Who hasn’t traveled to Greece? Almost everyone has done it as a child or teenager. First, through Greek myths recreated with fantastic illustrations in books; later, follow in the footsteps of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle in school classes, or follow the mythical trail of Achilles in the Iliad or Ulysses in the Odysseyand later, after the earthly glories of Alexander the Great.
While the gods of Olympus are benevolent and grant the journey, they gave new testimony in the voice of María Belmonte through her book In the land of Dionysus. Wanderings in Northern Greece (Falaise publisher). The historian and anthropologist looked into this journey a few years ago with beauty pilgrims. From now on, he serves as a guide to lesser-known Greece, but in which part of its glory has its roots: the region of Macedonia, the land of Aristotle and Alexander the Great. A literary story made of sensitivity where history, knowledge, travel and legend are summoned.
Belmonte begins the oral journey with the memory of his first visit to Greece: “I was very young and traveled with a friend from university. We didn’t have a lot of money and we slept on the beaches and on the floors of the terraces of the houses. I even remember crying from hunger in Delphi. It was a wonderful journey during which I had my Baptism Greek. It happened while we were sailing aboard a ship that was traveling between the islands of Amorgós and Naxos. I remember myself on deck, watching the island we had just left recede and the silhouettes of news appear on the horizon. While I remained motionless, I ceased to see the landscape, I ceased to see islands cut out between the sky and the sea; my contemplation gave way to an indescribable sensation, as if I had entered another order of experiences where life suddenly took on more intensity and harmony; a feeling that lingers in my memory and that I later identified with my first encounter with the powerful Genius loci from Greece. It’s something that has never left me and which reveals itself with the same emotion on each trip.
He accompanied her to Macedonia and serves as her ally now that she serves as his guide. The travel strategy is clear. “A very interesting option, if you are traveling slowly, is to take the train from Athens to Thessaloniki (Macedonian capital). Along the way, you contemplate and recreate the route of all the invasions that have penetrated Greece in both directions throughout history. You cross places as emblematic as Thermopylae and the Valley of the Temple, which is magnificent”.
Thessaloniki and its 80 Byzantine churches is the first stage: “It stretches from the Aegean Sea to the mountains. At sunset, it is very pleasant to go up to the old town, in what used to be the Ottoman quarter, and watch the sunset from the Trigonion tower. From there you can see the whole city, the bay of Thessaloniki and the imposing silhouette of Mount Olympus in the distance,” describes Belmonte.
Pela, land of earthly myth, is always on the road. Alexander the Great was born there in 356 BC. Son of Philip II, you can feel his mark and imagine his conversations when Aristotle was his teacher: “You visit the ruined ancient city, which is being rebuilt, and the museum, which, without having too many things, is magnificent”.
Stagira awaits with its secrets and the seeds of thought that shaped the Western world: “The ancient birthplace of Aristotle is a beautiful peninsula. There are no entrance fees, there are no guides, you follow the paths between the oak groves and find what remains of the city: the acropolis, the walls, the agora , the temple of Ceres”.
Dion cannot miss. This is the city of Philippi, almost on the slopes of Mount Olympus. Alexander gathered his army there before beginning his path to glory: “Dion was the holy city of the kings of Macedonia. Located at the foot of Mount Olympus, it is a spectacular archaeological site. Before the battles, the kings of Macedonia went there to celebrate a hecatomb or sacrifice of 100 white oxen in honor of Zeus and to gain his favor. Alexander also goes there to offer a sacrifice to the goddess Isis before undertaking the conquest of Asia.
And in the background, Thrace
The ascent of Mount Olympus is almost unavoidable. A vision of the gods, as María Belmonte remembers. From its summit, you can see the entire Macedonian plain, the Thermaic Gulf with Thessaloniki in the distance, and Mount Athos and Thrace in the background.
On trips like this, unforeseen events can be gifts. Por ejemplo, en forma de lluvia, como le ocurrió a María Belmonte un otoño en Macedonia: “Hubo incluso inundaciones, hasta el punto de que un viaje en bus que debía durar una hora duró cinco, ya las cuatro de la tarde ya estaba muy dark. The next day, when I opened the window of my room, the Greek miracle happened again: wonder at the blue of the sky and the light of the Aegean Sea”. These blues and their experiences can be enjoyed in places like the Olympiad. To make them more special, says Belmonte, they can be at the Liotopi Hotel, “by the sea and run by the charming Madame Loulou. Their signature breakfasts in the garden, under the trees, it’s an unforgettable experience”.
Scenery, history and legend often come together in many small bars, inns and restaurants in towns or roadside villages. One of them is in the area around Lake Kerkini, with its small villages, pelicans, flamingos, buffaloes. And a specific place, reveals María Belmonte, could be “to go and listen to Rebetic music at the Toumbourlika tavern, in Lord Byron Street in Thessaloniki. In addition to the music and the atmosphere, the food is excellent.
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