Biggest attractions of Greece

The face of Greece

This paper is mainly concerned with the visual splendour of Greece-its contrasting landscapes, the treasures of its past, the people, the incredible brightness of its light, the sculptured coasts and blue seas, and the present scene-everything that combines to make this land uniquely attractive. Not the most beautiful, not the most famous, not the most important-just the one people enjoy most. How does one account for the magic of this land?

It is true that Greece typifies the contrasts, geology, climate, even paradoxes inherent in the Mediterranean region. But contrasts between town and country, bar­eness and fertility, and between man dominating nature and nature dominating man, are more marked in Greece than anywhere else.

Although it is a geological prolongation of the Balkan peninsula, it is a distinct world that fills the mind with unforgettable impressions. The light is almost unnaturally clear and luminous, spilling over mountains and flashing off the sea on to the coasts and islands. The air is clean and fresh and scented with the aroma of countless wild flowers. More tangible is the aura of history that enfolds you: the superb sophistica­tion of Minoan Crete, prehistoric Mycenae and megalithic Tiryns, classical Athens, Byzantine Mystra and medieval Rhodes. Partly it is the timeless background-ancient ruins and crumbling stone walls, Bronze Age volcanoes, and the tang of the sea. Dotting a historical span of almost 4000 years is Greece’s incredible tradition of arts and crafts, ranging from prehistoric pottery of ingenius shapes and vivid Minoan frescoes to the incomparable sculptures of the Golden Age and Byzantiums jewel- studded treasures.

The Contrasts in Greece

Greece is always more than one expects. And with good reason. Around every corner it seems there lurks some hidden treasure: splendid ruins that indicate past glory and long human occupance, a shop full of appealing folkcraft, a beach sited bungalow resort, a stretch of sapphire sea, or a wayside taverna inviting you to lose all sense of time over a glass of wine. This combination of antiquity and modernity keeps the visitor hovering between reality and fantasy until he reconciles the long history of Greece with its living present.

Then again, Greece consists of several bits of diverse geography. Soaring moun­tains are separated by deep valleys, lakes and seas, its ternal imprint. There are countless peninsulas and bays and indentations. And, of course, innumerable islands. It is really a land of islands, one after the other, no two alike.

The waters that almost surround the 50,000 square miles of Greece are blue, pure and clear. They moderate its temperatures in all seasons, and the constant sunshine gives a diamong sparkle to everything. To think of Greece is to think of its climate, which is typically Mediterranean and just as warm and delightful in April and October as it is in July and August.

The People of Greece

There are some 9 million Greeks: cheerful, hospitable, funloving, unpredictable perhaps, but full of contagious enthusiasm. One hardly ever comes across a bored or surly Greek.

From the beginning, indeed, from the time when Greece was first inhabited, some 7000 years ago, her hardy people have been intent on proving that they are a special breed, fully capable of guiding their own destiny theystill are. And they still do. Their boundaries may have altered, and they have undergone the most diverse experien­ces in the course of history, but this has moulded them into a single nation embracing countless generations. The spirit that made this craggy land what it was 25 centuries ago, a very small corner of the earth that exercised an influence out of all proportion to its size, still persists. Greece is once again a living entity, responding to the call of the centuries, yet remaining herself through time.

The Present Scene

Along with the scenery, the history, the beautiful islands, brilliant sunshine and blue seas, Greece also has to offer modern facilities in all parts of the country. That is why it is now fast becoming one of the favourite holiday countries in Europe and the Middle East. Almost all the hotels are new and equipped with every up-to-date amen- nity. Even a third class hotel with a bath is the rule rather than the exception. Travel by boat, train, airplane or car ferry is easy and comfortable. Reasonably cheap too. The beaches are crowd free, and there are well-placed camping sites for the go-it alone traveller. Yachts and cruise ships are catered for by some 85 supply stations and marinas, on islands and coasts.

The ideal way to see Greece and to gain some insight into the true spirit of the Greeks is by car or bus combined with ship or airplane. The magic of Greece works on you the moment you set foot in the country, and by combining ample leisure time with well planned sightseeing you will find that Greece has few equals for the wealth and variety of impressions it leaves in the mind. And these will remain cherished memories long after the holiday itself is over.

Historical background of Greece

Erechteion_-_chapiteau

The dawn of Europe’s history, when the kingdoms and empires of the Oriental ci­vilizations rose and fell, begins with the arrival of the Greeks. The first slow stages of the climb from primitive culture to the heights of civilization began in the Aegean area during the Bronze Age (2800-1100 B.C.). It was an age of trade and communication between nations, peaceful on the whole, but with interludes of savage warfare. The Aegean area was the key position for all trade during the 2nd and the 3rd milleniums B.C., between peoples coming from the North, Asia Minor and North Africa. The whole of the Aegean Civilization was based on sea power and commerce. The ancient world brought its trade to the islands and coastal regions of the Aegean, and the wealth of the inhabitants increased accordingly. Crete was in constant trade communication with the rest of the Aegean, where independent little civilizations arose, of which the most notable is the Cycladic. The Cyclades group was too small to support a large po­pulation, but their mineral and metalic wealth, added to their geographical position, gave the islands unusual importance in the early Bronze Age.

Depending then on the region where the Aegean Civilization had developed, and on the particular features of its remains, they are now called Minoan, after Grete’s legendary King Minos ; Cycladic, for the group of islands which lie roughly in the mid­dle of the Aegean Sea; Mycenaean, on the Greek mainland where Mycenae stood- the strongest city of the time according to Homer. Lastly, there was the Trojan Civi­lization in the regions of Troy, to the North-west of Asia Minor. The Bronze Age ended everywhere some time during 1100 to 1000 B.C., when the last wave of invaders from the North, the Dorians, came down to Greece. Their advent dealt the final blow to the Mycenaean Civilization. The Dorians were a warlike tribe, but they brought with them the Iron Age and a civilization which exercised an immense cultural influence. Mean­while, at about 1000 B.C., the Pelasgians and lonians left the Greek mainland, under pressure from the Dorian invasion of Peloponissos. They crossed the sea and settled in the North-Aegean islands and along the coast of Asia Minor. The Greek colonists had a genius for settling in the right spot, and a good eye for places with commercial possibilities. Great cities grew on the Asian coast and on the islands, and by the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. they were centres of brilliant civilizations. They were in contact with the great civilizations of the East, and they brought to this Eastern culture the Greek vigour and freedom In size they far exceeded most of the cities of old Greece, and their civilization was richer and finer, except perhaps for that of early Corinth. The galaxy of rich and powerful cities included Clazomenae, Halicarnassus, Colophon, Smyrna, Phocaea, Samos, Ephesus and above all Miletus. They were the cradles of science and philosophy, the first triumphant flowering of the individual city-state. Thought was tree, and the human spirit found itself. Men had found their freedom and so had leisure to reflect, to reason about the purpose of life, the aims and ideals which give vitality to civilization. But the tragedy of these independent and flourishing states was that they were too individualistic. They even lacked the power of combination against a foe, and so they were doomed to fall under the domination first of the Ly­dians and then of the Persians.

But in their short centuries of freedom they had time to do a great work: they helped to open up the Mediterranean and the Black Sea to Greek civilization. Greek colonies sprung up from the western Mediterranean to the shores of the Black Sea, and the seeds that were to transform the whole outlook of western man had firmly taken root by the 6th century B.C. The end of this period saw the emergence of two rival powers-Sparta and Athens.

Starting with Homer and his ballads of the Iliad and the Odyssey, Creece burst forth into a new era of rapid progress which led to what is now known as the Classical Age (500-323 B.C.). It is this period which has left the most important monuments and relics, and which set ideas and principles which hold goo to this day.

This «Golden Age» was at the same time the most turbulent There was internal strife as well as invasions. Thus in 490 B.C. Greece suffered the first Persian invasion but thanks to the efficiency and capabilities of the various Greek armies, particularly of Athens, the Persi an hordes were repulsed at Marathon, where the Greeks won a great victory.

The period from 480 B.C. to 431 B.C. was dominated by the brilliant statesman Pericles who initiated the great building schemes which included the Parthenon and the Propylea on the Athenian Acropolis. Externally the empire of Athens flouri­shed as reluctant allies were forced to obedience. Internally the radical democracy was based on a popular assembly open to all and on a panel of “generals” elected annually by vote. Athens was at the time fillled with architectural gems, and was also the centre of culture, welcoming all that was new in science, philosophy and art. For more than half a century it enjoyed political supremacy, but its significance in western history arises from its many-sided activity of thought, art and life.

The Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.), which heralded the decline of Athens, came as an outcome of Spartan fear of the power of Athens. The great plague in 430 B.C. and a fatal disagreement over strategy after the death of Pericles in 426 B.C., finally brought Athens to her knees, and under the oppressive overlordship of Sparta, the trivial quarrels of the Greeks almost achieved what the might of Persia had failed to accomplish, so that the history of the West was in fact, staked on the issues of Marathon, Salamis and Plataea.

Weakened by the long war, the 4th century B.C. saw all Greece threatened by the new power of Macedonia, Many eminent Athenians preached alliance, but the stronger voice of the greatest Athenian orator, Demosthenes, led Athens to resist Macedoania. This led to the disastrous battle of Chaeronia in 338 B.C. The fortunes of Athens and several other city-states were now those of Macedonia. Their days as important independent cities were ended, having failed to achieve unity as a single nation, even though there was a common language, worship and way of life from the Ionian Sea to the shores of Asia Minor and from Crete to Macedonia.

History had to wait the advent of Philip of Macedonia to take advantage of this lack of unity and subdue all the Greek cities south of his own kingdom at Pella. A single nation then emerged in an elementary form under his rule and, shortly after, under the rule of his son Alexander the Great. The period from the 4th to the 2nd century B.C. is known as the Hellenistric Age. When Alexander died in 323 B.C. he was ruler of a large Empire and the nation had become known as Hellas. But quarrels among his heirs and various independence movements weakened the Empire, until finally it broke up. Greece then passed under Roman rule. The quality of art declined favour of quantity and size, but the Romans were also great builders of public works. It was then that Greece acquired her first roads, acquaducts, bridges and public baths. In their art, however, they were monumental extroverts, tending towards the massive and ostentatious, embellished with triumphal arches, graphic reliefs and frescoes, and almost alwas commemorating a Roman victory. The outlook of the Greeks of the pure Classical period was order and proportion. The sculptors sought the ultimate perfection in subject and execution, and seldom fell short of it. Mere size did not impress them. They had indeed some mighty monuments, but in them too, it was in form rather than in bulk that they sought perfection. Even during the Roman domination the Greek city-states retained their pre-eminence in philosophical studies, the fine arts and science, and while Nero hauled the monuments of Athens to Rome, the violet-crowned city of Pericles remained the “University” of the Roman Empire.

The Roman period (146 B.C. to 138 A.D.) also saw the advent of Christianity in Greece. St. Paul preached on Mars Hill in Athens and in other parts of the country, and a generation later St. John wrote the Revelation on the island of Patmos.

When the Roman Empire was divided into Eastern and Western Empires, Greece remained part of the Byzantine Empire which was so much influence by Greek thought and culture that Greek became the language of official affairs, replacing Latin. The Byzantine Age (395 A.D. to 1453 A.D.) lasted 1000 years. This also develo­ped its own art, literature and customes, all of which were strongly influenced by the strong ties between State and Church. Church architecture developed the well- known Byzantine type of cross-transcept with round dome, and the Basilica type of church with the higher centreaisle and one or two aisles on either side lined by pillars and columns. Mosaics and frescoes in churches developed to a high standard during this age which came to an end when the Ottoman Empire conquered Byzantium in 1453. With the fall of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire, in A.D. 1453, the Turks ruled most of Greece and scholars, writers and thinkers fled westward with their precious manuscripts and books. This was the factor that gave rise to the great Renaissance period which, in turn, influenced western culture.

Earlier in its history, the Byzantine Empire had had to condend with Catalan, Frankish and Venetian armies who plundered Greece under pretext of crusades or other purposes.

Greece remained under the Ottoman rule until 1821, when separate revolts merged to become the Greek War of Independence (1821-1834).

Modern Greece begins with the overthrow of the Turkish yoke. The country was recongnised as an independent Sate by the Great Powers (Britain, France and Russia) in 1830, and the first monarchy was set up under King Otto of Bavaria. For several decades afterwards the Greek nation strove to bring under its wings areas which had always been inhabited by Greeks. The most recent acquisition of such territory was the Dodecanese Group of islands. They were united with Greece at the Second World War.

This small country with a long history, a country which has always fought for the great ideal of freedom, is today set on a progressive course and can point to solid endeavour where the development of her national life is concerned.

By reason of its geography, the spirit of the people who compose this country, and its position in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece has taken on an enduring character which makes each generation of Greeks dependent on their forefathers and pledged to their descendents. Therefore, the State which is unswerable for Greece, is in charge at one and the same time of yesterday’s heritage, today’s interests, and tomorrow’s hopes.

Greek sculpture and painting

AN OUTLINE OF ANCIENT GREEK SCULPTURE AND PAINTING

Greek art developed over a period of 600 years and produced a national genius, a pure, classical school which was to inspire sculptors, painters and architects up to the present day, and perhaps for all time.

As early as the 7th century B.C., men and animals and nature became the main subjects of designs that were supremely visual: accurate observation combined with an amazing clarity of design. A deer hammered on a sheet of gold to make a drinking vessel contains in its bulging, simplified planes all the rhythmical vitality one expects from the workshops of today. The Greek artisan was accustomed from an early age to using his eyes to fight and hunt. The naked landscape around him, infused with the magical light of Greece-a light so intense and pure, it throws forms and shapes into sharp relief-imposed its discipline on the mind and eye. When he chipped and shaped and smoothed, every strain and twitch of a horse’s head, every gathering of muscle, blossoming flower or gust of wind, expressed simply, with restraint and symetry, the power of the mind’s eye. Order and balance asserted themselves in flawless expres­sive lines. Mere size never impressed the Greek artist. It was in form rather than in bulk that he always sought perfection. This undeniable striving after truth, a searching for form, even beneath the draperies, is evident in ail the statuary of the great periods of Greek sculpture.

Historians of artistic development draw a sharp line of division between the arts of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures and that which followed their abrupt end about 1000 B.C. With the coming of the Dorians, Greece itself relapsed into a state of semi­barbarism for more than two hundred years. Not until the 7th century B.C. did the cur­rent of culture return and flow from east to west. Greece experienced then a period of artistic development and great achievement such as has never been equalled in the history of the world.

Beginning with the minor bronzes and pottery of the Geometric period (1000-800 B.C.), so called because of the simple application of geometry to the problems of the human form, Greek art then reached the Archaic phase (800-600 B.C.), when Greek seafarers brought back with them from Egypt and the East works decorated in styles completely different from those of the geometric art. This period gave us the well- known “kouroi” “statues of young men and women), which point clearly to Egyptian influece: stereotype pose with one foot set before the other, fixed smile, arms joined to the sides, and clenched fists.

The Egyptian figures were of the hardest stones-porphyry and granite, but the Greeks did not have to face this challenge. The fine white marble of the islands could be carved easily with light tools and emery. Gradually, the rigid posture acquired variety in its composition, when the sculptors gave a more realistic treatment to the human form.

It was from these important years that the beginnings of Greek monumental scul­pture and architecture stem, and in which we recognise the origins of the Classical art.

With the dawn of the 6th century B.C. the emancipation from the Archaic was well on its way. However, the great period of Greek sculpture begins in the Classical Age (500-400 B.C.), when Greek sculptors sought the ultimate perfection in subject and execution-and seldom fell far short of it.

By the 5th century B.C., the stark majesty of the monumental sculptor gave way to the graceful power of Pheidias and, a little later, to the refinement and delicacy of the gods and goddesses of Praxiteles. Sculptors exerted themselves to get the utmost out of the marble in their hands. They even tortured it to express ideas hardly expressible in stone-and they were amazingly successful. Polycleitus, Myron and Pheidias were the three masters of this period. The famous “Doryphorus” of Poly­cleitus was one of the earliest statues in which the weight of the body, instead of resting on both feet, is thrown on to one foot, while the other leg is “free standing’with the heel raised from the ground. The result is a wonderfully easy pose. Myron was the first to discard the rigid uprightness of chest and head, and to show the full flexibility of the body in action. His statues of athletes, among them the well-known “Discus Thrower”, are notable examples of his art.

Fifth century B.C. sculpture reached its culminating point in Pheidias, who was undoubtedly the leading spirit in the sculptural decoration of the Acropolis, and was responsible for the colossal statue of Athena (40 ft high), by which this group of buildings was once dominated. It is considered likely that the sculptures of the Par­thenon, if not actually Pheidias” work, were made under his direction.

In the 4th century B.C., the sculptor’s ideal became modified. Instead of aiming merely at the interpretation of a robust physical life and spiritual serenity, he sought the expression of human emotion and passion. The most well-known sculptors of this school are Scopas, Lysippus and Praxiteles. Scopas, in particular, is famous for the passion he put into marble faces, with deep-set eyes and agonized foreheads. To him has been attributed a head from the temple at Tegea (in the Athens National Museum) and world-masterpieces such as the Niobe group and the Victory of Samothrace are ascribed at least to his influence. The most famous works of Praxiteles are the Venus of Cnidus, at the Vatican in Rome, and the Hermes with the infact Dionysos at the Olympia Museum-works that show less passion and more dreamy tenderness than is seen in the art of Scopas. Lysippus, who is said to have executed a vast number of statues, including many of Alexander the Great, delighted in the rendering of physical vigour, as in the “Apoxyomenus”, also in the Vatican.

The ultimate in the representation of human suffering was reached in the group which shows the legendary Laocoon, with his sons, writhing in the coils of the deadly serpents. By this time, Greek art had entered the Hellenistic Age (300-150 B.C.), when Alexander the Great united all the Greeks and their civilization spread beyond the borders of Greece. The change in political conditions caused by the formation of independent states under Alexander’s generals is held to have been responsible for a certain decline in the artistic ideal. But there are works of genius and real beauty belonging to this age. Art could be great and monumental, just as architecture tended to the gigantic and to great feats of engineering. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the world, with its frieze of struggling Greeks and Amazons, crowned by the immense and serene statues of Mausolus and Artemisia in their chariot, belongs to this same age. The little kingdom of Pergamum. In Asia Minor, boasted a great temple and an immense open-air altar of Zeus, surrounded by a crieze of sculpture on a truly colossal scale. Other masterpieces of loveliness include the Victory of Samothrace, the Dying Gaul and the Aphrodite of Melos, all of which vie in beauty, dignity and restraint with the greatest achievements of the age of Pheidias.

At the other end of the scale art became more homely, and sought inspiration in the everyday aspects of life. Sculptors produced thousands of terra-cotta figures richly illustrative of Greek daily life and charmingly free from the classic conventions. From this phase of Greek art, we have such examples as the pleasant little statue of a child struggling to hold a goose, or a boy pulling a thorn from his foot, or an old woman, bent with age but vital in every wrinkle.

A very attractive form of this lighter Greek sculpture is seen in the Tanagra figu­rines, thousands of which have been found in graves.

It was in the Hellenistic Age, too, that the arts of cutting cameos and striking coins achieved perfection.

GREEK PAINTING

There is no extant Greek painting on which to form a judgement, apart from the Greek vases and the Pompeian wall-paintings executed by Greek artists during the late Hellenistic period. But there is no lack of literary records, and many names of Greeks painters have come down to us.

We know that they used the fresco technique for wall paintings, and tempera for panels, and-in the best period-the encaustic method, painting with dry wax- sticks and burning the colours into the carefully prepared surface. Later came the mosaic work which was to become vulgarized in the decoration of Roman houses- a debasement which led Horace to remark that “conquered Greece led her conque­ror captive” in the arts. This has been taken to mean that the Romans were merely copying from the older Greek civilization.

The decorative paintings of Polygnotus and Micon were, it is safe to assume, co­loured outline drawings, without modeling, shadow or perspective. According to the records, Agatharchus, at the end of th fifth century B.C., was orre of the first artists to study the problem of perspective. Then came Apollodorus.a pioneer in light and shade, and those reputed masters of realism, Zeuxis, Parrhasius, and Apelles.

Although we have no means of comparing a single example of Greek painting with medieval or modern work in that medium, we have at any rate the evidence of the red and black figure pottery to guide us in our estimate of the painters” progress in general. This ware, produced in great quantities from the 6th to the 4th centuries B.C. and distributed through the Mediterranean countries, represents in many cases the loveliest combination of ceramic design and pictirial embellishment ever devised.

Traditional Greek Popular art, examples of which a visitor may come across in each of his steps, has to offer a unique sense of form and colour. From his dress to the de­coration of his home and items of daily use, the Greek can be distinguished for his good taste. The artisane xpresses himself with all kinds of materials, with copper, mar­ble, wood, woois, silk, silver, iron and clay.

These traditional popular arts are not museum items. In every corner of Greek earth the artisan and embroiderer continue, by traditional means, to create their works. Flokatis, blankets, rugs dresses, beads, jewelry, shoulder bags, decorative items, pottery, in an inexhaustible variety of colour and design are offered to this country’s visitors, not only as souvenirs of their trip, but as items which serve their basic needs as well. Textiles from Mykonos, flokatis from Macedonia and Thessalia, embroidery from Lefkada and Rhodes, alabaster from Crete, jewelry from loannana, ceramic pottery from Sifnos and Skopelos.

Every corner of the country presents its own objects, worked by local craftsmen who keep alive the old traditions, since our popular art is a pure expression of the Greek soul, that wove, embroidered: carved gold and silver, formed clay with fire, and created, carrying down its message from generation to generation.

Genuine examples of the textile art, such as shovlder bags, chest aprons, capes, cushions and carpets are in great demand. Greek jewelry is famous for its craftman- ship. The craftsmen work the silver, copper and gold with love and obtain their inspi­rations from archaic and Byzantine periods from Greek nature and also from popular dress designs.

From the depths of past centuries, ceramic art comes alive in our time. In Crete, Rhodes, Sifnos, Skopelos and Lesbos, self-taught craftsmen as well as known artists create small ornamental objects which bear the seal of popular imagination and the unrepeatable valve of handcraft.

There is a permanent pottery exhibition, in Marousi, near Athens, where one can see and buy ceramics from all over Greece.

 

Greek folk dances

greek dances

 One of the most powerful means which help men all over the world to know each other, to understand and love each other is art, the language of which is understanda­ble to all the people alike.

Dance is an art as old as man himself which, still to-day covers a great part of all ”peoples’ life. Folk dance in particular expresses the most contrasting and the multifold sides of life throughout the world, that is subjects and feelings which stirred the peoples deeply at the evolution of their historical existance. Folk dances are full of genlteness, of moving heroism, pure lyrism and spontaneous humour.

Folk dance is not just a series of sensational pictures, but it also depicts the pure creation of the popular genious. When the greek youth pours out into the stage with the traditional dances of Greece, one can discern, hidden behind the poetical picture of the dance, the peculiarities of our national civilization, the charm of the greek nature with the praised mountains, the picruresque islands, the beautiful plain and the bright blue sky.

Each greek region has its own folk dances with their individual folklore.

Every folk dance in its total, together with the accompaning music and costumes, discloses the characteristics of the life, the customs and very often the character of the people.

 

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