28 April 2012
Last updated at 07:15
Leonidian hotel at Olympia: Every four years, some 40,000 ancient Greeks would gather under truce to celebrate the original Olympic games and pay due worship to the power and majesty of great father Zeus, "King of Gods and men". Captions by Paul Cartledge, A G Leventis Professor of Greek Culture at Cambridge University.
Olympus, the tallest mountain in old Greece (2917m, getting on for 10,000 feet) gave its name to Olympia, site of the original Olympics and "Olympian" Zeus.
Zeus and his "Olympian" gods were in full command by the time the Greek language is first attested – as it is at Cnossos on the island of Crete, some time in the 14th Century BC.
The Citadel at Mycenae: About 1400 BC Viking-like Greeks from Peloponnesian Mycenae and elsewhere on the Greek mainland torched most of the major palatial centres of Crete. Thanks to these fires, samples of the earliest Greek texts were accidentally preserved, written in a script eventually to be deciphered in the 1950s.
Sparta: Classical, historical, Greek civilization was a culture not of royal palaces but of early types of city inhabited by citizens. By 600BC Sparta controlled 40% of Greece's southern peninsula, known as the Peloponnese, and by 500 BC dominated a largely Peloponnesian military alliance, but did not even possess a city wall.
Sparta's great rival, and occasional ally, Athens, on the other hand, was by ancient Greek standards highly urbanised. Politics and religion here were always centred on and around the massive rock known as the Acropolis or "High City", which was a natural fortress, but the lower city too was given an encircling wall.
Within its quite large territory (about 1,000 square miles) and under central control lay another major religious site, but one with pan-Hellenic (all-Greek) appeal - Eleusis. Here Greeks and other Greek-speakers came to be initiated in the Mysteries in expectation of a happy afterlife.
Very often, alas, Greeks fought other Greeks, and there is no more enduring testimony to that than the extraordinary 4th Century fortification walls of Messene. These were designed successfully, to resist any attempt by the Spartans to re-conquer the south west of the Peloponnese.
Another witness of perpetual inter-Greek hostility is Delphi, sacred to Zeus’s son Apollo. It is still a numinous experience to visit the site today. The Zeus-eye views by photographer Georg Gerster are the next best thing to actually being there. But a closer look reveals any number of battle trophies, very few won against barbarians (non-Greeks).
Likewise pan-Hellenic and sacred to Apollo is the entire Aegean isle of Delos, the god’s birthplace. A handful of the remains date back as far as the 8th or 7th Century BC. Most are 3rd Century BC or later, including the period when all Greece became a part of the Roman empire.
The Greek-speaking eastern half of the Roman empire saw the development of a new global religion, Christianity - named after the Greek translation, Christos, of the Hebrew "Messiah". Some of the most spectacular Byzantine monasteries were built, literally, "up in the air" at Meteora in Thessaly, including that of Varlaam, dating to the 16th century AD.
Homers Tomb at Ios: The Sites of Ancient Greece, featuring the photographs of George Gerster, is published by Phaidon.