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Late Roman Empire (Turkey, Greece, Italy)

Author: Jose Claudio B R Cardoso
Date of Trip: June 2011

I was planning to go to Greece but my wife wanted to go to Venice for the art exhibition (bienalle). So, we made a thematic trip to the former East Roman Empire: Turkey -> Greece -> North-east of Italy.

Starting with Istambul after a fly Rio – Paris – Istambul. We stayed in a small but comfortable hotel in the “Golden Horn”, the main turistic region of the city. There, just walking, it was possible to see the Cistern build by Constantine and the church transformed to a mosque and now a museum – Hagia Sofia, built by Justinian. That for the Romans. Also the wonderful Blue Mosque and the Sultan Palace, built by the Ottomans after the conquest. The former Constantinople had a strategic position controlling the natural Bosphorus Strait linking the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.

From Istambul we flew to Athens. The hotel was close to the Anthropology Museum what was good. It is a pity that the alley between the hotel and the museum is a permanent site for drug addicts. In the museum it is possible to follow the ancient Greek history by the sculptures. There are a huge collection of them, from before the Persian Wars until the Roman Period.

To see the Acropolis it was necessary to take a taxi, just 5 Euros. Just starting to climb the hill, there is the Dionysus theatre, where for the first time Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides showed theirs plays. The theatre was simpler that time, its final form was improved by the Romans. But anyway that was the place. In the first rank of the stone chairs there are inscriptions showing names of VIP people that used them some time. The Parthenon at the top of the hill was much damaged along the centuries. From its original destination as a temple for Athena, it was later a orthodox church, a catholic church and a mosque. A lot of (pagan) sculptures were damaged by zealous early Christians, while others were being removed to other places (mainly British Museum). It was also hit by cannon bullets during a war. A lot of restoration was, and are being done. There are a brand new museum (very nice!) specially for the Parthenon at the base of Acropolis. We had a excellent dinner, after the visit, in a Greek restaurant in the Plaka neighbourhood. It is a region around the acropolis with narrow streets. It costed 28 euros for 2 people, including 1/2 litter of wine, several portions of typical dishes and desert.

Outside Athens, we bought a tour to Delphi. I had the bad luck of having my wallet stolen in the Athens subway, and was expecting to receive a replacement of my credit card. Delphi was the place of the Apollo oracle, so why not ask about it? In the bus, going back to Athens, my phone rang: it was my bank manager. Just a compliment for my birthday really… but could be also an answer from Apollo? Anyway the card was in the hotel when we come back that evening. Just in time because in the next day we should board to a cruise!

The Eastern Roman Empire was based in its navy, and its not difficult to understand why. From Constantinople, it was possible to reach what today is Romanian, Bulgarian, Russia ans Turkey by the Black Sea. And also all the Greek islands and Greek continent by the Mediterranean. So, we went to know that islands. It was a seven days trip in the Azamara Quest ship. Mykonos, Rhodes, Kos ans Santorini. Also Marmaris and Kusadasi in the Turkish cost. The weather was very good all the time and we could enjoy the transparent waters of the Aegean Sea, specially in Santorini. The black sand (volcanic) beach, not so crowded, has lots of fishes to observe by snorkelling around. A lot of remains from the Hellenistic and Roman periods can be seen also in that places, mainly in Ephesus, (near Kusadasi), that was a kind of Asian Capital of the Roman Empire before Constantinople, In Rhodes, there is the former fortress of the Crusaders that were forced to leave Jerusalem and stayed there for a while, until being defeated by the Turks. And talking about Crusades, it was the fourth one the fatal blown over Constantinople. Instead of fighting Arabs in the Palestine, they sacked and destroyed the city. One of the main responsible was Venice, and there was our next destiny.

We flew from Athens to Venice (via Rome). It was the first time that I arrived in Venice by plane. From the airport we took a water bus (about 1 hour trip) to the pier Arsenale, very close to our hotel. It was a charming renaissance building (Gabrielli Sandwirth) between San Marco and the bienalle exhibitions (Arsenale and Giardini). In Venice, besides Contemporaneous art, we watched a presentation of a group of musicians playing Vivaldi in a church. The same church were he lived for years (he was a priest and born in Venice).

Venice started as part of the Eastern Roman Empire, protected by Constantinople from the barbarians. Another Italian city still more important in that times was Ravenna. It was the stronghold of the Empire in Italy about 500 to 700 AD. So we took a train to visit it and see its wonderful mosaics. After so many (pagan) sculptures in Greece, it is noteworthy to see the transition to (2 dimension) mosaic as the typical Christian art. Perhaps the early Christians associated sculptures to idolatry, or knew that sculptures representing Christian motives could not be more perfect than the existing ones for the pagan gods. For any reason we now have the beauty of the Ravenna mosaics.

After Italy, we took a fly to Paris. There we stayed in a hotel (Astrid) close to Place Etoile. It was the last day of an exhibition in the Grand Palais of Anish Kapoor. After that, we visit the Montparnasse Tower, from where one can see all the famous buildings of Paris, before come back to Rio.

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