RTW Timeline: 5th Century BC

After seeing so many interesting sites and learning many facts about places all around the world, we thought it would be interesting to arrange the different places and events on a timeline to provide more of a context for the different highlights.

In our previous installment covering the first half of the first millennium BC, we saw the Greek culture grow and develop, leading up to an explosion of culture and history in the period we will cover today, the 5th century BC. This is considered to be the classical era of Greece, and especially of Athens as that was the center of much of the development.

490 BC – Athenian Treasury built at Delphi to celebrate victory at Battle of Marathon

The sanctuary at Delphi was surrounded by structures built by the city-states of ancient Greece, given as offerings to the oracle in thanks for the good advice. After Athens defeated the Persians in the battle of Marathon (the one that gave the modern race its name), the city dedicated a treasury in Delphi to show its thanks and display the spoils of victory.

Failed jelfie in front of the Athenian Treasury

Failed jelfie in front of the Athenian Treasury

480 BC – King Leonidas of Sparta dies at the battle of Thermopylae

King Leonidas led the militaristic city-state of Sparta on the Peloponnese peninsula. He died in the battle of Thermopylae against the Persians (the same battle dramatized in the movie 300). There is a large contemporary statue of him in the modern city of Sparta which we visited.

A statue for King Leonidas (main character in 300)

A statue for King Leonidas (main character in 300)

478 BC – Serpent Column erected as part of a sacrificial tripod in Delphi

We actually saw this column at its current location in Istanbul. Emperor Constantine moved the column from Delphi to Constantinople for use as a decoration at his new Hippodrome.

The serpent heads on the top of the column were removed at some point

The serpent heads on the top of the column were removed at some point

474 BC – Charioteer of Delphi created

We viewed this well-known striking bronze sculpture at the archaeological museum in Delphi.

The famous Bronze Charioteer

The famous Bronze Charioteer

460 BC – Artemision Bronze Sculpted

Art historians don’t know if this depicts Zeus or Poseidon, since he could either be hurling a lightning bolt or a trident. The date for this sculpture is also just a guess, because it was found as part of a shipwreck about which not much is known.

Zeus/Poseidon

Zeus/Poseidon

456 BC – Temple of Zeus Built in Olympia

This was the largest temple at Olympia. Today, only one of the massive Doric columns has been reconstructed.

Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

440 BC – Temple of Poseidon at Sounion constructed

This temple, located on a promontory overlooking Cape Sounion, was a pilgrimage site where those about to take a sea voyage could make offerings to the god of the sea.

The Temple of Poseidon

The Temple of Poseidon

438 BC – Parthenon Completed

The classic Greek temple dedicated to Athena, the patron of Athens, sits on the acropolis overlooking the city below. The decorative sculptures have been removed and it is under recontruction, but just seeing it in person was a great experience.

The Parthenon

The Parthenon

432 BC – Construction of Athenian acropolis Propylaea halted due to outbreak of Peloponnesian War

Athens dominated the Classical age of Greece, but it didn’t last for too long. War eventually broke out between Athens and the Peloponnesian city-states (led by Sparta). Costs for the war drained money from the treasury, and the ceremonial entrance to the Acropolis, the Propylaea, was never completed.

The Propylaea is still the main entrance for tourists

The Propylaea is still the main entrance for tourists

420 BC – Nike of Paeonius created for display at Olympia

The dynamic sculpture is missing a few pieces these days but still does a great job of conveying motion.

Nike - goddess of Victory. She stood on a pedestal where the Olympic victors were crowned near the Temple of Zeus

Nike – goddess of Victory. She stood on a pedestal where the Olympic victors were crowned near the Temple of Zeus

420 BC – Temple of Athena Nike constructed on Athens acropolis

This small temple is found on the southwest corner of the Acropolis. This was the oldest Ionic temple that we saw. Nike means victory in Greek, and Athena was worshiped in her victorious form here. Note the date – the Athenians were praying for victory in the Peloponnesian War which was still going on.

Temple of Athena Nike at the entrance

Temple of Athena Nike at the entrance

415 BC – Construction of Temple of Hephaestus completed

This Doric temple, found in the Ancient Agora of Athens, is one of the better preserved temples that we saw.

Temple of Hephaestus Jelfie

Temple of Hephaestus Jelfie

406 BC – Construction of Erechtheion on Athenian Acropolis complete

The Erechtheion is a temple on the north side of the Acropolis, dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. Arguably its most famous feature is the “Porch of the Caryatids,” where the columns holding up the roof were carved into women in flowing dresses.

The porch with the caryatids on the Erechtheion

The porch with the caryatids on the Erechtheion

404 BC – Sparta triumphs over Athens in the Peloponnesian War

We visited Sparta, but there was much less to see there than there had been in Athens. Its culture was much more focused on the military than it was on building grand temples.

This is Sparta! No, really, this is actually the historical site of Sparta. And the modern town of Sparta beyond.

This is Sparta! No, really, this is actually the historical site of Sparta. And the modern town of Sparta beyond.

 

After Athens lost the war, its time as the dominant force in the region was over, and its boom of monumental architecture was through. Structures like those seen on the Acropolis in Athens were never to be equaled.

However, as you will see in our next entry, covering the fourth century BC, there would still be many sites in Greece producing architectural gems that are world-renowned to this day.

We finished our RTW, so What Were Our Favorite… Museums?!

We’ve finished our RTW trip. We get a lot of questions about our favorite things on the trip. We’ve decided to start a new series called “So, What Was Our Favorite…” We visited 29 countries on our RTW: Egypt (just 1 day), South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe (just 1 day), Namibia, Germany (just 1 day), Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, Ireland, USA, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia (just Bali), Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, and Nepal.

This third edition will cover our top 10 favorite museums around the world. These are not in order of preference, instead they are in the order in which we visited them.

Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg, South Africa

The museum started with the beginnings of Joburg as a mining town, and then went through the first attempts at segregation to the implementation of the full-fledged apartheid system in the 1940s. Then, there were displays about the realities of living under apartheid, and the first wave of resistance that led to Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment. Then, as we went chronologically. We got into the student uprisings of the 70s. For the 1980s, there was a gripping video detailing the horrific violence that brought the apartheid movement to its breaking point. We then moved on to the 90s, which detailed Mandela’s release, then end of apartheid and the founding of the new government (and also showed how close the country came to total anarchy at the time). The museum is particularly gripping as it starts right out with you being randomly assigned to be white or non-white, and then having to enter through the respective door and then garnering a different experience for the first room based on what you picked. While we visited, there was also a large exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela.IMG_9186

Cradle of Humankind Museum, Outside Johannesburg, South Africa

This nice (and relatively new) museum is set up to explain the history of life on Earth and the history of human life as well. Once you enter the main building, you are taken down into the basement and you do this cheesy but fun boat ride that takes you though the different elements necessary for life. We then went through the different exhibits in the large space. There ranged from discussions about DNA,to extinct animals, to the different types of hominids that paleoanthropologists have identified (many of which have been found in the Cradle) to what it means to be human. We particularly enjoyed some of the interactive exhibits, for example, there was a long hallway with illustrations which helped to show the length of different eras in time.

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Posing with an austrolopithicus

Shindler Factory Museum, Krakow, Poland

This was the only museum we visited in Krakow, and it was excellent! The permanent exhibits walk you through what happened in Krakow during the years 1939 – 45, during the Nazi occupation. The museum does fascinating things in each room, designed to make you understand the subject with all of your senses. The room for before the war has nice, warm lighting and happy music playing. It feels like sitting in a comfortable room, watching old family movies about Jewish life in Krakow. Then you enter a hall which describes when Germany attacked. It is black and gloomy with red lighting streaking across the walls, representing the fire, and the sounds of shooting and bombs is everywhere. Even the floor of each room played a big role: in the room describing the initial attack, the floor was uneven; in a room describing life for the Nazis, the floor was fancy swastika tiles; in a room for a concentration camp the floor was actual white gravel. The last room was quite interesting as well. To get into it, you walk through a dark room with a spongy floor (we aren’t quite sure of the interpretation). Then, you enter the “room of regrets”, which is stark white and covered with snippets of writing. Upon closer inspection, the snippets are quotes from people who did something (or didn’t do something) during the war period. The building was actually Schindler’s Factory (from Schindler’s List), so his office is preserved and there are a few rooms dedicated to him.

Room of regrets

Room of regrets

Gallery 11/07/95, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

We paid a visit to this moving and disturbing exhibit in Sarajevo – a series of exhibits that attempt to explain some of the tragedies of the war, mainly the genocide at Srebrenica. Our guide gave us a brief overview of what happened there. It’s hard to give a concise explanation in this space, but the gist of it is that over 8000 Bosniak people in the town, mostly males, were killed and dumped into mass graves by the approaching Army of Republika Srpska, even though the town was supposedly under UN protection. We walked through the photo gallery, watched a documentary, and also listened to the stories of some individuals who were affected. The gallery also included a small display and a documentary on the siege of Sarajevo. We vaguely remembered that Sarajevo was in the news when we were kids, but I don’t think we realized the scope of what the town went through. It was under siege for almost four years, which is the longest siege in modern history. The residents had to live in constant fear of being attacked by snipers in the hills surrounding the valley that the city sits in. The documentary, called Miss Sarajevo, was shot during the siege and showed the resilience of the residents in the face of this (and was later turned into a U2 song). It is extremely moving and worth a watch. (If you do watch the documentary, and you should… it’s linked in the previous sentences… and you find yourself as taken with the young girl in the beginning and the end as we were, here is a video of what she was doing in 2009!)

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National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece

The museum went in chronological order and was quite extensive. The first major area was the Cycladic figurines and other art, from the 3rd century BC. Then, they covered the findings from Mycenae. We were pretty excited to see the artifacts from Mycenae that we had heard about when at the site and from reading Greek Treasure. The next stop was the Archaic era, where we again learned more about the kore and kourous statues. The next major era was the Severe Style. The sculptures started to get more realistic, but the expressions were stern. For the classical era, many of the finds were split into different rooms. There was a large collection of rooms focused on the art found on tombstones in the ancient cemeteries. There were many elaborate marble carvings to be found. The next period is the Hellenistic era, which was characterized by sculptures which more realistic faces (instead of idealized) and more active movements. The final period covered was the Roman era. Here they tried to copy the Greek styles and were somewhat successful, although the art was less impressive. All of this chronological history was enhanced by enjoying the museum while listening to Rick Steves’ audio tour. There is much more to the museum so it could be worth multiple trips.

The Jockey of Arteision

The Jockey of Arteision

Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil, Sparta, Greece

It may not sound interesting, but we found it fascinating. The top floor of this little museum gives the history of the olive and discusses how it and its oil can be used for a wide variety of purposes: food, light, rituals, etc. The lower floor discussed all about how to make olive oil, and had examples of the different machinery that has been used to make the oil from ancient times until the present.

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Della about to perform the pressing stage

Antalya Museum, Antalya, Turkey

This is a large archaeological museum, and we enjoyed seeing the different exhibits that included the Stone Age in the Antalya area, ceramics, Roman-era sculptures and sarcophogi, and finally a small exhibit on life during the Ottoman era. Our favorite exhibit was a room with different sculptures of Greek/Roman gods found at the nearby site of Perge, mainly because each statue included a sign with extensive text describing the myths around the god.

One of the goddesses

One of the goddesses

The National Museum, Singapore

When we visited, we were disappointed to discover that the main exhibits at this museum were under renovation, but ultimately it turned out that the temporary exhibit on the history of Singapore was very good! It walked us through the history as described above in a nice chronological fashion, with good displays. It also worked hard to set the mood and tone of each period in history through the size, color, and feel of the rooms.

The exterior of the museum

The exterior of the museum

COPE Visitor Center, Vientiane, Laos

COPE is an organization that helps provide prosthetic limbs to those who can’t afford them all across Laos. The visitor center describes their work in making the prosthetics, but also talks in detail about one of the main reasons so many are needed: the tons of unexploded ordinance (UXO) that remain in the country as a result of the many bombs the US dropped during the “secret war” as part of the Vietnam war. We also watched a couple of short documentaries about the efforts to go in the countryside and defuse the found items before someone is hurt by them. The problem is especially tough because scrap metal can bring in a significant amount of money, so people will risk harm and handle items that they shouldn’t. The visitor center was small, but we found that it contained a lot of interesting information and was quite moving.

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Where the US dropped bombs on Laos during the war

Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, Bangkok, Thailand

This museum is actually within the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok and is free with admission with a palace ticket. Our first intention was just to take advantage of the AC and uncrowded bathrooms, but we also checked out the exhibit on the Queen’s fashion and were fascinated. Apparently, before a world tour in the 1960, she helped revive some classic Thai styles and designed nine different outfit styles that are still used by the Thai women today. There was also an activity room that described silk fashions, and Della got a chance to try on a traditional outfit.

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We visited a lot of museums on our RTW the world tour, and came up with a few observations about the ones we liked the best. It was important to us that the museum have good signage and/or a good audio tour. We also enjoyed when the exhibits were interactive or really created a good atmosphere. In addition, the museums that taught us the most about things we didn’t know about or if we were moved by their content.

Sparta, Greece

THIS… IS… SPARTA!!

Most people in our generation probably think of the movie 300 when they hear Sparta, and think of this famous line from that movie. Sparta was our second stop on our trip through the Peloponnese, and while it isn’t very much like the movie, we did quite enjoy it.

This is Sparta! No, really, this is actually the historical site of Sparta. And the modern town of Sparta beyond.

This is Sparta! No, really, this is actually the historical site of Sparta. And the modern town of Sparta beyond.

Getting There

We knew that getting to Sparta from Olympia would be challenging, but do-able. While we were in the town of Pirgos on our long trip into Olympia, we confirmed that we would need to connect through the town of Tripoli. The worker also told us that there was a 12:15 bus that would do just that.

Armed with that knowledge, we decided to take a bus from Olympia back to Pirgos at 9:30, just to be safe. We got to Pirgos at about 10:30 and went to buy the 12:15 ticket… and were informed that the next bus that would be going to Tripoli was at 3:30. In fact, no one seemed to have any idea about the supposed 12:15 bus. When we asked, repeatedly, the answer was “The next bus is 3:30.” We were pretty bummed, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. So, we spent five hours in the Pirgos station reading and working on the blog (at least there was free Wi-Fi).

When we got to Tripoli at 6:10, we were pretty excited because we heard that the bus to Sparta was leaving at 6:15. Finally, a quick connection! We bought the ticket, and went outside and waited… and waited. Finally around 6:45 the bus pulled in. But, in broken English the driver told us that we should just wait for the next bus that was coming in 10 minutes or so – looking closer it seemed that maybe the bus was full. It was a bit confusing because he did let other people on the bus. But, it was the same answer for us and another couple of backpackers… The bus pulled out of the station and we weren’t on it. Needless to say, we weren’t pleased.

We had just started to settle back in when we saw the bus driver run back into the station on foot. The ticket saleslady starting yelling at home, pointing at us and the other couple. The driver motioned at us to follow him, so we walked briskly out onto the side of the highway, where we dodged traffic to throw our bags under the bus. We got on the bus and discovered that it indeed was full. We found a spot near the rear exit where we could sit semi-comfortably in the aisle. Della did get a seat offered to her by someone halfway through, and ended up having a pleasant conversation.

So, another frustrating trip on KTEL. There are more stories like this coming as well…

At the Pirgos bus station... we spent so much time here that we probably should have listed it under "Where We Stayed"

At the Pirgos bus station… we spent so much time here that we probably should have listed it under “Where We Stayed”

Where We Stayed

Since we were a little unsure about making it all the way to Sparta, we didn’t pre-book anything. In general, there wasn’t even that much in Sparta listed on websites like hostelworld or Booking… Sparta just doesn’t seem to be on the tourist radar as much. Lonely Planet did list one budget option which didn’t even have a website, so we decided to just show up at it and hope they had space. Luckily, the Hotel Apollon did have space and turned out to be a nice place to stay. We had a spacious room, and a pretty substantial included breakfast every morning. The front desk staff was also very helpful with any questions we had.

What We Did

The most renowned site in the Sparta area is not actually the ruins of the ancient Greek civilization, but rather the ruins of the medieval fortified Byzantine city of Mystras. The city is built on the side of a mountain just 5 km away from Sparta. Normally you can take a bus to Mystras from Sparta, but the day we wanted to go was a Greek national holiday, so it didn’t seem like buses were running. Instead, we ran into the same couple that was almost left on the bus from Tripoli to Sparta, and we agreed to share a cab to the site. The cab dropped us off at the upper entrance – highly recommended since it makes it easy to walk down through the ruins. We did just that: started at the ruins of the castle at the very top, then worked our way down, visiting monasteries, the palace, and residences on the way down. The monasteries were both abandoned and active with some old but well-preserved frescoes that gave a glimpse into the Greek Orthodox culture as it existed during the late Byzantine period. Mystras is considered as one of the last remaining centers of Byzantine culture until the empire fell in the 15th century. We got particularly lucky, the day we visited, the site was free! That was exciting after having to pay for a cab to get there… and back. After visiting the site, we were able to get a cab with our fellow travelers back to Sparta from the lower entrance.

Back in town, we took a visit to the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil. It may not sound interesting, but we found it fascinating. The top floor of the museum gives the history of the olive and discusses how it and its oil can be used for a wide variety of purposes: food, light, rituals, etc. The lower floor discussed all about how to make olive oil, and had examples of the different machinery that has been used to make the oil from ancient times until the present.

We did decide to visit the ruins of ancient Sparta, but as our guidebook warned, there isn’t much remaining. The Spartans were much less interested in building temples than they were in training warriors. Just north of town, there is a small site that you can wonder around in free of charge. There are the ruins of a theater, and some scattered remains of structures from the acropolis on top of the hill. It does take some imagination to appreciate them, but the site does also provide some nice views of the surrounding valley and mountains.

Where We Ate

After being in the artificial town of Olympia, it was kind of nice to be back in an actual town where it seemed that real Greeks lived and the shops and restaurants were not geared to tourists. However, the first night we did end up eating in a restaurant in which every other table was filled with tourists (a group of British high school students on a school trip). The second night was the national holiday, so all of the sit-down restaurants were packed with celebrating locals and we just chose to eat in a less-crowded Greek fast food place. Our final night in town we ate at the Lonely Planet-recommended Tsipouradiko. This was our first experience at a place without an English menu, but luckily the waiter was able to recommend a meatball dish that we ended up enjoying quite a bit.

Final Thoughts

If you go into Sparta expecting to see sights from the movie, you will be sorely disappointed. Since that wasn’t our expectation, we enjoyed seeing the sights that the town did have to offer. And we appreciated the chance to be in a city that wasn’t just a tourist attraction as well. The weather was a little gloomy for us to completely love our time, but we definitely enjoyed our visit and would recommend it for your Peloponnese itinerary.