Top 5 Greek vistas

Lonely Planet is a very respected travel guide book which recently reviewed 5 of the most beautiful vistas in Greece, and quite unexpectedly gave high regards for Corfu’s Byzantine Castle, Angelokastro, English translation,  “Castle of Angels”.  From the very first time I climb it, I knew this place was something spectacular.  You felt, once you looked out to the sea, that you were among the clouds and like the name suggest ‘you were flying with the angels’.  What amazes me the most being just an ordinary man and looking at things more practically rather than esthetically, is how they built some of these structures?  Who in their right mind would build monasteries on top of nature’s obelisk so they can be closer to God and away from ordinary folk and more realistically how did they get these raw materials up there!  What sort of people would build a marble structure 2500 years ago that architects would still study today and still not know all it secrets?

What would be your Top 5 Greek vista list?

1. Soaring high at Meteora

Meteora Holy Trinity, Agia Triada monastery, was built in 1475

Meteora Holy Trinity, Agia Triada monastery, was built in 1475

Spectacularly perched atop rocky pinnacles in Thessaly, the Meteora monasteries are among the most striking sights in Greece. Meaning ‘suspended in air’ the name Meteora soon came to encompass the entire rock community of 24 monasteries of which only 6 now remain. Their 16th-century frescoes mark a key stage in the development of post-Byzantine painting.  The bizarre but beautiful monasteries of Meteora are centuries old and listed by UNESCO World Heritage.

2. Surreal Santorini

Santorini

Santorini

Santorini (also called Thira) is one of the most amazing islands in Greece’s 3000 or more islands. It’s essentially what remains after an enormous volcanic explosion which could have destroyed the legendary island first mentioned by Plato, Atlantis. The beauty of the island is the most important reason for being ranked as one the top island in Europe.  It’s famous for its black sand beach, red sand beach and white sand beach all due to the volcanic eruption and it .  For me the 2 things that would draw me to the island would be its great wines and its archaeological site in Akrotiri. Akrotiri could be characterised as the prehistoric Pompeii of the Aegean.

3. Rhodes’ medieval old town

Rhodes medieval town

Rhodes medieval town

The citadel of Rhodes, built by the Hospitalliers, is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe which in 1988 was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Order of St John of Jerusalem occupied Rhodes from 1309 to 1523 and set about transforming the city into a stronghold. It subsequently came under Turkish and Italian rule. With the Palace of the Grand Masters, the Great Hospital and the Street of the Knights, the Upper Town is one of the most beautiful urban ensembles of the Gothic period. In the Lower Town, Gothic architecture coexists with mosques, public baths and other buildings dating from the Ottoman period.

4. Experiencing the Acropolis

acropolis

The Acropolis of Athens and its monuments are universal symbols of the classical spirit and civilization and form the greatest architectural and artistic complex bequeathed by Greek Antiquity to the world. The word acropolis referred both to the hill and to what was built on it. Almost every Greek city had its acropolis, which provided a place of refuge for townspeople during times of war. The ruins of its temples and their sculptures are widely regarded as the finest examples of ancient Greek art and architecture. Built on a limestone hill that rises about 150 m (about 500 ft) above sea level, the Acropolis dominates the city of Athens. The most important monuments were built during that time: the Parthenon, built by Ictinus, the Erechtheon, the Propylaea, the monumental entrance to the Acropolis, designed by Mnesicles and the small temple Athena Nike.

5. Climbing to Angelokastro

Angelokastro_(Corfu)

Angelokastro_(Corfu)

Angelokastro (Greek: Αγγελόκαστρο, English translation: “Castle of Angels” or “Angelos’s castle”) is one of the most important Byzantine castles of Greece. It name and date of construction is a bit of a mystery with some historians attributing it to Angelos Komnenos of the Komnenoi dynasty of Byzantine emperors and a ruler of the Byzantine Despotate of Epirus in 1214. It is located on the island of Corfu near the town of Krini and unbelievably built on an inaccessible pinnacle above the sea. Its fortifications repulsed Ottoman attack three times. My first visit up the steep cliff was exhausting just walking it never mind had you had to do any fighting to capture it.  Once up there you soon realized why it got it name as you feel to soar amongst the clouds along with the angels!

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Athens Polytechnic uprising

November 17, 1973 - Tank in front of the Polytechnic

November 17, 1973 - Tank in front of the Polytechnic

Many people know about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 when a student (Tank Man) stood in front of an oncoming tank but few people know of when Greek students faced comparable tanks. Greece was under the Greek military junta, alternatively ‘The Regime of the Colonels’ between 1967 and 1974. Under the dictatorial rule of the military, the Greek people suffered the abolition of their civil rights, citizens and politicians were exiled, imprisoned and tortured due to their political views. One of the main reasons for the fall of this Greek military junta was the student protest in the Athens Polytechnic (Polytechneion) in November 17, 1973. Although there were many protests against the dictatorship in Greece though more often outside the country (a student from Corfu set himself on fire in protest of the dictatorship in Genoa, Italy where he was studying, a monument of Kostas Giorgakis stands in one of the Corfiot squares, he was one of the first martyrs), the Polytechnic incident was started by the students who went on strike on the 14th of November and barricaded themselves in the Polytechnic to protest against the dictatorial regime and rally for democracy. They set up a radio station using laboratory equipment to make the radio and broadcasted across Athens asking the people to join in their cause. Broadcasting repeatedly the following message:

“Here is Polytechneion! People of Greece, the Polytechneion is the flag bearer of our struggle and your struggle, our common struggle against the dictatorship and for democracy!”

The gates crushed

The gates crushed

In the early hours of November 17th the dictators sent tanks to smash down the gate of the Polytechnic in a city that had no lights, the colonels had shut them, the Polytechnic had lights due to a generator. All you could hear is the voice of the students on the radio calling for the soldiers to join them in the uprising and the people of Athens to come and support the strike. Calling them ‘brothers in arms’ and singing the Greek National Anthem made no difference to the soldiers who entered the yard and by which time the radio broadcast finished.

In the aftermath, none of the students in the Polytechnic were killed in the uprising, 35 or more civilians were killed outside the campus, some teenagers , some children. Hundreds of others were injured during the uprising as the students call was answered by the multitude of Athenians wanting the end of tyranny. Today all of Greece remembers them and honors them!

Ohi Day

Ohi Day is celebrated throughout the world on October 28 each year by Greeks, to commemorate the rejection of the ultimatum made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on October 28, 1940. The village of Avliotes holds a parade by all the elementary school children of the village as do nearly every town and city in Greece to honor this eventful and historical day.

Avliotes 28th October Parade - Oxi Day

Avliotes 28th October Parade – Oxi Day

This ultimatum, which was presented to Metaxas, the Greek Prime Minister at the time, by the Italian ambassador in Greece, demanded that Greece allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unspecified “strategic locations” or otherwise face war. It was allegedly answered with a single laconic word: όχι – ‘ohi’ (No!). This ultimatum was sent on 4 am on the 28th of October and the Italians forces attacked on 5:30 am of that day. The whole country mobilized and most of the able ready men fought in the mountains of Epirus in northwestern part of Greece. Within weeks, the Italians were driven out of Greece and Greek forces pushed on to occupy much of southern Albania. Greece was out numbered by the Italians 2 to 1 and had to fight a far superior Italian army. What a lot of people don’t know is that this was the very first land victory by the Allies in the Second World War, and helped raise morale in occupied Europe.

"Greek Offensive 1940 41 in Northern Epirus" by Alexikoua - Own work, Date taken from:*Topography taken from DEMIS Mapserver, which are public domain, other wise self-made.*An abridged history of the Greek-Italian and Greek-German war, 1940-1941: (Land Operations) Hellenic Army General Staff, Army History Directorate, 1997.*L'Attacco Italiano alla Grecia (Avvenimenti dell'anno 1940). Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

“Greek Offensive 1940 41 in Northern Epirus” by Alexikoua – Own work, Date taken from:*Topography taken from DEMIS Mapserver, which are public domain, other wise self-made.*An abridged history of the Greek-Italian and Greek-German war, 1940-1941: (Land Operations) Hellenic Army General Staff, Army History Directorate, 1997.*L’Attacco Italiano alla Grecia (Avvenimenti dell’anno 1940). Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons

As this was a bit of an embarrassment for the Axis, Germany had to come and deal with its weaken southern flank. The German military machine had no problem defeating the Greeks but at a price which some historians say won the war for the Allies as it meant that Germany had to delay its invasion of Russia and thus suffered defeat due to the harsh Russian winter.  Inspired by the Greek resistance during the Italian and German invasions, Churchill said, “Hence we will not say that Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks”.