Reflection

Being back in the United States for a week has given me time to reflect on all of the amazing experiences I’ve had in Spain. In fact, I created an Oviedo scrapbook so that in the future I can look back on the photos, souvenirs and knick-knacks I collected from study abroad. While flipping through my scrapbook I feel extremely thankful that this opportunity to study in a foreign country was available and that I took action to make it happen. In addition, I reflect on my feelings before leaving the US. I was excited but also very nervous to be placed in a completely new country, family, and school. However, the night I arrived, I was consoled by a fellow New PIMG_1727altz student who was in my program. He told me that even though it may be overwhelming at first, by the end of the program I would not want to leave. Boy, was he right! I have gained a greater world perspective by meeting students from all walks of life. Due to this I was exposed to new perspectives, values, and customs that are different from that of the environment in which I grew up. I have gained a new appreciation for history, too, seeing that ancient history plays such a fundamental role in the culture of Asturias. In terms of language, I feel much more confident in my Spanish speaking and listening skills which have improved. Even though I have no definitive way of “measuring” my progress, it now feels second nature to alternate between Spanish and English while in conversation with someone without even realizing that it’s happening. Overall, this has been one of the most influential learning experience that I have had in my lifetime and I am forever grateful for making the most of this program.

Returning Home

These past few weeks in Spain have been absolutely incredible! On one hand, I am happy to go home and see friends and family. On the other hand, however, I know it will be an adjustment settling back into the American lifestyle. I think living with a host mother helped me get accustomed to the lifestyle of northern Spain. Even though I have only been living here for a month, I already feel so knowledgeable about the culture and city of Oviedo. In fact, my parents came to visit and I was able to show them around the entire city, telling them stories as we passed each landmark. I am sure going to miss Oviedo and the wonderful experience that I had while studying here. If I could, I would study abroad again in a heartbeat. It may sound cheesy, but the people I met and memories I made were worth so much more than the six credits that I gained from the program.

O sole mio: pizza and the past in Naples

Between nerves from being on a ship overnight and a broken-down air conditioning system on our deck, most of our group did not get a lot of sleep. We docked in Naples very early this morning (5:30 AM!) and hauling our luggage was exhausting, but the warm greeting we received at our hotel, even down to a welcome sign, made us feel right at home. To wake everyone up, we took everyone to Scaturchio, a famous Neapolitan bakery in the heart of the old city, for traditional local pastries and plenty of espressos and cappuccinos.

Greetings from our hotel in Naples

Greetings from our hotel in Naples

Naples’ name comes from “Neapolis” or “new city,” which is what the Greeks called the new settlement they founded near the earlier nearby colony of Partenope. In fact, the coastlines of Italy from the Bay of Naples southward were so peppered with Greek colonies that the region was known as Magna Graecia or “Great Greece” in antiquity. Like many of these cities, Naples was laid out in a grid plan that is still easily recognizable in the modern road network of the historic center, particularly the three main east-west thoroughfares. Even parts of the ancient walls have been uncovered in different areas.

Getting a little goofy with the sculptures found in the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum

Getting a little goofy with the sculptures found in the Villa dei Papyri in Herculaneum

One of Naples’ greatest treasures is its extraordinary archaeological museum, which is home to the finds from the Roman towns and villas buried by eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and other ancient treasures found in southern Italy. We toured the museum’s highlights, including the infamous “secret cabinet” of material once considered too racy to be available to the public, which gave us all a good chuckle or two.

Giggles in the "Secret Cabinet"

Giggles in the “Secret Cabinet”

We saw incredible mosaics from homes in Pompeii such as the Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun, likely a copy of a Hellenistic Greek painting of Alexander the Great fighting against the Persian king Darius at the Battle of Issus. The students also got their first exposure to Roman wall painting, which decorated both domestic and public spaces.

The famous Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

The famous Alexander Mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples

Ancient Roman wall painting of the riot in the Pompeii amphitheater in 59 A.D.

Ancient Roman wall painting of the riot in the Pompeii amphitheater in 59 A.D.

We admired massive sculptures uncovered in the remains of the Baths of Constantine in Rome, many of which are Roman copies of ancient Greek originals, as well as a special exhibition on depictions of nature in Greco-Roman art, which featured many pieces in the museum’s collections that are rarely on display, including one of my favorite Athenian vases depicting the siege of Troy, and the cover slab from the Tomb of Diver, on loan from the archaeological museum in Paestum.

Roman sculpture from the Baths of Constantine in Rome

Roman sculpture from the Baths of Constantine in Rome

After our lunch break, during which many of us indulged in Naples’ famous pizza, we went back into the city’s past by taking a tour of underground Naples. The modern city rests many feet above the original street level The Greeks built their new city from the bedrock beneath their feet, creating a system of man-made caves that were converted into cisterns, supplying the population with a constant supply of water. Over time, these cisterns fell into disrepair, were filled with garbage, and generally forgotten until World War II when Neapolitans needed to build bomb shelters to protect themselves.

The start of the Naples Underground tour - more than 100 feet under the modern street level!

The start of the Naples Underground tour – more than 100 feet under the modern street level!

The cisterns were reopened, becoming home to thousands of people, and today they are visited by tourists to experience Naples’ 2500 years of history. The tour was a fun candlelit adventure, but definitely not for the claustrophobic because of some of the narrow tunnels at times.

Exploring Naples' past by candlelight

Exploring Naples’ past by candlelight

Due to threats of thunderstorms tomorrow, we have changed our plans a bit to stay closer to home by going to Cumae rather than going to Pompeii and Herculaneum. This meant a last-minute dash for me this evening before all of the stores closed to find picnic supplies for everyone’s lunch tomorrow. Bless the deli down the street from our hotel – they really came to my rescue!

Palermo: Celebrating Cultural Diversity in Medieval Sicily

Sadly the archaeological museum in Palermo remains closed after many years, so we were unable to visit the wonderful architectural sculpture from the temples at Selinunte among other treasures. Instead, we used our time in Palermo as an opportunity to explore post-antique Sicily and how it was influenced by its Greco-Roman heritage. The island’s strategic location made it highly desirable to many groups of people over time because it allowed for control over much of the Mediterranean. In 486 A.D., as the western Roman Empire collapsed, the Vandals took control of the island, only to be pushed out about half a century later by the Byzantine Empire, which made Syracuse the island’s main city and introduced the rearing of silkworms. The Byzantine governor invited Arabs to Sicily in 827, and within 50 years, they had taken over governance of the entire island, bringing with them skilled craftsmen, both Jewish and Muslim, and new agricultural products including rice, cotton, pistachios, and oranges. By the 10th century, Sicily was one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, and Palermo, its capital, was a great center of learning and art, rivaling places like Constantinople, Cordoba, and Cairo. The island’s riches made it a tempting target for Norman knights who served as mercenaries for the Arab leader of Catania, Ibn at-Thumnah. Among these mercenaries was Roger Hauteville, who controlled all of Sicily by 1091. The Normans adapted Arab, Jewish, Byzantine, and Roman traditions extant on the island and respected all different faiths and customs. Norman rule reached its apogee under Roger II and his son William I, who actively built a series of extraordinary churches and chapels decorated with elaborate series of mosaics executed by Byzantine artisans, many of which are in the Palermo area.

The Gothic north doorway of the Norman cathedral in Palermo

The Gothic north doorway of the Norman cathedral in Palermo

We began with a visit to the Palermo cathedral, built by the Norman rulers of Sicily, but preserving little of its original decoration, particularly in the interior, which was given a major overhaul in the 18th century in Neoclassical style. It is here that Roger II and the later Aragonese leaders of Sicily are buried. On the northern exterior is the entrance most commonly used today, consisting of an elaborate Gothic porch of the 1400s in which there is a column preserved from the earlier mosque that stood on the same spot.

Palermo: The Cappella Palatina

Palermo: The Cappella Palatina

However, the greatest Norman architectural treasure in Palermo is found in the Arab palace enlarged by Roger II, which now serves as the seat of the Sicilian regional assembly. The chapel inside, known as the Cappella Palatina, is a marvelous example of the beauty and brilliance that emerges within a society tolerant of all faiths and traditions. The chapel combines the architectural structure of a western-style basilica seen in the rectangular nave, and a centrally-planned Byzantine church, which makes up the sanctuary in the east. The upper walls and vaults are decorated with lavish mosaics, probably the handiwork of Byzantine Greeks, and it is significant that this form of decoration should have been selected by a Western European dynasty that was in almost perpetual conflict with the Byzantine Empire less than a century after the Great Schism (1054) that separated Western Catholicism from Eastern Orthodoxy.

Gawking at the Cappella Palatina

Gawking at the Cappella Palatina

Arab craftsmen also contributed to the project, building a magnificent cedar ceiling in the muqarnas technique covering the nave and side aisles in the western part of the chapel. The ceiling is covered with paintings of figures including drinkers, dancers, and musicians, as well as Arabic inscriptions that appear to be royal qualities like “power” and “magnificence.” The opulence continues with the pavement and lower part of the walls decorated with white marble inlaid with red, green, and gold tesserae in varying geometric patterns. The overall effect is almost overwhelming as one’s eyes hardly know where to look first.

Our ferry to the Italian mainland

Our ferry to the Italian mainland

To get a better understanding of the ancient Greeks’ colonial experience in the western Mediterranean, I decided that we would travel from Sicily to mainland Italy by sea on an overnight ferry from Palermo to Naples. The ferry is essentially a cruise ship that also carries cars, buses, even 18 wheeler trucks!

Arrivederci, Sicilia!

Arrivederci, Sicilia!

Standing on the top deck and watching the coastline of Sicily silhouetted by the setting sun disappear behind us, I think all of us felt a little lump in our throats as we headed off into the unknown of the open sea, despite knowing that we were perfectly safe. I knew that the students would really enjoy Sicily and its wonders, many of which are unknown to most Americans, but I was surprised and touched by how attached they became to the island. In fact, I think many members of the group would have been very happy to stay there for the remainder of the program, and they could readily understand why Sicily was seen as a blessed land to our Greek predecessors, who believed that the island was the home of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture.

Getting ready to leave the Palermo harbor

Getting ready to leave the Palermo harbor

Having a bit of a "Titanic" moment (minus the iceberg)

Having a bit of a “Titanic” moment (minus the iceberg)

How the Other Half Lives (Ancient Sicily Edition)

While the focus of this course is the impact that Greeks had upon ancient Italy, it is essential to remember that they hardly lived there in isolation. Today we learned about other groups with whom the Greeks interacted in western Sicily. We started with a trip to the island of Mozia, which was settled by the Phoenicians, later called Carthaginians after their main colony on the coast of north Africa, which became the seat of their empire after they were pushed out of their homeland in the Levant (modern Lebanon and Syria) by the fifth century B.C. The Phoenicians were gifted seafarers who began exploring the Mediterranean from 1200 B.C. onwards. They tended to found cities either on rocky promontories that gave them two harbors or small islands lying off the coastline that were easy to fortify and defend in case of siege. Mozia, located just off the coast of western Sicily, is an example of the latter type. The name “Phoenician” comes from the Greek word for the purple-red of the precious dye that the Phoenicians were famous for producing from the glands of the murex, a sea crustacean. Preferring not to farm, the Phoenicians were skilled craftsmen trading their products for foodstuffs and raw goods, but their greatest invention, which affects us today is their alphabet, which is the basis for the Greek and later Latin letters that we still use. To varying degrees, the Phoenicians/Carthaginians controlled the western part of Sicily until they were expelled by the Romans during the Punic Wars in the third century B.C.

Taking the ferry to Mozia (note the windmill that serves the salt works)

Taking the ferry to Mozia (note the windmill that serves the salt works)

Today, Mozia is accessed by a small ferry that takes you by the salt pans of the area, where sea salt is harvested through evaporation. Sadly, during our visit today the usual heaps of glittering white sea salt on the docks were not to be seen. In antiquity, Mozia was connected to the Sicilian mainland by a submerged causeway, just a few inches below the water’s surface, so that when it was in use, it appeared as though carts and horses were riding upon the waves. While ingenious, this causeway had its disadvantages, making it easier for Dionysius, a tyrant of Syracuse, to sack the city in 397 B.C. and causing the main harbor on the south of the island to silt up.

Admiring the Mozia Charioteer

Admiring the Mozia Charioteer

Mozia was first settled by the Phoenicians during the eighth century B.C. After Dionysius’ siege, it never flourished again to the same extent and was eventually abandoned. In the late 19th century, the island was purchased by Joseph Whitaker, whose family were distinguished Marsala wine merchants. Besides being a distinguished ornithologist, he was an amateur archaeologist, and he began the island’s excavation, which continues even today (which we witnessed first hand!). The island now belongs to a foundation named after Joseph Whitaker, and the museum on the island is located in his original home, displaying the material uncovered at the site. The greatest pride of place goes to the museum’s tour de force sculpture of a young male athlete, the Mozia Charioteer, carved from imported Parian marble and likely produced ca. 470-460 B.C. It was found intentionally buried, perhaps to protect it during Dionysius’ attack, and it may itself have been a spoil of war, taken from a monument dedicated to a victorious athlete in one of the Greek Sicilian colonies conquered by the Carthaginians in the late fifth century B.C.

A student presentation on Phoenician religion at the Tophet of Mozia

A student presentation on Phoenician religion at the Tophet of Mozia

We then explored the island itself, visiting several excavated sacred sites including the Kothon, a man-made pool containing water from a fresh-water spring, and its neighboring sanctuary and the Tophet, a Punic sacrificial burial ground dedicated to the goddess Tanit and her consort Baal Hammon, where children, possibly the male firstborn, were sacrificed, cremated, and their remains placed into terracotta urns. Besides these sacrificial urns, over a thousand carved stone slabs were uncovered in this area featuring a variety of motifs carved in relief, either symbols of the cult of Tanit or human figures, perhaps the dedicators themselves. My intrepid budding student archaeologists even found murex shells, the remains of the famous Phoenician dye production in Mozia.

Discovering ancient murex shells used in the production of costly purple-red dye for which the Phoenicians were famous

Discovering ancient murex shells used in the production of costly purple-red dye for which the Phoenicians were famous

Our second stop of the day was the site of Segesta, one of the principal centers of the Elymians, the indigenous inhabitants of the western part of Sicily. Legend says that they were led to Sicily by the Trojan prince Aeneas after the defeat of Troy by the Greeks, which eventually led to the city receiving special privileges when this part of the island was conquered by the Romans in 248 B.C. because of the Roman claim of descent from Aeneas. The Elymians had a mixed relationship with their Greek neighbors in Selinunte, often descending into conflict with one another. Segesta’s efforts to aggravate the Sicilian Greeks resulted in their entering into a treaty with Athens, promising to help fund the failed Athenian invasion of Sicily. It was this desired alliance that likely led to the construction of Segesta’s most famous landmark, the never-completed Greek temple located outside the settlement. The Elymians were very conscious of the need to impress the Athenian diplomatic mission that came to Segesta by not only demonstrating their wealth, but also their familiarity with Greek culture. The temple borrows proportions and architectural refinements found in Athenian sacred architecture of the mid 5th century B.C. One can imagine the structure being started shortly before the Athenians’ arrival in Sicily in 417 B.C. and abandoned soon thereafter when the Athenian ambitions in the west crumbled with the disastrous siege of Syracuse.

Visiting the temple at Segesta

Visiting the temple at Segesta

The ancient theater of Segesta (the current state dates from the 2nd century B.C.)

The ancient theater of Segesta (the current state dates from the 2nd century B.C.)

The natural setting of Segesta’s ancient structures is evocative to say the least, but I was impressed by how moved the students were by their experience there, a couple stating that they never wanted to leave. Not only did we get to enjoy the surrounding natural landscape around the temple, but even more so from the ancient theater perched on top of the city’s acropolis that looks out towards the Gulf of Castellammare beyond Monte Inici, a truly breathtaking view. Since we had visited well-preserved Greek theaters already in Catania and Syracuse, I decided to mix things up a bit by having the students experience this theater in quite a different way – by actually acting in one. The night before, I divided the students up into three groups and allowed each group to pick one of three classic children’s books as the inspiration for their play: Strega Nona, Make Way for Ducklings, and Where the Wild Things Are. Each group worked together to produce a skit in which the text of the book was read out loud by a narrator while the other group members acted out the story. To be honest, I thought that the students might simply refuse to participate since it was a pretty goofy thing to do, or at best, the skits would be pretty slap-dash at best given the limited time the groups had to work on this project. Little could I have anticipated the lengths that my New Paltz colonists would go to in order to win the grand prize of free gelato for the members of the best performance of the day. (Like any ancient Greek theatrical festival worth its salt, we had three “playwrights” competing for glory.) In a nutshell, there were props, choreography, costumes, music, sound effects, American Sign Language interpretation, and more. I was truly impressed by everyone’s creativity and willingness to throw themselves wholeheartedly into the project. One my favorite traits of this particular group of students is how they fully engage with the material and the experiences at hand. This ability to embrace opportunities and try new things, even when they feel a bit afraid, makes it such a joy for me to work with these students overseas.

The cast of Strega Nona

The cast of Strega Nona

The cast of Where the Wild Things Are

The cast of Where the Wild Things Are

The cast of Make Way for Ducklings

The cast of Make Way for Ducklings

I videotaped each fantastic performance on my phone, and it took all of my self-control and abdominal strength to keep from laughing and shaking the camera. We attracted a significant audience, which applauded loudly along with us. Among them was an American couple who commented to me how much they had loved reading these stories to their children and listening them to again brought back so many happy memories. We also learned how effective the acoustics were, an intentional design feature of Greek theaters, as people in the very highest rows of seats (the ancient nosebleed section) could hear every word spoken with no artificial amplification. It was clear that large portions of gelato from the café at the entrance to the archaeological park had been earned by one and all, which we enjoyed as we piled into the bus to head back to our home in Castellammare del Golfo for the night.

The view from our hotel in Castellammare del Golfo

The view from our hotel in Castellammare del Golfo

Going Home

I wish I could stay longer and travel more, but I also miss some things from home.

I’m really looking forward to certain things like forks. I’ve gotten better with chopsticks, but my thumb just doesn’t have the strength to move in certain ways. The way I hold chopsticks works, just not as well as a fork.

Also, not having to use a vpn is going to be amazing. On top of using a vpn, the internet seems to be a lot slower in general. I’m thinking about this now and wow the internet is so much faster at home.

I’m going to miss the subways, but not the subways during rush hour.

I’m going to miss the pork buns and sushi from convenience stores a lot. I won’t miss them at first because I’ll be excited about all of the other foods I’ve missed, but after eating about 7 bagels (which will take about two weeks), I’ll miss these great options a lot.

Wow pizza is great.

I haven’t been keeping up with the election much, but now I’ll be forced to. People around me will talk about it constantly. I don’t know how I feel about this.

I met some really cool people here and a lot of them are the kinds of people that travel a lot so hopefully I’ll be the one showing them the area now.

Pokemon Go doesn’t exist in China (and probably never will) and I am really looking forward to playing this.

Last Week

It’s my last few days here in South Korea and it’s crazy how time flew by so quickly. I don’t want to leave. I’m used to my surroundings now it’s like I’ve been here for a year instead of just over a month. I’ve been so busy with classes and traveling it’s been hard to keep up with blogging (I sometimes forget to text my mom!)

Classes were a fun experience although tiring. I had two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and they were both three hours long. My first class was Korean Culture and Society which was really interesting as we learned a little about Korean history in the process. My second class was Intermediate Korean. During the first class I was overwhelmed a little by the fact that the professor spoke in Korean the whole time but it’s definitely helped me with my understanding of the language and I’m excited for that.

Tomorrow I have my finals for both class. It’s a little bittersweet, knowing that I’ll be done with class but it also marks the end of my time here in this country. I’m reluctant to leave.

Selinunte: Take us to your temples (and your beach too!)

Today’s adventures were another episode of “Ain’t No Ruin High Enough,” which has now become everyone’s favorite archaeological game, followed closely by the ever-popular game of “Can Professor Heuer Guess What This Potsherd Came From?” Thankfully, due to the low numbers of crowds at many sites in Sicily, being allowed to get up close and personal with ancient temples is still a possibility. And if I am being honest, I love watching my brave colonists explore sites and discover for themselves the layout of a structure and its function it is like being in an episode of Sherlock with all this deductive thinking going on!

Climbing the walls – the cella walls that is!

Selinunte was the most western of all the Greek colonies in Sicily, and like Agrigento, it too was the colony of another Sicilian Greek colony named Megara Hyblaia, located not far from Syracuse on the eastern coast of the island. The city got its name from the ancient Greek word for the wild celery that grew there in abundance and was even featured on the city’s coinage. The city’s development (and its wildly successful growth until the end of the 5th century B.C.) was shaped by its frontier position, bordering on territories held by the Elymians, an indigenous people, and the Carthaginians, who controlled the coastlines of the northwestern part of the island. While many Greek colonies in Sicily had hostile relations with the Carthaginians, Selinunte’s dealings with them were quite friendly, allowing the city to profit from the Carthaginian trade network across the Mediterranean, offering in exchange the excess agricultural production of its fertile territory.

Temple "E" for "EXCELLENT"

Temple “E” for “EXCELLENT”

Selinunte’s prosperity during the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. allowed it, as at Agrigento, to construct a large number of stone temples, located both on its acropolis as well as in a sort of “sacred crown” around the heart of the city on the Marinella hill to the east and the Gaggera hill to the west. For those approaching Selinunte from the sea, the appearance of all of these large buildings forming the skyline of the city must have been quite impressive. We began our exploration of Selinunte on the Eastern Hill, where the remains of three temples stand side by side. The positions of these temples, parallel to one another and aligned on the same east-west orientation as the road network as the acropolis, indicates that this sacred area was probably planned from the city’s earliest phases and was part of a monumental expansion of the city that reorganized the residential area. The best preserved of the temples on the Eastern Hill is known as Temple E. Because Selinunte’s numerous temples for the most part have defied archaeologists’ efforts to assign them to particular deities, they have been given letters for their names as a means of consistently identifying them. Temple E, which is thought to have been dedicated to Hera or Aphrodite, is particularly important because it was decorated with a series of carved stone slabs (called metopes) in the friezes above the porches (both front and back). Very few Greek temples, especially in Sicily, feature stone architectural decoration because of its enormous expense. The fact that sculpted metopes appear not only in this temple, but in three others at Selinunte, now all housed in the archaeological museum in Palermo, demonstrates the city’s deep coffers, but also an interest to reassert their ethnic identity in their liminal geographic position on the borders of the Greek world by illustrating a variety of Greek myths.

15 students on one column capital = huge temple

15 students on one column capital = huge temple

Selinunte is also home to a gigantic Doric temple, known as Temple G, roughly the same scale as that of the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Agrigento, but begun almost half a century earlier. It was the earliest colossal temple in the Greek west and was probably intended to vie with the great Ionic temples of Asia Minor. Its long period of construction, taking over a century, is demonstrated by the variation in style between its eastern and western sides. We know that the temple was incomplete when Selinunte’s former allies, the Carthaginians, attacked in 409 B.C. because a number of the column drums were never completed with their final fluting details. To give the reader some sense of just how enormous this temple was, we decided to make a scale photo – this is our group sitting on just one column capital!

A granita break to celebrate Emily's birthday!

A granita break to celebrate Emily’s birthday!

A trip to Selinunte is not complete without a stop for granita, the original Italian ice and a Sicilian specialty. Everyday a gentleman sells them from his cart attached to his bicycle at the entrance to the acropolis of Selinunte. Given the number of hot and desperate tourists pass his way on a daily basis, I have a feeling he makes quite a tidy profit, although I think our order of 18 at one go might have set a record.

Bridget and Danielle with Temple C in the background on Selinunte's acropolis

Bridget and Danielle with Temple C in the background on Selinunte’s acropolis

After we cooled down and sugared up a bit trying all the granita flavors, we scrambled over any temple remains we were allowed to explore, searching for fun surprises like Carthaginian religious symbols set in the mosaic floors when the temples were converted for Punic use after the 409 B.C. sack of the city.

Walking one of the main streets of Selinunte

Walking one of the main streets of Selinunte

A large residential area also occupied part of the acropolis, and the grid system of the streets is clearly visible, even down to the thresholds of the homes and stores. The ground is littered with terracotta fragments from vessels of various shapes and roof tiles, which makes you want to spend hours poking around the dirt to see what you can find. (Anyone is welcome to be a “sherd nerd” with me!)

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Is this picture making you jealous yet? (And yes, that is the ruin of a Greek temple you see in the far distance – life is tough for archaeologists in Selinunte!)

Even the toughest of ancient Greek colonists during the founding of Selinunte must have needed a little R&R at times, and fortunately the site is conveniently located near an absolutely beautiful sandy beach. Our bus driver, Alessandro, took us to a perfect place for lunch – an open-air restaurant right on the water, where I had a serendipitous reunion with one of my dissertation advisors and the students got to cool off in the achingly blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

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Awed in Agrigento

The magnificence of the Greek colonies in the western Mediterranean becomes readily apparent when approaching the site of Agrigento as the ruins of one temple after another emerges above its ancient walls. No matter how many times I have done this drive, I still get goosebumps. Agrigento is a good example of how a number of Greek colonies in Sicily founded further colonies of their own. In this case, citizens from Gela established themselves at the site, probably displacing an indigenous settlement in the process, by 580 B.C. Agrigento would eventually become even more prominent than her mother city. In order to save the best parts of the site for the last, we began our visit at the archaeological museum to become oriented with the ancient city, its history, and the artifacts found with it.

Admiring Athenian vases in the archaeological museum in Agrigento

The museum has a particularly large collection of painted vases that were imported both from Athens and from the Greek colonies of the southern Italy that were preserved because they were buried in the city’s tombs. Many are shapes that were used for banqueting and consuming wine, and they are decorated with variety of mythological subjects, such as Perseus’ dramatic rescue of Andromeda from the sea monster. The museum also houses the abundant offerings, often mold-made from terracotta, that were uncovered in the city’s many sanctuaries, including those we were to visit in the afternoon – the so-called “Valley of the Temples.”

Ancient altar as desk: check!

Teaching students about architecture in a classroom is a very tricky thing to do because images on a screen never quite give one the true feel of an architectural space. Thus, it is really a treat to be able to visit structures in person, and today our New Paltz “colonists” had the introduction of a lifetime to Greek structures. Most surviving Greek temples were constructed using either one of two relatively consistent architectural orders – the Doric or the Ionic – that allows us today to reconstruct a temple’s original appearance with only a few key components. Essentially, one might think of it as playing with a set of very large, very heavy set of Legos. Using floor plans, the students began to learn how to read an ancient building. Agrigento (known in ancient Greek as Akragas) had a veritable boom in temple construction, starting around 460 B.C., roughly a generation after it participated in a major defeat of the Carthaginians, thereby securing most of Sicily under Greek control. A feature of a number of Greek colonies in the west is the practice of clustering large numbers of temples together within a designated space in the city grid, many more than one would expect to see in a city of the Greek mainland. Two factors seem to underlie this phenomenon – the Western Greeks’ determination to almost over-demonstrate their Greek identity and their financial means to do so through success in trade.

Agrigento: Temple of Juno

We began at the highest point in the Valley of the Temples, at the so-called Temple of Juno. (It is in fact unknown to which deity the temple was originally dedicated, but Poseidon, god of the sea, seems a possible choice.) We saw on the temple’s large altar to see some of the traces of burning on the stones as a result of the Carthaginian sack of the city in 406 B.C. We practiced using various architectural terminology and saw our first example of what a standard feature of many Agrigentine temples – a double spiral staircase leading up to the roof level.

Temple of Concord: a modern ritual procession

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s ENTASIS!

Our next stop was probably the most visually striking one – the Temple of Concord – built using almost the identical floor plan as the Temple of Juno, but only twenty years later. It is one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world, thanks to it being converted into a Christian church in the sixth century A.D. As with the previous temple, the name is a misnomer, coming from a much later Latin inscription found in the area that had no real connection with the temple itself. According to local tradition, when the local bishop Gregorius converted the structure into the church, he had to first expel two pagan demons named Eber and Raps. He then dedicated it to Saints Peter and Paul. The continuation of a double dedication suggests that the temple originally honored a pair of divinities, such as the twins Castor and Polydeukes.

Temple of Heracles: Pull up a block, any block...

Temple of Heracles: Pull up a block, any block…

However, just LOOKING at ancient Greek architecture is one thing – getting to CLIMB on it is when the magic starts to happen, which we got to enjoy today at the Temple of Heracles, the earliest of Agrigento’s surviving temples. The remains, in their tumbled state, suggest that the temple was destroyed by an earthquake at some point, perhaps in late antiquity. It was here that I learned that an unofficial New Paltz admissions requirement is that all students must have the agility of mountain goats, allowing them to scamper up the most precarious piles of stone blocks with the greatest of ease, lending itself to some excellent photo ops.

Our next album cover?

Our next album cover?

Feeling tiny at the Temple of Olympian Zeus

Feeling tiny at the Temple of Olympian Zeus

We saved the largest temple for last, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, one of the biggest Greek temples ever built, over the size of a modern-day football field in length! It was constructed (but never completed) to commemorate the city’s victory over the Carthaginians at Himera in northern Sicily in 480 B.C. This major success not only flooded the city’s coffers with spoils of war, but also provided it with an influx of slave (i.e. very cheap) labor in the form of Carthaginian prisoners of war. The temple was revolutionary in its design, without a freestanding colonnade around the exterior, but instead engaged (attached) columns between which were gigantic male figures that appeared to support the roof, perhaps symbolizing the defeated Carthaginian enemy. The toppled columns alone made one feel as tiny as an ant, and the jumbled state of most of the wall blocks allows one to see the U-shaped grooves in them used to lift them into place with ropes and cranes.

Our bed and breakfast this evening outside of the city had a garden that looked out onto the Valley of the Temples, allowing us to watch the temples glow red-orange in the sunset. Originally, the stones would have been covered with plaster mixed with marble dust to give them the appearance of being built of much more expensive imported marble from the islands of the Aegean Sea or the Greek mainland. However, one might well argue that they are even lovelier now, a testament to the achievements of architects and builders long ago.