All good things must come to an end, at least on this world, and study tours are no exception. Though travelers in Greece with Campbell University Divinity School and Nurturing Faith Experiences learned much and grew close during our time together, most were ready for the last day of touring to arrive.
We began with a look at a canal dug through a narrow isthmus between the Attic mainland and the Peloppenesian peninsula. A remarkable feat of engineering for the late nineteenth century, the canal allows ships to travel between the Aegean Sea to the south and ports on the Ionian Sea to the north, thus avoiding a much longer and sometimes treacherous journey around. The canal is four miles long but only 70 feet wide at the base, making it too narrow for most modern ships, so it’s used mainly for recreational traffic these days.
In ancient times, the city of Corinth grew up near that very spot, with ports on both sides of the isthmus and a thriving business in ferrying both cargoes and small ships across it on specially constructed wagons.
The Apostle Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, developing a relationship that continued through an exchange of letters and a “painful visit” to deal with aberrant theology and conflict within the church.
As usual, Paul’s visit began with a visit to the Jewish synagogue, but also included speeches in the public square from a raised platform known as the “bema.”
From Corinth we drove to the Bronze Age city of Mycenae, whose culture contributed greatly to the later development of Greek civilization. It was at Mycenae that Agamemnon ruled, known from Homer’s epic poem, The Illiad, as the leader of a coalition army who battled against the city of Troy.
The city was surrounded by an early wall of large boulders and a later construction of ashlars (shaped stones). An imposing gate was topped by two lions facing a column that may have represented the palace.
Those who first dug at the site, working inside and to the right of the gate, uncovered a circular structure containing deep shaft graves from the sixteenth century BCE. The burials included both adults and children, and was clearly intended for the royal family, as the dead were surrounded by rich treasures and wore masks and body coverings made of pure gold. The first excavator thought he had discovered the tomb of Agamemnon, but the tomb preceded him by more than two centuries and would have belonged to earlier rulers.
Outside of the city, the so-called “Treasury of Atrius” (Atrius was reportedly Agamemnon’s father) is the best preserved “tholos” type tomb in all of Greece. The tomb was built of carefully hewn blocks fitted together igloo-style in the shape of a beehive forty feet high, then covered with two layers of waterproof clay and covered over with dirt so that it looks like a hill.
It is likely that royals were cremated on a pyre in the middle of the tomb: it was robbed in antiquity, and none of the tomb’s contents have been found.
Yet another drive took us about 20 miles south and 2,000 years forward, to the classical Greek city of Epidaurus, where the healing god Asclepius was worshiped. Persons seeking health came from far away to the city’s “asclepion” (healing center), many staying in a guest house with 160 rooms. Sick persons would spend a night in a large room within the sanctuary called the enkoimeteria, where it was believed the god would reveal to them the needed cure.
Epidaurus is also home to the best preserved theater in Greece from that period. The lower level was built in the fourth century BCE, while the upper section was added in Roman times.The theater’s acoustics are so exceptional that our guide encouraged us to scatter in the large theater while she read a poem in a normal voice, and we all could hear it.
Costas, our faithful bus driver, took us along a different route on the way back, driving with forested mountains to our left and the Aegean to our right on the two-hour trip to Athens. There we gathered for a final dinner together before turning in early before a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call and a long day of traveling home, which was looking better all the time — one of the many benefits of traveling and studying abroad.