On Sunday 20 October, 22 students and 3 staff met at Felsted to start their odyssey to Greece. After an uneventful journey, we touched down in Athens, in time to transfer to our hotel in the city centre.
We spent the morning of day 1 at the National Archaeological Museum. Highlights aplenty lay before us, but the so-called Mask of Agamemnon stood out. It was discovered by German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann during his excavations at Mycenae, although later dating has shown it could not have existed at the same time as Agamemnon, leader of the Trojan expedition. We then walked down to the agora, the seat of 5th century BC democracy. Here we were able to view many of the buildings used in the democratic process, as well as the temple of Hephaestus and the sacred way, on its route from Eleusis to the Acropolis. After an excellent lunch in a local restaurant, and a visit to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, we embarked upon the journey to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. As the sun set, we were able to view the temple silhouetted against a red sky, as we ate another fine meal in a local restaurant.
Day 2 dawned early, as we had a busy morning on the slopes of, and then on the top of, the Acropolis. We walked past the Theatre of Dionysus, where once the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides vied for prizes with the comedies of Aristophanes. After the Roman Theatre of Atticus Herodes, the steep climb through the Propylaea resulted in close up views of the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and then the “big one”, the Parthenon. Words fail to do these buildings justice, although Mr Allen tried hard! Another splendid lunch was followed by our tour of the New Acropolis Museum, where we were able to look at yet more artefacts and this amazing museum, where the Greek authorities have created a space that waits for the return of the Elgin Marbles, which are currently curated in the British Museum. We debated the rights and wrongs of this situation, with a vote for the return of the marbles to Athens being the narrow winner! Our day was completed by the spectacular drive through the mountains to Delphi – another fine sunset added to the amazing scenery.
After a fine breakfast, we were able to enter the Sanctuary of Athena just after 8am, and then were one of the first groups to climb through the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. Here both GCSE and A level groups had yet more specialist tuition from Mr Allen, Mr Quinlan and Miss McLaren, as we walked through treasuries and temples, walked past the omphalos (the navel/centre of the Greek world) and the Theatre, and climbed up to the stadium (a later Roman addition). We toured the museum in our groups, and were amazed by the statues of Cleobis and Biton and of the charioteer, amongst the many impressive pieces. Our day could not be complete without another fine lunch, and then we settled down to the long drive to Olympia. We were all amazed to be staying in a 5* hotel (thanks for the surprise, Mr Allen and Hellene Travel!) with a swimming pool and a lovely buffet supper. Flagging energy levels necessitated an early night.
Yet again we were the first to be on site, this time at Ancient Olympia. Having passed through the social and religious areas, and having seen the workshop of the great sculptor Pheidias, we proceeded to the stadium, where the boys (and AJQ) ran a spirited race, won by Peter Jessa in some style. Exiting past the zanes and the treasuries, we discussed cheating and banking in the ancient and modern worlds – some said not a lot had changed and that the two words were interchangeable! Controversial! Another fine lunch (Mr Allen's local knowledge certainly knows no bounds!) was followed by the long drive to Tolo. We stopped at the site of Tiryns to stretch our legs, before we arrived at our hotel, which was right on the beach. Of course, our paddling turned into a short swim! After supper, we strolled through Tolo, in search of ice creams – Miss McLaren was on the case, thank goodness. Mission accomplished!
And then it was Friday, our last day in Greece and the busiest day of the trip. We were first on site again! This time it was Epidaurus, site of the finest ancient Greek Theatre and the Sanctuary of Asclepios. Matthew Jones performed a brilliant solo, to a rapt audience, although the applause caused a bit of a stir with local officialdom. Luckily, GCSE Classical Civilisation coursebook author James Renshaw was able to defuse the situation for both Felsted and his own school. Amusingly, Taylor Gordon got him to sign his textbook later in the day on the plane home – top revision, Taylor! From there to Mycenae, where Agamemnon was so brutally murdered in his bath, on the day of his homecoming, by his embittered wife Clytemnaestra – it's a complicated story of everyday palace life in ancient Greece! Look the story up to see how complex a tale it is. And then on to the ancient site of Corinth and to the canal – an engineering wonder.
It was with tired legs and minds that we made it to the airport and took our flight home. We had seen so much, learned so much and experienced so much in just 5 days, but for all of us, whether we are students of Classical Civilisation or just interested travellers, we will take away many memories of both Greece and the fellowship that comes with participating on such trips. We thank our parents for enabling us to go on the trip; Miss McLaren and Mr Quinlan for their expertise and guidance, and especially Mr Allen, for putting together such a seriously educational yet fun-filled programme for us. Where are we going next year...?