Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Everything in Ruins: Greece, Croatia, and Cyprus

I’ve seen a few ruins over the years. Some have been dedicated sites, and more than a few were announced with dedicated plaques overshadowed by a multi-use high-rise in the name of progress. I am amazed when a city has encroached upon a famous monument, resulting in a flower-among-weeds landmark.

Limassol, Cyprus.
This was the case in places like Zadar, Croatia, and Kourion, Cyprus, where the effects of Moorish, Venetian, or Roman conquests attempt to blend into the scenery. If you lived near these places, it would just be the regular view on your daily commute. As a visitor from a relatively
young country, I enjoy this anachronistic blend of history with modern adaptation. An adaptation to what is there and what was meant to last gets repurposed or worked around, much like a scar becomes woven into one’s beauty and personality. 

When people travel, they look for what is similar because they notice what is not. Our history, and the history of those before us, shapes our perspective. We have worked around and adapted as best we could. Rather than harbor fear or disdain for the past, we can appreciate its contribution to our current perspective and look for how the contrast contributes to its beauty. It’s all about perspective.

Zadar, Croatia

Zadar, Croatia
Zadar inlet.
Zadar, Croatia, has a quiet, relaxing feel to it. I imagine the summer brings all types of city folks wanting to soak up the sun on its beautiful coast and eat olives all day [well, at least I would] and drink a real maraschino cherry liqueur. The olive trees and distant views of the famous Croatian mountains, and the fact that it is not currently as popular as its sister cities down
the coast, would make this a perfect vacation destination.

Limassol, Cyprus

Limassol, Cyprus.
In Limassol, Cyprus, the cobalt blue of the sky is breathtaking. It resembles the indescribable blue of the South Pacific and makes me appreciate the gift of sight. I also became captivated by the smells. It smells like summer, even in late fall: Warm grass, olive trees, and salt air.

The people seemed cautious in the city and curious in the countryside. In the city one could see the influences of Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Russia. A mosque shares an alleyway with a Greek Orthodox church. A street musician plays a sad melody in front of a store selling handcrafted leather items. Passersby drop coins and half-smoked cigarettes while locals haggle for bargains at the open-air market peddling dried fruit and olive oil on the corner. 

Ruins at Kourion in Cyprus.
Kolossi Castle, Cyprus.
Many Cypriots were displaced (by force) by the Turks who decided they wanted resort-like conditions for their military on the northern part of the island. Others have been displaced by rising prices caused by Russian billionaires buying up the property that locals can no longer afford because they entrusted their savings and retirement to the government, which invested in Greece. That has not been the most profitable economic trajectory over the past decade.  Resilient but cautious was a theme common to many places I visited. 

In the countryside, while exploring some paths behind a castle that may have sheltered Crusaders in former times, I met a grandma who insisted I have coffee at her friend’s house. I
noticed her wine gourd drying on a tree, and she was quite animated in explaining exactly how I could make my own. We could not use words, but gestures and a smile go a long way. I will have to update you on the progress of my own gourd someday...

Athens, Greece

Everywhere in Athens you could run into a ruin. You could walk past one to the corner store in a neighborhood, or head up to the Acropolis via narrow streets lined with orange trees. Despite a few “leftover” arches here and there, the Greeks found many ways to build up and around them in Athens. Considering that half of the 11 million people in all of Greece lives in this city, the people have to live somewhere. From the top of The Acropolis, though, you can imagine how the gods would have looked down on all that craziness and preferred the view from the top. 

The weather, like the gods’ humor, seemed quite
fickle. A little rain earlier in the morning made the concrete slabs a little slick. There are more rocks and rubble than tourists, and that would be saying a lot in the summer. The ruins have endured quite a bit over their lifetime, so lets hope they survive the average intelligence of some of the tourists I observed. 

After a while ruins and churches and temples and museums and … start to look the same. Except here. A slight shift in light or perspective changes the view and the wave of awe refreshes itself. Thank the gods there are not some giant condos and shopping malls going up here with a fabulous view of the Parthenon. 

Olympia, Greece

The Olympic Stadium!
Ruins galore! Columns galore. This would be a great place to play hide-and-seek. In addition to it being the site of the original Olympics [I believe they had sponsors even back then!], the architectural garden of columns overgrown with plants and vines, has a magical, meditative feel to it. While walking through the various sites, and enjoying the relative solitude [it is not crowded at all this time of year], it reminded me of walking a labyrinth. Compared to the craziness of Athens, Olympia offers a more peaceful, contemplative site.

You can take the train or a bus from the port city of Katakolon, which has markets, a typical white-washed church, and plenty of cafes with fresh local seafood, wine, yogurt, and honey. And, my favorite: Olives. ;-)

All Photos by Nicole D. Mignone. 2016. All Rights Reserved.