palaces, the Mycenaeans were based in stony, impregnable war citadels on the Greek mainland where rich tombs full of warrior glitz greeted visitors. Wealthy, powerful Mycenae itself was the home of King Agamemnon and his Greek army who sailed to ancient Troy over 3,000 years ago. It was to Mycenae that Agamemnon returned victorious from the Trojan War made so famous by the first western literature, Homer’s Iliad; as the king rode through the monumental Lion Gate, he can have had no idea that he was entering a legendary world of tragedy that would captivate and thrill audiences for millennia; his story was re-enacted in the trilogy of the Oresteia, written by the greatest playwright of Athens, Aeschylus in the 400s BC.
The imagination, new and expressive art and sheer genius of that Golden Age of Athens are the starting point that will launch us on our voyage. All the lands and islands we shall then sail out to will be rich in vivid images and tales of humanity to refresh and revitalise us – just as theatre, and its ability to engross us in other worlds, were a vital element of the healing provided at ancient Greek sanctuaries like Epidaurus.
We shall also explore the extraordinary aspect of human life at sacred sites. The now-uninhabited island of Delos remains as inspirational for us as it was for all the generations who visited its sanctuary of Apollo. Like us, they contemplated the tales of the troubled birth of the divine twins, Apollo and Artemis, on the island, they admired the avenue of lions and they were duly impressed by the finely decorated homes of rich merchants who boasted of their success in this once bustling town. For the Athenian treasury was based here and, later, a massive Roman slave market dominated the town. So there were fortunes to build artistic mansions with and to feast on for the lucky ones, while the town’s theatre and temple rituals acted out stories to feed the imagination and the soul.
Our voyage will sail on through the centuries, and we shall walk in St. Paul’s footsteps in the ancient city of Philippi. The wonderful ancient theatre overshadows this town where Biblical drama was played out and we visit places where Paul preached, baptised and was tried and imprisoned.
The early church, the Romans and the later Byzantine period are all represented at our stop at Thessalonica on the north coast of the Aegean.
And the Byzantine monasteries at Meteora in mainland Greece will take us to the (literally) remarkable heights of human engineering; here the stones were hauled up in baskets to build tranquil and remote holy sites that are simply stunning. Their location is so cinematic that movies including James Bond’s For Your Eyes Only have used these towering and precipitous sites for their own modern storytelling.
We continue basking in atmospheric medieval sites by visiting Chora on Patmos. This gorgeous pilgrim site grew up around the location of St. John’s Revelation and life is still very much in evidence in the narrow alleys of whitewashed houses, shops and taverns that perch in this picturesque hilltop destination.
And, of course, there are idyllic island stops on the beautiful islands of Skiathos (of Mamma Mia fame) and Mykonos, with its winding alleys and oh-so-photographic windmills.
Wherever we go, there are stories and a richness of art, humanity and life amidst the visual treats of this magnificent cruise. As one of the lecturers on board the Aegean Odyssey for this cruise, it will be a real pleasure to share some of those stories; for our voyage through the millennia will be enriched by vividly portrayed tales from mythology, dramatic tales from human lives lived in remarkable places surrounded by fine art and glorious decoration, and inspiration from achievements by masters in their crafts and skills.
All this will be accompanied in Voyages to Antiquity’s usual way by fine food, the company of travellers eager to explore, and the luxury of sailing the seas in the comfort of the Aegean Odyssey: this is indeed ‘small ship cruising at its best’, thanks to excellent excursions, a wonderful and friendly team, and a voyage designed to take you on a journey you’ll never forget.
You’ll certainly come home with plenty of stories to tell and images to share; stories and art not just from the ancient world, but a wealth of tales and photos of your very own great adventure too.
You can keep up to speed with all of Gillian’s adventures via her very own Muddy Archaeologist Facebook page.