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Greece: Written in Stone

Photos by Cindi Brodhecker

Greece — mention the name alone, and the people you’re talking with might get a faraway look in their eyes and find their hearts beating faster. The apostle Paul of biblical times first traveled to Greece after he received a vision in a dream; today, the country is a dream destination for travelers from around the world.

Paul received the call to visit modern-day Greece in a dream as he was traveling in Asia Minor and the city of Troas. The Macedonian Call (as referenced in the Book of Acts) asked for Paul to “come over to Macedonia and help us,” and so the travels of Paul in Greece began. We will follow his travels and highlight the many reasons that we as modern-day travelers should “heed the call” to go and see the beauty and wonders of this country of mainland and islands.

Early visits

The city of Kavala was the first city Paul visited, and it is still a delight to see and enjoy. In ancient times, this seaside town was known as Neopolis and was a seaport for the city of Philippi (another stop on Paul’s missionary journeys). Today, it is a modern seaport city with fishermen still mending their nets on the wide promenade and a place for a wonderful fresh fish lunch. It is a charming place to stop and enjoy a short visit as you tour Philippi.

Nearby Philippi is a very scenic area of northern Greece and was the place where Paul encountered Lydia, a wealthy businesswoman who was a seller of expensive purple fabric. As travelers today, we can visit the river where Paul baptized Lydia and her household. There is an area where modern-day Lydias and their friends can be baptized and visit the small Greek Orthodox church that is dedicated to Lydia. The central part of the church has a large baptismal font, and the dome of the church is beautifully decorated with golden mosaics of scenes of Paul’s visit.

There’s a lot to see in Philippi: the site of a large ancient forum, a theater, a basilica, an episcopal palace, the agora (the shop malls of ancient times) and even the site of the prison from which Paul was miraculously released. The actual stones from the famous Via Egnatia, the Roman Road, are still visible, along with parts of mosaic floors and columns of the Roman era.

If we continue to follow the path of Paul, we visit Berea, a city built at the foot of the Vermion Mountains of Greece. Here we can find the history of the early church, with a memorial built to commemorate Paul’s visit. Today, the city is known as Veria, and as in Philippi, the stones of the ancient road of Via Egnatia are visible alongside the modern-day sidewalks of the city. Paul and Silas visited there, and you can see the steps Paul stood on while preaching to the Bereans.

Ancient discoveries
In 1977, archaeologists made an incredible find in Vergina, our next stop. After a lifetime of dedication, archaeologist Manolis Andronikos unearthed the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. This Great Tumulus is now the museum of tombs of Philip II and Alexander IV, son of the famed conqueror.

Some of the most amazing articles on display in the museum are the golden larnax and the golden grave crown of Philip II. The crown is a 24-karat golden wreath of 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns, weighing 717 grams. It has been said that modern craftspeople cannot duplicate the workmanship of this spectacular piece. The museum also has many more artifacts that date back to the period of Alexander the Great and his family.

The next stop on the ancient trail is the city of Thessaloniki, the second-largest city of Greece. Today, Thessaloniki is a cosmopolitan city of commerce, industry and fashion; it’s a delightful place to visit, full of waterfront cafes and restaurants with plush chairs and sidewalk heaters, where you can enjoy the people, the food and the scenery even in the winter months. In the city center, you will see an ongoing archaeological dig unearthing an ancient Roman forum, as well as the White Tower of Thessaloniki, the Arch of Galerius, the Church of Hagios Demetrios, an Alexander the Great statue and Aristotelous Square.

This city has history of the early Christian church, Jewish heritage, Turkish life and the golden era of Alexander. The apostle Paul visited Thessaloniki and wrote letters to the people of the region. The city dates back to 315 B.C., and as in other places, you can see stones of the Roman road of Via Egnatia alongside city streets. The food choices are as numerous as the centuries of time and history of the city and the shopping as fine as that in any European city, and the blending of ancient and current day is a contrast that is delightful.

Monasteries in the mountains
Traveling south in mainland Greece, we stop in Meteora, where monasteries are perched on top of mountains. The word “meterora” in Greek means “suspended rocks,” “suspended in the air” or “in the heavens above,” and as we approach the area, you will truly understand what these phrases mean.

Meteora is a breathtaking site of Greek Orthodox monasteries that seem to be suspended in air. Several of the monasteries are open to visitors and offer some of the finest works of iconology and Byzantine art in all of Greece. Many of the monasteries do have steps to reach the top, but motorcoaches can drive up the mountain, giving passengers the added bonus of spectacular scenery along the way.

In the early centuries, the monasteries were home to hermit monks, and until the 17th century, supplies and visitors were hoisted up to the monasteries with baskets and ropes. In the town below, you can visit a shop and see religious icons still being produced and painted on aged wood.

Next on our Greek dream tour is Delphi, another mountainside city rich with Greek history. In ancient times, Delphi was considered the “navel of the earth.” It was also home of the famous Delphic Oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world. The site has a stadium, a theater, a gymnasium, a treasury, a hippodrome and a temple of Apollo. The area is surrounded by thousands of olive trees, and the city of today is a charming place to shop, dine or spend the night.

Athens then and now
The drive to the capital city of Athens is a delight of mountains, seaside and winding roads. Athens is one of the world’s oldest cities, with a recorded history stretching back 3,400 years. There is so much to see and do in this city that a week would be wonderful, while three days can give visitors a taste and a desire to return. Whichever way we choose to approach the city — by air or by land — the Parthenon sits proudly on the top of the Acropolis, and the night view is spectacular. The temple built to honor Athena, the Greek goddess, is one of the key landmarks of early Western civilization.

Athens offers the travelers of modern-day luxury hotels, fine Mediterranean cuisine, upscale shopping and lively nighttime entertainment in the taverna. But the most important element is history. Tour groups can walk the same streets as Plato, Aristotle and the apostle Paul did and visit the Altar of the Unknown God, the site where Paul met the learned men of the time and taught them about Christianity.

Athens is the best beginning or end of any tour of Greece, but we still have more places to see.

To Corinth and beyond
The southern area of the Peloponnesus is always a favorite. The city of Corinth was very important in the time of Paul and served as his home on two different occasions. Corinth was a cultural center and a seaport location visited by thousands.

The ancient site still has much to offer, showing us the culture and people of that time. A small museum on the site is a wonderful way to learn how the people lived. Groups can visit the Bema, the site where Paul was judged by the official Gallio, which is now marked with a stone monument.

Close by is Mycenea, the home of Agamemnon, the Lion Gate and the unique Beehive Tombs, with history dating back to the Bronze Age. Nafplion, another seaport city in the Peloponnesus area, is famous for its ancient outdoor amphitheater. Sparta, Kalamata and Argos are other cities of interest from ancient to modern times.

Our visit to Greece has come to an end, but we must return, because we have not visited Olympia or any of the islands. As the apostle Paul returned on his missionary journeys, we too must return to the land of the gods and islands, classical history, modern-day culture, amazing food and fine shopping. May the gods smile upon us and plan our return to Greece, the land that makes our hearts beat faster and fulfills our dreams of this destination.