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 Greece Fieldtrip Blogs

On Tuesday March 21st, the students of A&H 305 presented their research on ancient Greece at the undergraduate research seminar Violence, Death and the Polis. The seminar was held at the Netherlands Institute at Athens, an institute for Dutch academics who focus in their scholarly and scientific work on Greece, and was open to the public. Prof. Edward Harris, Emeritus of Edinburgh University, acted as respondent and delivered a keynote on the role of pollution in Athenian homicide law at the end of the day. The students' papers led to inspiring discussions, followed by a reception at which the students impressed the scholars who were pesent with their knowledgeable questions.


From ​Saturday March 18 until Wednesday March 22, the students of the A&H 305 Greek Art & Archaeology course are on a fieldtrip to Greece. You can read about their experiences in the form of four blogs that will be published during their time in Greece. Keep an eye out for interesting stories and nice pictures!

Day 1: Sunday Mar​ch 19th

Written by Bram

Waking up at 6.45 am without the aid of a morning alarm, as happened this morning, is always a great feeling. The light of morning was already shining through the translucent curtains. An alarm had been set for 7.00 am, because prof. Hochscheid, with all due respect our gracious tour guide, had asked us to gather at breakfast at 7.30 am. After twelve hours of travelling from Middelburg to Athens, however, in combination with a Greek-style dinner from 0.00 am until 2.00 am, plus a time difference of +1.00h, one can imagine we all attended breakfast like a bunch of zombies. Fair enough, this is a hyperbole, as actually and to our surprise most of us were quite awake, ready to start our exploration of Athens, the mecca of all antiquity students. The day set off tremendously well when Helle showed up at 8.30, having us all worried about her. Apparently she had made a “typo”, and that on the one day she had intended for us to “sleep in”, as far as that is possible with six hours of sleep.​

The first activity of the day was a walk around the Acropolis, for many of us the first time we had ever seen it with our own eyes. We saw the theatre of Dionysus, the temple of Asclepius, and the theatre of Hero Atticus. On the way up the sacred mount we oversaw the Old Agora and the ruins of the enormity that was the temple of Zeus. Not that all the other structures were not in ruins. It was all quite impressive. Descending we spotted a small victory temple of which Helle didn’t remember which Athenian citizen it was dedicated to. It was dedicated in honour of … On our way from the Acropolis to our next stop, we, surprisingly, did stop for some apparently much-needed coffee. Sitting in the sun we all realised we had made it to Athens and that it would be a beautiful day. The best thing was that actual topics very much unrelated to academics or antiquity were being discussed, e.g. Dutch politics and feminism.

After our drinks and coffees the “newer” Agora loomed out in front us. Led by Helle we seemingly walked circles, criss-crossing the area, until stopping at a little spot known as the Street of the Marble Workers, a desolate ruinous place. By “coincidence” this site had undergone intensive study… by Helle. Naturally, we would not leave before she had told us all about it, as well as pointing out the many flaws in the traditional interpretation of the site’s structures and gently, in her own manner, forcing own, yet convincing, opinion down our throats. Having sufficiently explored and campaigned the Agora we headed off to our last stop of the day. A terrible walk through heat, neighbourhoods of concrete, and hosts of cars later, we arrived at the National Archaeological Museum. It was full of recognition and class-made memories. Yet it all was a bit too much, too many, and too late on the day, and after Helle had dragged us through the Cycladic, Mycenaean, and Minoan sections of the museum (a visit well worth it none the less), we left in search of a well-deserved terrace to unburden our feet and quench our thirst. All in all, an expected brilliant day in Athens. 



Day 1: Sunday March 19th

Written by Dan

After all the travelling the group was finally here, Nora had turned the ancient age of 22 and although we wanted to party we were responsible students. So after a meal and some drinks it was time to go to bed. The terrifying wake up of 7:30am loomed over us, our cruel taskmaster Professor Hochscheid wanted to steal our dreams and frogmarch us around Athens.  

Keen eyed and ready for the adventure we raced down to breakfast but Helle was nowhere to be seen, she said it was 'typo' (I have reservations about this). But she turned up at 8:30 to lay out the plans.

Acropolis south, east, and west. Then into the Agora and finally the National Museum. What a day, meandering through Athens towards the Acropolis it just seemed to get bigger and bigger. The hills got steeper and steeper, something the Dutch people among us coped with well. The magnitude stands out, the views of the surrounding city are amazing with famous landmarks dotting the vista. Winding our way around the Acropolis the signs of restoration really stood out. The difference a few thousand years makes is pretty cool.

Besides the small details such as column volutes and marble chunks that I think are interesting, the stand-out site is the Odeon to Herodes Atticus, a massive theatre on the southwest side. With a capacity of around 5000 it sounds small but it sure had a big feel. Steep seating that wraps around the orchestra (the center circle where they performed) sat in front of a set of arches that go up and up. They still perform there today so check it out on YouTube.


Carrying on round the Acropolis there were more sites to behold but we had to move fast, Athens is a big city and there is too much to see in our short time here. We had time for a coffee though. The cafe was nestled on a winding street down towards the Agora we sat in the sun and relaxed, it was perfect.

Moving on, we squeezed through the crowds, arriving at the Agora we set out through the dusty paths, spring flowers blooming and Asian tourists snapping photos. This was a strange site, the scale is huge, buildings were huge, the roads were huge, but now it feels strangely small when you weave through the dirt paths between the sites.


We came to what may be my highlight of the day, a Byzantine church that was stunning. The brickwork was beautiful.

We dove into the shade of the Agora museum, and looked at some of the artifacts that have been recovered. There are a myriad of vases, statues, trinkets even a skull, which peers at you from its home in a jug. My top picks were a Satyr, some sandstone bottles, and a smashed up shield.


Back into the sun we headed for a bite to eat, we hit a sandwich shop called Everest which in my humble opinion destroys Subway. Sat on the corner of the flea market where it seemed you could buy anything we chowed down before the last stop.

The National museum is imposing, sat in one of the largest empty spaces I have seen in Athens you walk up the white marble stairs into the shade, the little bit of blindness hits while your eyes adjust and then you can just see glimpses of artifacts through the hallways. It had that strange feeling you get when you have seen a picture and know its story but you haven't seen it in the flesh. Enter the 11 of us, oohing and ahhing over the goods we had seen in the classroom.

The level of detail is amazing in these sculptures, even the more stylized Archaic works are executed with such a level of finesse that it makes you reflect on the talent of these sculptors. After 2 hours of walking around the museum my top picks were a hippo head, An emperor's gay lover, and a naked dude.


Finally it was time to relax, as we shuffled back towards the hostel we stopped for a drink and chilled out. Can't wait to climb up the stairs of the Acropolis.


Day 2: Monday March 20th

Written by Desiree, Laura and Nanouk

This morning at 5:45 (Dutch time) our alarm blared, we got up and headed to the Pnyx. This is the place where the assembly met, listened to speeches, and decided on what political course to take. The speakers would stand on a large rock around which the audience gathered. They tried to convince the audience to follow their ideas. A weird situation occurred when the Spartans defeated the Athenians in one of their many wars: they turned the rock around, so it was facing land instead of sea. Now this was symbolic since the Spartan’s power was linked to the land, whereas Athens’ power was in the navy. After a while the Athenians got sick of it and when they had the chance they turned it back, giving the Spartans a big middle finger in the process. 

From this place we had a view over Athens, its Agora (which is a political and religious centre of power) and the Acropolis. After enjoying the view we went down a lot of stairs, where Desiree almost broke her neck, because of the rubble on the stairs. We visited the main burial ground of ancient Athens, the Kerameikos. Here we saw the ‘Tritopatreion’ (great word scrabble word btw). Despite the fancy name, it was not impressive at all. In fact, it was not more than a small wall, surrounding a bunch of olive trees. But as the professor explained, this was actually a place of eternal damnation or in antiquity terms ‘pollution.’ Of course, Nora couldn’t resist stepping in and risking eternal damnation. The effects of this preposterous deed became clear during our lunch break as Nora suddenly started talking about killing off children (not her own of course, because pregnancy is too much of a hassle for that). After that we walked uphill to the Acropolis, passing booths selling cheap knock-offs of ancient artefacts and crappy fake designer stuff. After having finished this climb it almost turned out to have been in vain as we were almost refused at the entrance of the Acropolis. 

The Acropolis was the city centre in ancient times, on the hill that towered above the city, from which we had another great view of modern Athens. It is only fitting that this place became one of the most important places of the city. One of the most famous temples is the Parthenon, but the temple opposite of it is also really interesting. This was a building quite out of the ordinary, in which different gods and heroes were worshipped, for instance Poseidon. The worship in this temple was linked to a myth. This myth is about a contest between Athena and Poseidon about who was going to be the patron of the city. Athena created an olive tree on the Acropolis, while Poseidon created a salt water spring. Since Athens is close to the sea, the people of Athens appreciated Athena’s gift a bit more and chose her to be the patron of the city. According to the Roman Pausanius, who basically wrote the first travel guide to Greece, the salt water well used to be in the Erechteion and the olive tree right outside of it. However, we cannot find either one of them anymore, since the Persians popped in and torched the Acropolis. On that happy note, we leave you to be jealous about our awesome weather, great food and gorgeous views.


Day 3: Tuesday March 21st

Written by Anna, Annick, and Joëlle

“The Greeks were human beings. They were born, they fell in love, they died.” (Dr. Edward M. Harris, during the keynote address.)

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Around ten o’clock this morning, we met at the Netherlands Institute in Athens. Today was centered around presenting our individual research papers at the undergraduate research seminar. The theme of the seminar was Death and the Polis, a topic we have been discussing since the start of the winter course, and in which all our research questions were rooted. The talks were held in the library of the NIA, were we stood surrounded by ancient knowledge.

The eleven talks were grouped around three main themes. The first being the justification of violence in classical Athens. The topics discussed ranged from rape to vengeance, and from murder to magic. After each round of presentations, there was time for critical discussion in which we received feedback from our classmates, as well as from our instructor and Dr. Harris. The discussions were feared by many on forehand, but turned out to be actually quite nice. Once relieved from the stress of having to do your talk, answering the questions from the audience was a relative piece of cake.

The next cluster of presentations discussed the perceptions of madness, with a focus on tragedies, medical texts, and depictions on vases. Between each round we had time to explore the NIA. The institute with stained glass windows and quiet courtyard is the perfect environment for the budding academic. The NIA offers many grants and resources for prospective masters and PhD students, in order to kick-start their academic career. Willem Ledeboer, the adjunct director of the Institute, told us that the NIA is usually visited by students further on in their academic career. There are few undergraduate students coming to present at the institute, which made the opportunity even more special.

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After lunch break, the last group covered the topic of status and commemoration in Athenian funerary context. From these presentations we learned about the depiction of children, iconography, war ideology, and public commemoration. Dr. Harris, professor of Ancient History at Durham University, delivered the key note address about homicide and pollution in Athenian law and tragedy. During his engaging lecture, Dr. Harris made connections between his findings and our talks. This added value to our individual projects and justified our stay at the NIA.

The closing reception was the perfect opportunity to network, or to indulge in little blocks of Gouda cheese. We had some academic and informal conversations with the speakers and the guests. Although we have had many presentations at UCR already, being 2000 kilometers away from home, surrounded by top academics, and being only a stone’s throw away from the acropolis, made it a memorable experience.

 Day 3 - 3.jpg

Day 4 Wednesday March 22nd

Written by Nora, Joleyn and Katherine

Best course ever!

How beautiful Greece is in spring! Never have we seen such a green Greece, all sites we went to were covered in brightly coloured flowers. Today was the last day of the course, we had a full schedule and planned to go to Eleusis, Mycenae, the Sanctuary of Asklepios and finally the Dyonisius Theatre.

At Elefsina, the modern name of the place where the mysteries of Eleusis would have taken place, the view does not give much of a hint for a hidden treasure within its borders. It is very industrial and in contrast with the beauty of the remnants of what was once the mysteries.

The story surrounding the mysteries of Eleusis is rooted in Greek mythology and is linked to the response of Demeter, goddess of agriculture, to the abduction of Persephone, her daughter, by Hades. Demeter was assisted by a human king in her search for her daughter and rewarded the humans with the knowledge of growing crops and seeds and taught them the mysteries in her name.

The celebration of the mysteries lasted from approximately the 7th century BC until the 4th century BC, and little is known about what actually happened in the mystery initiation. Telling non-initiates about the initiation was punishable by death and non-initiates who disgarded the rules and went onto the site were punishable by death as well. The Romans used the site as well, but the site was destroyed by the Visigoths in 395 AD.

Next, we went to Mycenae, one of the oldest archaeological sites in Europe. We had learned about Mycenaean culture and archaeology from c. the 18th to the 12th century BC in this course and were excited to finally see in person how the ruins cling to the mountain top above Argos. First, we passed through the Lion Gate which dates back to the monolithic period. Seeing the two lionesses arch above our heads was deeply impressive as the wall and gate turned out bigger than we would have expected. We then looked at a grave circle which used to be outside the city wall. Here, Schliemann thought to have found the site of Troy and discovered Agamemnon’s golden mask in the 19th century AD, but in fact, he was a few centuries and kilometres off. Despite all his flaws and mistakes, Schliemann made it possible for us to admire the remains of Mycenae.

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The Lion gate at Mycenae

Climbing up to the palace, we admired the clever constructions that protected the city from being conquered easily. In the distance, there were the glistening blue ocean and snowy mountain peaks, while we were stepping on stairs that people had walked on thousands of years ago. We descended into a narrow stairway leading to a former fountain. Without any light but our phones, we felt as though we could found or join an initiation cult or get in touch with 3,000-year-old ghosts. Outside of the citadel there is the tholos, a tomb from the 13th century, built like a dome and nicknamed beehive. The entrance is covered by a single piece of rock about eight metres long and weighing 120 tons. Some people feel humbled and insignificant when they realise their own size in comparison with the arches and treasures of old cultures whose fragmented remains have withstood the tooth of time. Our group, however, tries its best to use our awe to feel significant: By studying the ancients, we ensure that their efforts turn into a legacy to which we contribute our small part.

After Mycenae we went to the sanctuary of Asklepios and the theatre of Epidaurus.

The location of the theatre was amazing, flowers all around and located on a slope with a view of mountains in the background. The theatre dates from around the 4th century B.C. and can host around 14.000 people. It was built in accordance with the golden ratio, and it was truly amazing to experience how even at the top of the seating area of the theatre you could hear a ring drop on stage. In the middle of the arena there was a round stone, on which you could stand on and on this spot the theatre would perfectly reverberate the sound of your own voice. Apart from the beautiful location, we had a lot of fun testing the acoustics. One of the students recited a poem in the middle of the theatre. In the bus on the way back, most of the students fell asleep, tired but satisfied by the last day of the course.

Unfortunately, this was our last day with Helle, our personal archaeologist who has been patiently answering all of our numerous and varied questions, from “Is there more dead stuff to see on this site?” to “Can you stand in the theatre and recite Homer?” Truth is, we all wanted to participate in this course to see Athens. Despite the average of five hours of sleep every night and the pain in our legs and feet, this trip was everything we hoped and more. We are grateful to have seen almost everything we had studied in class. We return to UCR as a close knit group sharing memories of exploring some of the world’s greatest treasures, ruins covered in spring flowers.