Athens Ranks Among Top 5 Best European Destinations for 2017

20 selected destinations have just competed for the prestigious title of Best European Destination 2017. 

After a three weeks’ period of online voting, Porto was elected Best European Destination 2017 and won this prestigious title.

Milan, Gdansk, Athens, San Sebastian, Sozopol, Vienna, Stari Grad, Basel, Rotterdam, Rome, Madrid, Paris, Bonifacio and Wild Taiga are the next best destinations for a holiday or city-trip in 2017.

We thank all the participants from Tourism Offices, community managers and the 426,859 voters who made their choice and influenced the result!

Athens is fourth Best European Destination for 2017, according to the results of the eighth online competition organized by the European Best Destinations (EBD) organization.

Twenty selected destinations competed for the prestigious title of Best European Destination 2017 from January 20. After a three weeks’ period of online voting, Porto was elected won the title of Best European Destination for the third time with 138,116 votes out of a total of 426,859 votes from 174 countries. According to EBD, Porto won with the largest number of votes since the creation of competition.

The next best destinations for a holiday or city-trip in 2017 are:

Milan (52,836 votes), 

Gdansk (46,852 votes), 

Athens (38,627 votes), 

San Sebastian (23,113 votes), 

Sozopol (20,690 votes), 

Vienna (18,342 votes), 

Stari Grad (13,834 votes), 

Basel (10,989 votes), 

Madrid (9,624 votes), 

Rotterdam (8,981 votes), 

Rome (8,932 votes), 

Paris (8,113 votes), 

Bonifacio (8,087 votes) and 

Wild Taiga (6,938 votes).

Last year Athens was voted as second Best European Destination.

Commenting on the winning cities this year, the EBD noted for Athens:

“Travellers have always ranked Athens at the top of this European competition. It is a favourite destination for travellers from all over the world who want to discover Europe. Ever since its participation in this competition, Athens has ranked among the 5 favourite destinations of travellers worldwide.

From the iconic Acropolis, rising above the city, to charming up and coming neighborhoods and contemporary art galleries, the city of Classic Marathon and Olympic Games is a majestically quirky clash of past and present.

One of the world’s oldest cities with a recorded history of 3,500 years, the Greek capital is constantly undergoing urban renewals to keep up with the evolution of time. Athens lives up to all the hype!”

The top 15 destinations will be promoted to millions of travellers as the most trendy destinations to visit in 2017, on the Best European Destinations website, the first site dedicated to the promotion of tourism in Europe.

The Orthodox Saint Valentine

St. Valentine the Hieromartyr (Feast Day – February 14 and July 6)

The ancient martyrology of the Church of Rome marks February 14th as the remembrance of “the martyr Valentine, presbyter of Rome” (Valentinus means “vigorous” in Latin). Unfortunately the historical data for the Saint is incomplete. 

The Martyrdom of the Saint in Rome

Saint Valentine lived in Rome in the third century and was a priest who helped the martyrs during the persecution of Emperor Claudius II the Goth. The great virtue and catechetical activities of the Saint had become known. For this he was arrested and brought before the imperial court. 

“Why, Valentine, do you want to be a friend of our enemies and reject our friendship?” asked the Emperor. The Saint replied: “My lord, if you knew the gift of God, you would be happy together with your empire and would reject the worship of idols and worship the true God and His Son Jesus Christ.” One of the judges stopped the Saint and asked him what he thought about Jupiter and Mercury, and Valentine boldly replied: “They are miserable, and spent their lives in corruption and crime!” The judge furiously shouted: “He blasphemes against the gods and against the empire!”

The Emperor, however, continued his questions with curiosity, and found a welcome opportunity to finally learn what was the faith of Christians. Valentine then found the courage to urge him to repent for the blood of the Christians that was shed. 

“Believe in Jesus Christ, be baptized and you will be saved, and from this time forward the glory of your empire will be ensured as well as the triumph of your armory.” Claudius became convinced, and said to those who were present: “What a beautiful teaching this man preaches.” But the Mayor of Rome, dissatisfied, began to shout: “See how this Christian misled our Prince.” 

Then Claudius brought the Saint to another judge. He was called Asterios, and he had a little girl who was blind for two years. Listening about Jesus Christ, that He is the Light of the World, he asked Valentine if he could give that light to his child. St. Valentine put his hand on her eyes and prayed: “Lord Jesus Christ, true Light, illuminate this blind child.” Oh the great miracle! The child could see! So the judge with all his family confessed Christ.

Having fasted for three days, he destroyed the idols that were in the house and finally received Holy Baptism. When the Emperor heard about all these events, he initially thought not to punish them, thinking that in the eyes of the citizens he will look weak, which forced him to betray his sense of justice. 

Therefore St. Valentine along with other Christians, after they were tortured, were beheaded on 14 February in the year 268 (or 269). 

The Relics of the Saint in Athens 

After the martyrdom some Christians salvaged the body of the Saint and put a bit of his blood in a vile. The body of the Martyr was moved and buried in the Catacombs of St. Priscilla, a burial place of most of the martyrs. Over the years somehow he was “forgotten”, since almost every day there were buried in these catacombs new martyrs for several decades. The memory of Valentine’s martyrdom however remained robust, particularly in the local Church of Rome. Officially the memory of St. Valentine was established in 496 by Pope St. Gelasius. 

Fifteen centuries pass and we arrive at 1815, at which time divine intention was to “disturb” the eternal repose of the Saint. Then the relics were donated by the Pope to a gentle Italian priest (according to the custom of the time). After this the relics are “lost” again until 1907 where we find them in Mytilene in the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady.

It seems that after the death of the priest that a descendant of his had inherited the relics and had migrated to Mytilene, which was then a thriving community of West-European Catholic Christians. There they remained until 1990 when they were moved to Athens in the Church of Saints Francis and Clara’s Italian community, where they are today. 

Saint Valentine the Greek 

We should first say that there is not sufficient information on the national origin of the Saint, though there are some other (shades of) evidence that the Saint was of Greek origin. For example, the earliest depiction of the Saint bearing the inscription «O ΑΓΙΟC BAΛΕΝΤΙΝΟC” in Greek is in the Church of Our Lady the Ancient (Santa Maria Antiqua) of the 6th century which was the parish of Greeks in Rome. The church particularly venerated saints who were Greeks and generally from the East. The decoration and renovation of the church was ordered by the Greek Pope John VII (705-707) and finished by his successors, including the last Greek Pope Zacharias (741-752). But perhaps it is no coincidence that after seventeen centuries, the remains arrived in Greece. The issue here still requires research. 

Saint Valentine: Patron of Lovers 

Apart from the scant historical data we have for Valentine’s life, there is accompanied various legends, such as from those who say he is the patron saint of lovers. 

The Saint had a reputation as a peacemaker, and one day while cultivating some roses from his garden, he heard a couple quarrel very vigorously. This shocked the Saint, who then cut a rose and approached the couple asking them to hear him. 

Even though they were dispirited, they obeyed the Saint and afterwards were offered a rose that blessed them. Immediately the love returned between them, and later they returned and asked the Saint to bless their marriage. Another tradition says that one of the charges against Valentine was that he did not adhere to the command of the emperor which stated that men who had not fulfilled their military obligations were not allowed to marry; meanwhile the Saint had blessed the marriage of young Christian soldiers with their beloveds.

Besides all this, the likely choice of him as the “saint of lovers” is to be associated with the pagan festival of Lupercalia, a fertility festival, celebrated by the Romans on February 15. Others connect the celebration of this feast with the mating season of birds during this period. Certainly, however, the Saint has nothing to do with the commercialism (marketing) of flowers, gifts and secular centers which trivialize Eros, this great gift of God. 

Saint Valentine and Orthodoxy 

Many, however, raise the objection that St. Valentine is not mentioned anywhere in the calendar of the Orthodox Church. Indeed on 14 February in the calendar of the Church there are commemorated Saints Auxentios, Maron and the martyrs Nicholas and Damian. The explanation is simple: in ancient times hagiographic directories, biographies and martyrologies were written to be primarily used locally in their own character, and the fame and reputation of a saint locally does not mean that it extended also throughout the Church. So there may be saints honored widely in one region and completely unknown in another, as for example St. Demetrios, who is famous throughout the Eastern Church, yet in the West is not honored at all, and is almost unknown, but this does not mean that he is not a saint. Another example of the modern Church: St. Chrysostomos of Smyrna († 1922) who in Greece is known, yet in Russia is completely unknown, but this does not mean that he is not a saint. 

Honor Martyrs – Imitate Martyrs 

We honor our saints and St. Valentine when we imitate their courage to proclaim their faith in Christ the Savior, which they did even at the cost of their lives. We honor them when we beseech them to appeal to God to have mercy on us and forgive our many sins. We honor them when they are our models of the life in Christ. We do not honor the saints when we measure their ‘worth’ by worldly amusements and festivities even in the best circumstances … To honor the Martyrs is to imitate the Martyrs! 
Indeed, Lesvos is the garden of earth where Love was born 

Daphnis and Chloe grow up together on the isle of Lesvos during the 2nd century AD , herding the flocks for their foster parents. They fall in love but, being naive, do not understand what is happening to them. ….

Daphnis and Chloe is the story of a boy (Daphnis) and a girl (Chloe), each of whom is exposed at birth along with some identifying tokens. A goatherd named Lamon discovers Daphnis, and a shepherd called Dryas finds Chloe. Each decides to raise the child he finds as his own , but love was born between them in the most naive expression, in the most romantic scene, that is the nature of ancient Lesvos ….

Daphnis Chloe Cortot Louvre 

Daphnis and Chloe is a novel, set on the isle of Lesbos during the 2nd century AD, where and when scholars assume the author to have lived. Its style is rhetorical and pastoral; its shepherds and shepherdesses are wholly conventional, but the author imparts human interest to this idealized world

 Daphnis and Chloe resembles a modern novel more than does its chief rival among Greek erotic romances, writes wikipedia.

According to the novel, Philetas, a wise old cowherd, explains to them what love is and tells them that the only cure is kissing They do this.

Eventually, Lycaenion, a woman from the city, educates Daphnis in love-making. 

Daphnis, however, decides not to test his newly acquired skill on Chloe, because Lycaenion tells Daphnis that Chloe “will scream and cry and lie bleeding heavily [as if murdered].”.

….In the end, Daphnis and Chloe are recognized by their birth parents, get married, and live out their lives in the country.

“Alphabetario”, I.K. Yannelis and G.K. Sakkas, Illustrations by Costas P. Grammatopoulos (published originally in Athens 1948 by Nea Synora – A.A. Livani)

This book was published in the late forties (presumably by the Ministry of Education of the time) and was used as an introduction to the Greek language for 6 year-olds. It must have made a strong and lasting impression to the generations of children as the publishers decided, upon many requests, to reprint a new edition in 1993 long after it was removed from the school curriculum. I love the combination of the graphic effect together with the hand-drawn quality – used sparingly, but so expressively. The colouring is very minimalistic and flat, yet used so creatively to illustrate textures, space and shapes.

One of the most popular schoolbooks throughout contemporary Greek times is the alphabet primer, Αλφαβητάριο (al-fa-vi-TA-ri-o) by Ι. Κ. Γιαννέλη and Γ. Σακκά, distributed by the now defunct state body ΟΕΔΒ – Οργανισμός Εκδόσεων Διδακτικών Βιβλίων – Institute for Educational Books. It was first used in Greek schools in 1956 and stopped being used around 1978. By that time, the images portrayed in the book had become obsolete in many ways – but the book continued to be popular even after it was discontinued, and today it enjoys success as an iconic classic of Greek imagery. It has never stopped being printed; it’s available in hardback form at most Greek bookshops. This book is one of the most often requested presents by diaspora Greeks who remember learning the Greek language from it and wish to help their children learn Greek through this book. Diaspora Greeks have been influenced in their Greek imagery by the first immigrant generation, which don’t necessarily tie in with the present day and provide the main motivation for their alternative perspective of their ancestors’ homeland: Greece is a land which stand still in time.

The best book ever! (in the hearts of thousands of Greeks who – like myself – were introduced to the language in the first year at primary school with these wonderful pictures, lovable characters and unique typeface)…

Spartan warrior, from the Isle of Samos, 525B.C.

Figurines, statues ect. 
Statue of a Spartan warrior, from the Isle of Samos, 525B.C. It is easy to imagine that this statue possibly represents either Archias or Lycopas, two Spartans who died valiantly when the Spartans sent aid to Samos in order to oust the pro-Persian tyrant, Polykrates. For their brave actions, they were buried within the city walls of Samos, and given full honors by the Samians.

Rear view of the statue of a Spartain warrior from the Isle of Samos.

Ο Οπλίτης της Σάμου είναι αριστουργηματικό έργο τέχνης που βρέθηκε στη Σάμο στις αρχές του 20ού αιώνα. Αποκαταστάθηκε το 1990 και φιλοξενείται στην έκθεση των Αρχαιολογικών Μουσείων του Βερολίνου.

Το έργο είχε τοποθετηθεί στο Ηραίο της Σάμου λίγο πριν το τέλος της συμμαχίας μεταξύ Σπάρτης και του τυράννου της Σάμου Πολυκράτη το έτος 525 π.Χ.

Είναι από μάρμαρο, που είχε την προέλευσή του στη Σάμο ή στη Λακωνία, αφού μόνο εκεί βρίσκονται κοιτάσματα με την ίδια χαρακτηριστική απόχρωση. Παριστάνει έναν πολεμιστή με ιονικό κράνος, που σκεπάζει αμυντικά ολόκληρο το κεφάλι και το πρόσωπο εκτός των ματιών, της μύτης και του στόματος, δίνοντας απειλητικό χαρακτήρα. Η κόμη είναι σκεπασμένη κάτω από το κράνος, ενώ μια πλεξούδα κρέμεται κατά μήκος της πλάτης μέχρι τον μηρό. Ο θώρακας είναι διακοσμημένος με σπείρες και ομοιάζει με άλλα ευρήματα που εικονίζουν πολεμιστές Λακωνικής προέλευσης. Στις λεπτομέρειες όμως ομοιάζει με εργασίες Σαμίων εργαστηρίων.
Ιστορία της εύρεσής του

Τμήματα του κορμού και της κεφαλής βρέθηκαν αρχικά σε ανασκαφές που διενήργησε το Γερμανικό Ινστιτούτο στη Ηραίο της Σάμου στις αρχές του 20ου αιώνα. Σύμφωνα με το συμφωνητικό περί αρχαιολογικών ανακαλύψεων μεταφέρθηκε στη Γερμανία και τοποθετήθηκε στο Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο του Βερολίνου, όπου φιλοξενείται μέχρι σήμερα. Στο ίδιο άγαλμα ανήκουν και με άλλα τμήματα του αριστερού ποδιού που βρέθηκαν σε ανασκαφές που ακολούθησαν στο ίδιο μέρος, και τα οποία βρίσκονται ακόμα στη Σάμο.

Τα ανάμικτα χαρακτηριστικά Λακωνικής και Σαμίας τέχνης είναι αινιγματικά και δεν έχουν ερμηνευτεί εντελώς, δίνοντας ερμηνευτικό περιθώριο για καλλιτεχνικές και ιστορικές ερμηνείες. Από νωρίς αμφισβητήθηκε η Σαμία προέλευση του έργου ετούτου.Ο Στίμπε καταλήγει στο συμπέρασμα, ότι το άγαλμα είναι έργο κάποιου Σπαρτιάτη που ζούσε στη Σάμο, και κατασκευάστηκε κατά παραγγελία ενός Σαμίου. Η εκδοχή αυτή όμως δεν συμμερίζεται από κανέναν άλλο επιστήμονα.

Γνωστό όμως είναι ότι η Σάμος και η Σπάρτη υπήρξαν στενοί σύμμαχοι, και γι’ αυτό ίσως να υπήρξε κάποια πολιτιστική ανταλλαγή, που να ήταν έντονη ιδίως το πρώτο ήμισυ του 6ου αιώνα π.Χ. Η επικρατούσα ερμηνεία υποστηρίζει την εκδοχή, ότι το έργο έχει προέλευση κάποιο εργαστήριο της Σάμου, ενώ μεμονωμένα ενδέχεται να είναι λακωνικό έργο.

Εκτός αυτού, η ανάρτηση αγαλμάτων ηρωικού και πολεμικού χαρακτήρα στο ιερό (στην προκειμένη περίπτωση στο ιερό της Ήρας) ήταν έθιμο στην Σπάρτη περισσότερο παρά στη Σάμο, όπου τα αναθήματα συνήθως είχαν ειρηνικό χαρακτήρα. Πιθανόν το άγαλμα αυτό να ήταν προειδοποιητικό δώρο των Σπαρτιατών προς τους Σαμίου, συνοδευόμενο με την απειλή, να μην λύσει η Σάμος τη συμμαχία, διότι οι Σπαρτιάτες θα έστελναν οπλίτες. Η ιστορία όμως τους διέψευσε. Η Σάμος διέλυσε τη συμμαχία, οι Σπαρτιάτες ξεκίνησαν πόλεμο με τη Σάμο, αλλά ηττήθηκαν μπροστά στα τείχη της πόλης.

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