You Can’t Trick Fate or Cronus’ Come-Uppance

Two reputed shelters of the infant Zeus - Zas Cave on Mount Zas on the island of Naxos and Ideon Cave on Mount Ida on the island of Crete.

Two reputed shelters of the infant Zeus – Zas Cave on Mount Zas on the island of Naxos and Ideon Cave on Mount Ida on the island of Crete.

Most stories about Zeus have him spending his youth in hiding on the island of Crete, while some place his refuge on Naxos. As the mighty, thunderbolt wielding father of the Olympians, I suppose there’s enough of Zeus to go around and will not question the claims of either island. I will instead tell you why he was hiding; on that, there is wide consensus.

Zeus was the youngest child of the Titans, Cronus and Rhea. The Titans were a race of giant gods that preceded the Olympian gods in ancient Greek religion. They were conceived by mother earth Gaia and father sky Uranus. Cronus grew up to overthrow his father and assume the role of sky god. Thereafter riddled with guilt and paranoia, and haunted by a prophecy that he would in turn be toppled by one of his sons, Cronus swallowed all of his children as soon as they were born.

After watching her husband gobble her first five babies – Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades and Poseidon – Rhea hatched a plan to save her next chick child. After delivering Zeus, she hid him away. When Cronus came to swallow the newborn, Rhea gave him a stone wrapped in blankets instead, which he promptly washed down with some ambrosia, none the wiser.

Zeus grew up somewhere safe, maybe Crete, maybe Naxos. He was raised by his grandmother Gaia or by a goat or by a nymph or… In any case, he was protected and nurtured and grew into a mighty young god. When he reached the age of majority, first on his agenda was to rescue his siblings from the gut of his father. The last in was the first out – the stone, which had taken Zeus’ place. That became the Omphalos, the stone marking the center of the world at Delphi. Next, one by one, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter and Hestia were coughed up. Then the children of Cronus, with sweet, fresh air in their lungs and vengeance in their hearts, pulled the throne out from under their monster of a father, and took all the other Titans down with him for good measure.

Zeus went on to lead the dysfunctional family of Olympian gods and preside over the weather and affairs of state among mortals. He was quite a decent ruler, by all accounts wise and just. He was, however, a shameful philanderer, much to the dismay of his wife Hera. He fathered children all over the place, but, unlike his own father Cronus, he never devoured any of them.

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As our guide Jacob will tell you, Beit She’an (aka Scythopolis) is one of the world’s most extensively excavated Greco-Roman sites. Blessed with fertile land and abundant water, this strategic location at the convergence of the Jordan and Jezreel Valleys has been occupied at least since the 5th millennium BCE and holds remains from Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines, Israelites, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines in 18 distinct layers. At its peak, as the main Roman Decapolis city, Beit She’an had a population of 40,000.

 

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The Most Dramatic Monument in Egypt IS… ABU SIMBEL

Way down in the far, far south of Egypt stand the temples of Abu Simbel, my pick for the most dramatic monument in Egypt. That’s saying a lot, because, as you know, Egypt is full of dramatic monuments. I think the impression of Abu Simbel is amplified by its lonely, barren location. It’s really in the middle of nowhere, raised in the 13th century BCE by Ramesses the Great to impress visitors on his southern frontier. Traders and ambassadors knew they entered a rich and powerful nation, potential invaders knew what they were up against if they chose to push forward, like a border sign reading, “Welcome to Egypt, Don’t get on our bad side.”

Great Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Great Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt,

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt (120 degrees that day!)

The Great Temple is dedicated to Ramesses, as well as the three main gods of the time, Amun, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah, and features four 65-ft. colossal statues of the seated pharaoh on the facade. Inside the temple, two hypostyle halls lead to the spooky inner sanctuary with seated statues of the pharaoh and gods. The halls through the temple are covered in bas-relief and painted scenes of Ramesses doing kingly things, like crushing his enemies and consorting with the gods, and colossal statues of the pharaoh line the walls on either side.

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Ramesses II, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple inner sanctuary, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Grand Temple inner sanctuary, Abu Simbel, Egypt

The Small Temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses’ queen, Nefertari.
It’s less grand but more elegant, with six 33-foot standing statues on the facade –  2 of the king and 1 of the queen on either side of the portal. Never before or after was a queen shown the same size as the king in Egyptian art.

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

Small Temple interior, Abu Simbel, Egypt

The setting of the temples really enhances their impact. Blue water, blue sky, brown earth is pretty much all you see for hundreds of miles – forlorn, forgotten, untouched and then suddenly the temples are there like a smack in the face, in a good way.

In the 1960s, the temples at Abu Simbel were moved from their original location, which was due to be flooded after the construction of the Aswan High Dam down river.
The temples were cut into 20-ton blocks and moved about 200 feet to higher ground. The temples were originally carved into the face of a mountain, so part of the move included building an artificial mountain. The hollow mountain is open to visitors and contains an exhibit about the temples’ rescue.

abu_simbel_move

Abu Simbel is reached from Aswan by about an hour flight or a 3-4 hour overland convoy of motor coaches and mini vans. It’s also possible to cruise from Aswan across Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel.

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The most famous remains of ancient Thebes is the rambling Karnak Temple. Within the temple, the Hypostyle Hall is a forest of massive columns, some 70-feet tall. The columns are covered in carvings detailing adventures of ancient kings. The columns were originally also covered in brilliant color, traces of which still remain in some areas.

 

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Alpine Villages of Greece – Dimitsana

Dimitsana village, Greece

Dimitsana village, Greece

In the Arkadia district of Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula, about a 3-hour drive from Athens, the beautiful mountain village of Dimitsana crowns the slopes at one end of the Lousios Gorge at about 1,000 meters above sea level.

This small village has a notable history as a center of resistance during the war of independence from Ottoman rule in the 1820s. The town contributed significantly to the revolution by supplying gun powder milled in more than a dozen water-powered mills along the Lousios River. Some of the monasteries secluded in the Lousios Gorge also harbored resistance thinkers and fighters.

Lousios Gorge, with the Filosofou Monastery on the right and the Prodromou Monastery on the left.

Lousios Gorge, with the Filosofou Monastery on the right and the Prodromou Monastery on the left.

With stone houses and cobbled streets, the village’s medieval atmosphere is balanced by lush natural surroundings and expansive views into the Lousios Gorge. Most visitors to Dimitsana come for the outdoor experiences, which abound year-round – skiing, hiking, rafting, kayaking… As complement to the natural scenery, the town itself is an open-air museum of Byzantine architecture, with many churches and monasteries in the village and surrounding area. Dimitsana is built on the site of the ancient village of Tefthis, and remnants of the ancient city walls can still be seen.

The historical Library of Dimitsana was built as a seminary and home to thousands of volumes from a local monastery. A number of 18th and 19th-century Greek leaders were educated here. During the revolution, the pages of thousands of books were used to make gunpowder cartridges, leaving only about 500 intact. Today the library is a museum, with 14-century manuscripts and artefacts from revolutionary heroes among its treasures.

Filosofou Monastery

Filosofou Monastery

Prodromou Monastery

Prodromou Monastery

The Open-Air Water Power Museum is a fascinating stop for a look at pre-industrial power generation. Among the interesting monasteries in the area are the Prodromou Monastery and the Filosofou Monastery, built on the opposite sides of the gorge. Visiting the monasteries involves some steep walking, but if you’re reasonably fit, the frescos inside and gorge views are well worth the effort. Resident monks are very welcoming. Further down the gorge, just outside the village of Astilochos, on the river bank, are remains of the important ancient city of Gortys.

Dimitsana offers a number of guesthouses, tavernas and cafes and shops selling handmade products, such as the hilopites (Greek egg noodles) and local jam.