June 25, 2013
The ruins of Pompeii in the foreground, with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Mount Vesuvius was more than twice as high before it exploded, leaving a larger crater between the two peaks visible today. The eruption in 79 AD buried Pompeii in more than 20 feet of ash and killed an estimated 16,000 people in the area.
Debbie Baergen, scribe
The morning sun shone bright in the cloudless blue Grecian sky as 38 members of our group boarded a bus for our day in Athens. Unfortunately three of our group were unable to join us.
We left the busy port of Piraeus and headed into the sprawling metropolis of Athens. We passed recognizable buildings from the 2004 Olympics. According to our guide, many of the Olympic venues have been abandoned—somewhat ironic in a city that holds some of the most ancient buildings known. We headed into the “old city” with its narrow streets packed on either side with apartment buildings—maximum 7-8 stories tall—built and maintained in a neoclassical style. Laws prevent the changing of the exterior of these buildings. We also saw the new metro and places where excavations for its construction had unearthed further ancient ruins—a common occurrence in this city and one most North American city planners do not even consider.
When we arrived at the bottom of the acropolis, we got off the bus full of anticipation for seeing the ruins. At the same time, however, we also felt some trepidation, since our goal stood nearly 500 feet (150 meters) above us. We started up the pathway, stopping to hear the legend of the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. While the story of the Amazons’ revenge was interesting, we resonated more with the realization that it was here that Paul came to debate the Athenians and teach them about Jesus Christ and Christianity. As we climbed the uneven, slippery marble steps, we knew we were walking where Paul had actually walked. The top of the hill was a rough, uneven, natural rock but the view was amazing! It is difficult to understand how animated debates could have taken place there. But this is where Paul started the Athenian church—and now roughly 95% of Greece is Eastern Orthodox, with another small percentage being Roman Catholic or Protestant. We proceeded up the hill toward the Acropolis, stopping at one point to look down and see the Dionysus and Odeon Theatres and the temples of Zeus and Hephaistos (or Hephaestus).
We marveled at the size, beauty, and preservation of these ancient sites. Our guide, Daphne, informed us that the theaters were still used for festivals and that the temple of Hephaistos had been used as a church for many years, which assisted its remaining so complete. We continued to trudge up the steep slope, finally reaching the Propylaea. We climbed the marble steps and went through the arch and found a breathtaking view of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, with Athens far below. It was amazing. These buildings had been built around 2,500 years ago (447 to 432 BC). They were there when Paul came to Athens. They had withstood earthquakes, fire, and even a major bombardment. Yet they were still impressive in size and craftsmanship. How fragile and insignificant one feels in the presence of this long-lasting beauty!
The later trip to the new archaeological museum gave us a glimpse of what it may have been like for ancient Athenians approaching the Parthenon. On the top floor the museum had created its own Parthenon—a space of the same dimensions oriented parallel to the original, which we could see through the wall of windows. This space had 46 metal pillars placed the same distance apart as the carved ones of the Parthenon—17 on each side and 8 on each end. It also had the recovered pieces of the carvings from the temple as well as casts of the missing metopes and portions of the frieze of the cella, with missing pieces reconstruct¬ed. The museum also had a model of the incredibly detailed sculptures from the east and west pediments so we could better imagine the look of the temple before it fell to ruins. Walking in this space and seeing all the artwork brought down to eye level helped us to experience once again a sense of awe for the sheer size of the building and incredible craftsmanship involved in its creation.
On our return to the ship a number of us took advantage of the opportunity to tour the ship’s galley. After spending a day exploring the ancient, it was quite the contrast to hear about how the galleys were run on the newest cruise ship in the ocean. From the complications of creating multi-course dinners for 3,200 guests and over 1,000 staff to serving the food efficiently and at the right temperatures, it was an interesting tour. Food for people with special dietary needs is prepared in a separate section in order to avoid cross-contamination. Meats and vegetables are stored in separate storage places. Different foods need different temperatures for optimal freshness and taste. Food left on plates is not thrown away. Instead, it is pulverized, then turned into fuel for the ship. The staff must follow rigid health and safety policies. Although they work long hours, they seem to enjoy being here. People from around the world apply to work on this ship—yet only a few get chosen as there is a stringent application process and little turnover in staff. What amazing technology and management!
It was quite a day, full of contrasts and juxtapositions as we saw the new being built on the old and the ancient preserved high above the modern city, but then we returned to the model of modern efficiency that has been our home for this cruise.
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Welcome to this window on the 2013 Mediterranean Cruisetour. As Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president, and Loren Johns, AMBS professor of New Testament, and 43 other travelers explore the places where the Apostle Paul traveled, they will share photos and reports here. Come back to this space for what we hope will be daily snapshots in words and photos of what the group is experiencing.
Visit Menno Travel to learn more about the Cruisetour.