This blog highlights the many sites and cities in Greece and Sicily that students in AUCLA 294 visited in January 2019. We began our tour in Athens, and made our way to Napflio, Tiryns, Mycenae, Argos, Epidauros, and Corinth before leaving for Sicily, where we visited Syracuse, the Villa romana del Casale. the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento, and, finally, Palermo. Each blog post tells the story of our own odyssey through the ancient and modern Mediterranean.

Unfathomable Gorgeousness – Cathedral of Monreale

The Cathedral of Monreale is the most important masterpiece of Sicily’s Norman period. From the outside the building doesn’t appear particularly remarkable. The inside, however, is unforgettable. North African and Byzantine craftsmen decorated the interior to create an unforgettable fusion of artistic traditions and religious symbolism. In 2015, the cathedral became a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of how it exemplified “socio-economic syncretism between Western, Islamic, and Byzantine cultures” and a celebration of “the fruitful coexistence of people of different origins.” The use of space and decoration would spread widely around the Mediterranean.

It is know all over the world for the 6340 metres squared of mosaics. About half of that amount is made with gold leaf between the two pieces of glass, creating scenes that literally glow across every conceivable space on the walls. The story of the Old Testament wraps around the nave with large pictures coming out of the shimmery background. Three aisles are separated by two rows of Corinthian columns. The miracles of Jesus are depicted in the two side aisles. An image of Christ the Pantocrater above Mary dominates the choir area as a climax to all the other scenes. Our guide, Antonio, narrated the Creation story using the mosaics. He explained how, beyond just being beautiful, the mosaics were a tool to help the mostly illiterate population learn about the Bible.

Another highlight of the cathedrals was the ceiling. Despite being stories above our heads we could see the colourful and intricate moldings. The floor and lower parts of the wall were as well decorated with geometric mosaic patterns. Truly no surface was left plain.
We did not have an opportunity to visit these areas, but the cathedral also is connected to a luxuriant garden and a cloister reminiscent of when the cathedral was made a Benedictine Abbey.

The Cathedral of Monreale was not just a beautiful, artistic statement – it was meant to make political waves as well! The legendary history of Monreale Cathedral is that the Virgin Mary appeared to King William II while he rested under a tree after a hunt. She encouraged him to build a cathedral in her honour.
In truth, the reasons are more complex and are related to the relationship between Church and State in Sicilian history. William II became king at a young age and so a regent ruled in his stead. During this time, the Archbishop of Palermo collected immense power and authority for himself. When William II became king, the rivalry that already existed between Church and State exploded. Fortunately, these two powerful figures didn’t fight with weapons, but by constructing artistic monuments as visible reminders of their power.
William II struck first by building Monreale Cathedral starting in 1174. The construction took three years and the decorating took another ten. After that the cathedral was dedicated to the Virgin Mary and given to the Benedictine monks.
Pope Lucius III made the Cathedral of Monreale an archiepiscopal seat (the area of a bishops jurisdiction) which took territory away from the only other seat on the island, which was Palermo. Therefore, the Archbishop that struggled with William II lost income from that land. The story of their conflict goes on, but that is all that is relevant to us right now.

William II had himself put into the architecture and artwork in interesting and revealing ways. Both in mosaic and statues outside the side entrance, William II is seen gifting Mary a model of the cathedral he made for her (and for less pious reasons). His tomb and his father’s rests in one of the aisles. There is a throne of the king to the left of the choir and a throne for the bishop on the right – at equal levels! In a similar fashion, a mosaic depicts the king being crowned directly by Christ, with no religious figure intervening or acting as an intermediate. These details quite clearly express what the king thought should be the relationship between Church and State.
Our visit was absolutely astonishing; what a high note to end the trip! My pictures don’t do justice to the cathedral, so I invite you to use your imagination a little and hopefully you understand why we were awed by our experience.

Rebecca Pospolita

Christ the Pantocrater, among his mother Mary and many apostles.
Old Testament scenes coming out of the golden background.
The ceiling above the central aisle.
A look at the other ceiling design and one of the modern organs.
The king’s throne. Above he is crowned by Christ.

Medicine in Antiquity – Sanctuary of Asklepios

The most significant Sanctuary of Asklepios was created near the ancient town of Epidarus. The Sanctuary is believed to be the earliest organised sanitarium and has been referred to as the “cradle of medicine.” The site illustrates a step in the evolution of medicine from believing healing depends on the gods to developing a systematic science of medicine based on knowledge and experience. The ancient world clearly had a form of “holistic healthcare” for the mind, body, and spirit with surprisingly sophisticated treatments. This Sanctuary gained fame throughout the known world for these unique healing practices that spread to more than 200 centres.

A view from inside a waiting or sleeping room.

The god Apollo, in the 8th century BC, was revered for healing abilities. However by the 6th century, Asklepios took over divine responsibility for medical care and human happiness. I’ll give you a short run down of Asklepios’s mythical personal history. He was the son of Apollo and the granddaughter of the king of Epidarus. After his mother had an affair, the goddess Artemis killed the mother to avenge her twin brother. Asklepios had to be cut from her womb, which is why his name literally means “to cut open” in Greek. Asklepios was always gifted in healing and he taught people his skills. He eventually married the goddess of soothing pain and two of his daughters included Hygenia, the goddess of health, and Panacea, the goddess of medicine.
The myth of his death is most important. He was so good at healing that he raised Hippolytus back to life – and Zeus killed him for defying natural laws. As a result there was a rift between Apollo and Zeus for a year, but at the end of that year Zeus made Asklepios a star in the Serpent Holder constellation. Asklepios was deified after his death as the god of healing and physicians. You see his symbol today, one snake wrapped around a staff, as the mark of many medical practices.

There were several stages to the healing process in the Sanctuary. All activities were meant to harmonize the mind, body, and soul. The Theatre was a place to escape everyday problems and prepare mentally for healing. Our guide, Maria, spoke about the power of theatre to connect people to their emotions and induce catharsis. The stadium was for people who needed exercise. Additionally, the Sanctuary included a banquet hall, hostel in which to reside, and the Temple of Asklepios. Priest-mystics assisted people in offering sacrifices to Asklepios and made possible other elements of the healing process.

The stadium for exercise and athletic competitions. This stadium is quite special because many of the rows of seats have survived.

The “main event” of healing was Enkoinesis, a non-invasive dream situation in which people would sleep in the Abaton building. They may wander around the circular mazes under the domed roof and be visited by Asklepios in a dream. The god would tell the people what treatment they needed. The priests guided people in this dream event. Maria suggested that the priests may have whispered suggestions to the sleeping people in lieu of an actual divine visitation.

In this scene, Asklepios visits a man with a hurt arm. The man sleeping on the bed is healed by a snake, an animal considered good luck and related to healing through Asklepios.

At the Sanctuary, people could be treated by drugs or even receive rudimentary surgery from the priest-mystics. In 1883, seventy inscriptions were found that describe remedies which have been studied by professionals today and are suspected to have been fairly effective.

Here are examples of body part statues people would have made to represent t what they needed healed. In the museum at the Sanctuary we also saw ancient surgical tools.

Even one remedy, to allow the dogs wandering around to lick wounds (gag) has been found to have some merit, as dog saliva contains antiseptic properties.

This dog wasn’t at the Sanctuary, but it is one of dozens of dogs we saw which wander around freely in Greece.

In 1881 excavation of the site began under Panagiotis Kavvadias, who devoted his life to unearthing the Sanctuary. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site in 1988 for outstanding universal value as a link between antiquity and modern medicine, as well as for being one of the purest Doric-style masterpieces with clear influence on Hellenistic and Roman architecture.
Visiting the Sanctuary was especially interesting for members of our group who are biology students or have a personal interest in medicine. As much as I enjoyed touring the site, I’ll admit I was surprised at how excited some folks were! I appreciated the conversations we had afterward and learning more about why the Sanctuary of Asklepios was personally meaningful to them.

Rebecca Pospolita

Classical World and Early Christianity in Greece

While visiting the acropolis in Athens, I was surprised to see the Mars Hills where Saint Paul presented the Gospel to the Athenians. That unexpected moment whet my appetite for visiting Corinth, one of the most well known locations in Paul’s missionary journeys.

An idea of the scale of the ruins of Corinth. The Roman baths are visible in the center left and the Bema is hiding behind the central tree.

Corinth was a prosperous Roman colony that became infamous for corruption and immorality in the first century AD. As citizens of a Greek city and later a Roman city, Corinthians worshiped many gods from the Greek pantheon or their Roman counterparts. In particular, Apollo was a significant deity and Aphrodite was considered the protector of the city. The cult of Aphrodite occupied a mountain castle overlooking the city and housed over a thousand prostitutes – a major contributor to the city’s reputation for immorality. Our guide, Maria, summed up Corinth by saying it was a city looking for a new perspective. When Paul visited Corinth between 51 and 52 AD he presented a new idea for living which was embraced by a large portion of the city.

The castle dwelling of the cult of Aphrodite is visible crowning this nearby mountain,

Paul spoke in Corinthian synagogues when he was arrested. In a public hearing on the Bema he defended himself against allegations that his preaching undermined Hebrew Law. The Roman pro-consul Lucius Julius Gallio determined that Paul had not broken any Roman laws and so he was permitted to continue his mission work in Corinth.
Paul told the Corinthians about a kind of selfless love, very different than the type of love promoted by the cult of Aphrodite! His words and example inspired many Corinthians to the point that Corinth became the launching point for early Christianity in Greece.

What remains of the Bema, a large elevated rostrum in the middle of the forum. As you can see recreated on the right side, it used to be covered in white marble with pillars.

I was moved by standing on what remains of the Bema where Paul made his statements of faith. Having the Temple of Apollo in front of the Bema and the house of Aphrodite prostitutes hovering over our shoulders created a bizarre juxtaposition of faith systems that I suspect people of antiquity felt as well.

The view off the front of the Bema is towards the shops and bath area of the forum. The remains of the Temple of Apollo are off on the right.

Paul spent about 18 months in Corinth before moving on with his journey towards the heart of the Roman Empire. His letters to the Corinthians were written to the young but flourishing church to correct problems he saw arising in the years after he left.
I’ll forever read the letters to the Corinthians a bit differently after the experience of visiting ancient Corinth. There a several ways I notice the classical world is reflected in these New Testament texts.

A verse from Second Corinthians carved in a stone placed on the Bema.

First, Paul dedicates a fair amount of space in First Corinthians to talking about sexual immorality in general and specifically avoiding prostitutes. With the added context of the cult of Aphrodite’s strong presence in Corinth, I understand why Paul was so concerned.
Second, Paul notes that the root problem for the Corinthians essentially boils down to pride – reflected in their focus on social status and appearance. Pride is related to the concept of hubris, a major stumbling block or even fatal flaw for many characters in antiquity. The Greek myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun is probably the most well known warning against hubris.
Third, the concept of wisdom Paul talks about I think echoes the perspective of Plato in The Apology. In the letters to the Corinthians, Paul points out that their divisions are the result of faith in the wisdom of men. The Corinthians should place their faith in the power of God because the wisdom of men is foolishness by comparison. Plato felt similarly, saying that men who think they are wise are not, and that the gods are wise while humans are worth little. The wisest men admit that they know next to nothing.
I suppose the commonalities reflect how universal themes of life – what is morally upright behaviour? who is the ultimate authority, humans or a higher power? – reach to the root of humanity and must always be addressed. Although Paul was bringing a new perspective to Corinth in many ways, he also reflected ideas from the classical world on topics that reverberate across time and religious boundaries.

Rebecca Pospolita

The Temple of Aesculapius: Where magical healing happens

The temple of Aesculapius is one of many temples and sanctuaries that is dedicated to the god of medicine and healing: Aesculapius. The god Aesculapius is son of Apollo, and Coronis and father to Hygiea, goddess of sanitation and Panacea, goddess of good health just to name a few. Sadly for him his life ended at the hands of Zeus’s thunder bolt because of his reviving Hippolytus for gold. Zeus later commemorated him by placing his body among the stars, which can be seen today in the constellation, “The Serpent Holder”. Aesculapius is known for performing many miracles on sick and suffering people through ancient rituals mixed with a little practical medicine. He is also recognized for creating the foundation to modern medicine. We remember and pay homage to his contributions to the world of health care by using the symbol of the staff of Aesculapius (the one with snakes) in many different areas of medicine, such as in dentistry, pharmaceutical sciences, on emergency response vehicles as well as in many medical faculties. The staff of Aesculapius is used because back in ancient Greece, serpents were used in many of Aesculapius’s practices and were thought to have special healing powers–well, the non-poisonous ones at least. Because of that, serpents were always present in the sanctuaries of Aesculapius’s cult, slithering’ around, where they were also used of as a sign of good luck. The snake is thought to be used as a symbol for the health care world because of how snakes shed their skin, which can be thought of as rejuvenation or healing. Also, they symbolize death and rebirth, which is also an aspect of the physician’s world.

Picture of the remains of the Temple of Aesculapius

When word travelled about the tale of Aesculapius, cults began to form all over the Mediterranean, where they created temples and sanctuaries in his name, in hopes to heal their sick. Sanctuaries existed in Epidaurus (thought to be where he lived), at the acropolis in Athens, on the island of Kos, Tegea, Pergamon and in Agrigento at the Valley of Temples which is the one we visited.

View of the 2 semi columns

The Temple of Aesculapius in Agrigento was not the largest of the temples dedicated to this deity, but boasted its own special characteristics, distinguishing itself among the rest. It was constructed in the late 400 and early 300 BC, built in Doric style with measurements of 22m long and 11 meters wide. The temple consisted of a large rectangular cella and on the NW portico (porch) it had an abaton, which is where the incubation ritual took place. This involved the sick person sleeping in there until they had a dream that would tell them how to cure their illness. Their were also buildings on the north and west side that were used for short stays and treatments. Something that is unique to this temple is that it used two semi columns on the inside of the south wall which was a unique and stylish style of architecture that was sparsely used.

Learning about something before actually seeing it in person always puts images and thoughts into your head on what you think it should look like and what kind of emotional response you should have. This was no different from my experience of seeing the Temple of Aesculapius at the valley of temples. It was too bad that we were unable to get up close to the temple; however, it was still a fulfilling and exciting experience to be able to see something that you’ve been reading about and then being able to actually see it. Presenting about Aesculapius and the temple was also an awesome experience, because I was able to channel my interest in health sciences into my presentation as well as seeing that I had taught some of the members in my group something about Aesculapius and his cult following.

Carson Kinshella

The Tomb of Theron

Located outside the south gate of Agrigento is the Tomb of Theron.  Once thought to be the tomb of the tyrant Theron of Acragas who ruled the city from 488 -472 BC, it is now known to date from the Hellenistic-Roman era of the first century BC.  Recent studies suggest that the Romans erected the monument to commemorate the 30 000 soldiers that died during the siege of 262 BC during the Punic wars.  However, it kept the name Tomb of Theron.

According to Polyaenus, Theron used public funds that were initially meant for a temple project to hire a group of bodyguards he used to gain power. Theron then allied himself with Gelo who controlled Gela. Theron fought battles against the tyrant of Terillus, who had joined forces with Carthage to seek revenge against Theron and Gelo.  Theron achieved a great victory outside the walls of Himera.  By forming a kind of triumvirate with Syracuse and Selinunte, Theron solidified his power in the area of Sicily. 

Theron died in 472  BC and was succeeded by his son Thrasydaeus who held power for a short time.  Ultimately, Acragas fell under the control of Syracuse when Thrasydaeus was defeated by Gelo’s brother and successor Hiero the first. 

The tomb is built of tufa, a porous limestone, in a slightly pyramidal shape. It is constructed in a combination of Doric, Ionic and Attic orders resulting in an Ionic structure with Doric decoration.  The structure consists of two overlapped registers.  One a podium almost cubic in form (4.81 m x 3.91 m) with a molded base and frame.  Of the original tomb, two square stories survive.  The lower story, whose support is formed by a single step composed of seven courses of neatly cut blocks, is devoid of decoration apart from the crowning cornice.  The upper story has an engaged Ionic flute column at each of its four corners.  Above the flute is a Doric frieze of recessed metopes and triglyphs.  The entrance to the funerary chamber in the lower story was blocked up after the burial.

The misnaming of the Tomb of Theron does not appear to be a unique occurrence.  Various tombs throughout history were attributed to inaccurate origins.  Many of these tombs have kept the names given to them but often are referred to as the “so-called tomb of…” as is the case with the so-called Tomb of Theron. How does this misnaming occur?  A likely cause is the frequency of changes in power throughout extended periods.  War was commonplace in ancient times.  Structures were appropriated, relabeled and even destroyed and later rebuilt by conquering regimes.  It is understandable that centuries later the crumbling remains of these structures would be hard to identify and be given proper labels.  Archeologists and historians have a never-ending task of uncovering, deciphering and assigning meaning to their discoveries.  As with any meticulous undertaking, errors will be made and will be left for later generations to reveal the truth.

Matthew Vaclavik

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Hercules, and his Temple

Temple of Hercules, Agrigento.

Hercules (or Herakles) is the god of strength, heroes, sports, athletes, agriculture, fertility, and trade, among other things. Hercules is a major hero of ancient Sicily, the gatekeeper of Olympus and the divine protector of mankind. His name means “Glory of Hera.”

Hercules was not only popular in ancient Greece, but also ancient Rome. Details of his cult were adapted to the Roman religion as well as co-opted by a few Roman emperors identified themselves as the legendary Hercules (Maximian and Commodus).

Hercules was forced to do his labors after a temporary fit of insanity incurred by Hera that led Hercules to kill Megara and their children, shortly after to cure the divine anger he had cursed on himself for killing his family.

“Farnese Hercules” at Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples. Depicted with a club and the hide of the Nemean Lion.

The first and possibly the most famous of the 12 Labours of Hercules involves the Nemean Lion. Legend has it the lion terrorized villagers and took women hostage. The lion had an impenetrable hide, and the only way Hercules could kill it was to shoot it in the mouth. The second was the Lernaean Hydra. The third labor was the Ceryneian Hind, otherwise known as one of Artemis’s precious deer. The fourth task was to bring back the Erymanthian Boar alive and the fifth was to clean the Augean Stables, which was seen as humiliating and impossible, as there were so many cattle that it would take forever.

Ercole abbatte la cerva di Cerinea, by Lysippos. at Museo Archeologico Regionale di Palermo.

The sixth was to take care of the Stymphalian Birds. The seventh labor was the Cretan Bull. The eighth was the man-eating Mares of Diomedes. The ninth was to bring back the Belt of Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons. Hippolyta was impressed by Hercules and was about to give him her belt, Hera did not want the situation to end peacefully so she disguised herself and told the Amazons that Hercules had come to kill Hippolyta. Hercules thought Hippolyta was traitorous and killed her, taking the belt. The tenth was the Cattle of Geryon. The eleventh task was to bring back the Golden Apples of Hesperides. The twelfth labor was to bring Cerberus from the underworld.

Floor Plan of the Temple of Hercules at the Valley of Temples, Agrigento.

During the 20th century, nine of the columns were restored through anastylosis (restoration technique that uses the original architectural elements to the greatest degree possible). The temple was 67 meters long and 25.34 meters wide. The Doric columns all around the temple are almost 7 feet in diameter, are rather tall and have wide capitals. The altar would have been on the eastern side, characteristic of Greek temples.

This temple is the most ancient of the Akragantine temples, as it dates back to the final years of the 6th century BC in the archaic period. This dating is determined by the stylistic characteristics, like the number of columns, the profile of the columns and the types and sizes of the capitals. Some of the remains of the entablature found in the temple create some problems for dating, but we know that the construction began before the Battle of Himera. We do know that the building was restored during the Roman period with some modifications, such as dividing the naos into 3, signaling a dedication to multiple divinities. The temple was good with a famous statue of Hercules. Nowadays, the temple has no ceiling, only the pillars remain.

Heather Barach

Ancient Sicilian Identity

Sicily has had a most tempestuous history, many invaders attempted to come into the area, sometimes these invaders met with success and sometimes they did not. The Greeks first came and occupied the area, setting up colonies there. Then the Carthaginians sought to gain control of the whole island but were unsuccessful. Finally, the Romans came and took the city of Syracuse and began a long period of control over the whole region. The ancient ruins in Syracuse, of a theatre called Teatro Greco, highlights some of the complicated history of how Sicilians identify themselves, as they are neither fully Greek nor fully Roman.

The Teatro Greco

The Teatro Greco was built in accordance with the design of the Greeks, but the brick that it is mainly constructed out of dates back to the Roman period. This discrepancy suggests that the Romans may have constructed the current building on top of the foundations for an older Greek temple. Construction on the current theatre started in 500 BC, and it was then reconstructed in 300. The Greeks used the theatre for plays and they were the first to use the formula for what are considered tragedies. They would have festivals which would go on for days with performances of multiple plays lasting all day. Once the Romans took over the theatre they used it more for their “games” which included gladiatorial fights, animal fights and sometimes animal combat with people. As the theatre was being used for different purposes the architecture of the building itself was changed. The shape of the cavea, which is a term for the seating sections of the theatres used during Roman times, was changed in the Teatro Greco from the horse shoe used in Greek theatres to the semicircular form that was popular in roman theatres.

On the pathway to the Teatro Greco.

The way in which the Teatro Greco manages to combine the architectural styles of both the Greeks and the Romans successfully is a good illustration of the way in which the ancient Sicilians were able to change over the years and form their own identity. In the same way that Canada as we know it today was first colonised by French and English settlers, Syracuse was first colonised by Greeks from the provinces of Corinth and Tenea. And in the same way that the settlers of Canada started to see themselves as a people separate from their European counterparts, the people of Sicily saw themselves as being something other than Greek. Eventually the city was conquered and occupied by the Romans and again, while certain ways were adopted by the Sicilians from the Romans they were not entirely Roman. The Sicilians had become a people that were not entirely Greek or Roman, but were a blend of both and a people unique unto themselves.

Anna Ryan

Teatro Greco: The Greek Theatre in Sicily

On the south slopes of the Archaeological Park of Neapolis lies the largest Greek Theatre in Sicily.

The Teatro Greco: The Greek Theatre in Sicily.

The “Teatro Greco” or Greek Theatre’s construction started back in 500BC, but it was reconstructed in 300BC, and has remained almost the same since then. The theatre has a diameter of 140m and could seat up to 15,000 people

The famous theatre is built mainly of brick, which dates to Roman times, even though the plan and arrangement are in accordance with those of Greek. Therefore, it is suggested that the present structure was rebuilt on the foundations of an older theatre of the Greek period.

The material for its construction was taken directly from the hill supporting the theatre. Because the seats belonged to the hill, it was not possible to steal them! Similar to the Argos Theatre and the Epidaurus Theatre, the front seats were reserved for the most important people—usually religious figures or political and social elites. The majority of the original seats have disappeared over the years, but the wall that surrounds the whole Cavea is preserved. The Cavea was changed from a horse shoe (which was used in Greek theatres) to a semicircular form (which was used in Roman theatres). This allowed access past the scene building, which was reconstructed in monumental form with rectangular niches at the center and 2 niches with a semicircular plan on the scene.

Several famous works written by Aeschylus, Sophocles,  Euripides, as well as other playwrights were performed on the stage of the Teatro Greco. Just like every other play of the time, the cast was exclusively male. Men were most likely the only people who were allowed to attend the theatre.

The scenery and stages were simple and fixed. They often were not painted. The different scenes would all take place in a single location. Changes of locations were generally announced or narrated. The focus was on the language, the plot and the message rather than technical sophistication and visual spectacle.

The stage of the Teatro Greco.

It has been theorised that in this period the theatre did not yet have the semicircular form that became canonical in the course of the third century but might have instead have been made up of straight banks of seating arranged in a trapezoid.

The theatre is still used for open-air performances by the National Institute of Ancient Drama, a national organisation for the promotion of classical drama. Plays are performed in May and June and concerts are throughout the summer months. To attend a performance on a sunny evening is said to be magical: watching the sun set behind the stage is an unforgettable view.

Gemma Page

Gemma Page with the Teatro Greco.

Across the Pond

As our trip has come to a close, some final thoughts have been brewing in my mind over the past several days. As expected, traveling within another country brings surprises in many different areas. Oftentimes we prepare ourselves for a sort of culture shock. Other times we prepare for different food and eating habits. While both these unique circumstances happened during our trip, I was surprised by another impression that was at first so mild, I didn’t notice it until it was right in front of me: Italy, Greece, and Canada all treat and react to the environment differently.

Some would say such practices are making a mountain out of a haystack, while others would say that humanity is not doing enough. Without taking either stance, I would like to recount my observations from these past few weeks.

When we first arrived in Europe, there were little things that were different from home. Small things like having bathrooms in which an honorary donation was asked which would be used for the upkeep of the restrooms. One other difference within the washrooms were that waste baskets for used toilet paper, instead of flushing it down the toilet. Within large cities, human waste has always been an obstacle to the health of the whole community. While the ancient Romans perfected baths and indoor plumbing, waste disposal was still problematic. Chamber pots and the like were common ways of disposal for human waste. As our technology has advanced, so too has our system of dealing with human waste. The added process required to help filter out something so simple as toilet paper from our sewage system is an added cost in the forms of infrastructure, time, and water. By eliminating one step in the process, the overall impact is lessened as a whole.

Another difference was recycling. Throughout the past 2 weeks, I do not recall seeing one place to recycle plastic bottles or tin cans of any kind. While in Athens near the Acropolis within the tourist section of the city, I went into one of the businesses and asked behind the counter if there was place to recycle tin cans. I was turned away with a “no, sorry”. Plastic and tin are huge contributors to the waste that clogs our landfills throughout the world. It is unfortunate to see that a simple action that could be taken to lesson a collective impact on the world is not being taken. Not only the lack of recycling as an action, but the amount of product that is wasted which could have been reused.

We come from a very privileged time within the history of humanity. It was striking these past couple weeks, wandering through different museums and historical sites and seeing the difference in perspective regarding consumption. Many of the artifacts that we saw recovered from Athens, Mycenae, Argos, and many other locations were created from materials that could have been discarded or not repurposed. Bones were used to make needles, picks, tweezers, buttons… numerous, various objects made from a substance that seemingly had no other use. The ingenuity that the ancients had to create the tools and objects that were needed for their everyday lives, not to mention the ability to create and expand their assets is awe inspiring. Our lives today have been built on the knowledge that they gained through trail and error. Oftentimes I feel that we forget the wisdom that our ancestors possessed, and what a great debt we owe them.

Finally, power. Or more specifically, the use of wind and sunlight. While traveling through both Greece and Italy, even the smallest communities were surrounded by technology used to harness these natural elements. On the mountain tops, massive wind turbines could be seen near every large city, and numerous small clusters of towns. Small houses, business, and even most of our hotels had solar panels on the buildings themselves. There were even farms along the highways that housed hundreds of solar panels. While it could be argued that a country like Canada cannot compete with countries in Europe for sun exposure, solar panels do not require constant sunshine. On average, a solar panel can still produce 20-40% output on cloudy, overcast days. That’s close to 50% that could help to supplement an already existing power system within a home or business.

While each country chooses the things that are important to their economies, communities, and infrastructure, what are countries make up of? People. People make nations. People make communities. People make decisions. And decisions start with thoughts. These are some on my own thoughts, and I hope they spark some of your own. As they say, a spark can start a fire.

Jennifer Rozema