Will You Visit Greece This Year?
By “Awake!” correspondent in Greece
THIS year the Mediterranean country of Greece, situated at the extremity of the Balkan Peninsula, is expecting to welcome more than 5,000,000 tourists. Among them will be hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses who will be attending international conventions at Athens and Thessalonica during June 28 to July 2 and July 12 to 16.
This country, with an area of 53,000 square miles (137,269 square kilometers) and a population of about 10,000,000 people, is a focal point for world tourism. Vacationers flock to Greece for a look at historical sites and art treasures that reveal much about the development of ancient and modern civilization. Of special interest to Bible students are places such as Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, Athens and Corinth.
A further attractive feature is the delightful climate here. At airports and harbors one sees the slogan, “Welcome to the Land of Sunshine.” The sun adorns Greek skies about 290 days each year. Visitors find it difficult to resist swimming in crystal-clear azure-blue waters or frolicking on sun-bathed beaches. The beautiful islands of the Aegean Sea are a treat in themselves. And you will not find life in Greece too expensive. Clean, comfortable hotel accommodations that include a simple breakfast are available at modest prices.
The “Agora” at Athens
A visit to Greece can be meaningful in many ways. Consider, for example, the city of Athens. Even Roman conquerors of Greece adopted Athenian culture. As an educational center for things such as sculpture, oratory and linguistic science, Athens was unrivaled in the ancient world.
Bible students will recall that the apostle Paul visited Athens during his second missionary tour in the year 50 C.E. The Scriptures state that Paul “began to reason . . . every day in the marketplace with those who happened to be on hand.” (Acts 17:17) The Greek word for “marketplace” in this verse is agora, the name still in use to designate this section of Athens.
One could reach the Agora by entering Athens from the northwest through the Dipylon gate. From there a wide road led to the Agora, which was the local gathering place for Athenian social life. Here were found courts of law, civic offices, educational porches, parliamentary buildings, libraries and shops of every description. At the center of this marketplace were drama and music establishments and spaces for athletic contests. The entire area was filled with temples, large and small. There were also shrines, as well as hundreds of statues devoted to gods and heroes of all sorts. It was quite a record of the ancient history and achievements of Greece.
A first view of the Agora would indeed impress visitors. Ornate porches stood on both sides of the central Street of Panathenaia, which got its name from ancient processions. Each year, amid great ceremony, the veil of the goddess Athena was borne on this roadway from the Procession House, next to the city gate, up to the Parthenon, a temple to Athena located on the Acropolis, southeast of the Agora.
What the apostle Paul saw when he entered the Agora must have shocked his sensibilities. Phallic statues of the mythological god Hermes were so numerous that an entire portico, known as the Stoa of Hermes, was needed to house them. Garments on other painted images of Hermes display numerous examples of swastikas—symbols of fertility and life. There was also a statue of Venus Genetrix, the goddess of sexual love, and one of Dionysus, which bears a number of phallic crosses. Marking the “sacredness” of the Agora was a boundary stone accompanied by a bubbler containing “holy” water for cleansing all who entered.
Up to the Acropolis
By proceeding southwestward along the Street of Panathenaia, one eventually reaches the Acropolis. This term comes from Greek words meaning “upper city.” The Acropolis of Athens is located about 200 feet (61 meters) above the rest of the city. Here are found remains of religious structures from the fifth century B.C.E. For example, at the west side of the Acropolis is the temple of Athena Nike, meaning “Athena, Bringer of Victory.” This structure features a frieze or band at the top of its columns that depicts the battle of Plataea, where the Greeks were victorious over the Persians in 479 B.C.E. At the west edge of the Acropolis is a large gateway known as the Propylaea, a further impressive example of classic beauty.
After climbing another winding path, one can get a view of the Parthenon. Many consider this the finest structure built in ancient Greece. The Parthenon, made of white marble, was a temple that once sheltered a gold and ivory statue of Athena. Architects of the fifth century B.C.E. designed this building according to principles that even modern technicians cannot fully understand.
To the northwest of the Acropolis, separated from it by a shallow valley, is the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. This barren ridge of limestone was the site of the open-air supreme court before which the apostle Paul gave a brilliant presentation of Christian truth.—Acts 17:19-34.
Tourists admire many ancient Greek ruins because of their value as art objects. However, during the first century of the Common Era, these objects were a means by which inhabitants of Greece carried on their idolatrous worship. A visit to Athens will aid one to understand why the Scriptures state: “Now while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit within him came to be irritated at beholding that the city was full of idols.”—Acts 17:16.
These brief highlights touch upon only a few of the things you can see and enjoy in this country. Nevertheless, we hope that they have been sufficient to arouse your interest and curiosity in case you should visit Greece this year.