Extended days and insufficient bandwidth are not conducive to regular blogging, but the 2016 Bible Lands Study Tour to Greece and Turkey, sponsored by Campbell University Divinity School and Nurturing Faith Experiences, did not fall into a Mediterranean maelstrom and sink – though our adventures getting to Santorini made us appreciate the rough conditions Paul had to endure during his missionary journeys, when he took passage on small vessels and shipwreck was always a possibility.
Sunday began with a stop at Heraklion, a port city in north-central Crete, where we learned about Minoan culture at the legendary Palace of Knossos, where the myth of the Minotaur was born. The site is expansive and was broadly excavated a century ago, with imaginative reconstructions that may or may not be true to history. Despite the site’s size, crowded conditions and several single-file viewpoints created logjams that left us standing in line for extended periods. Our loquacious guide tried to keep us interested with repetitive commentary, but most of us were generally frustrated by the time we finished the tour.
A few hours’ sail brought a long-awaited visit to Santorini, but rough seas left us bobbing in the tender boats for much longer than usual, leaving us both a bit woozy and with less time on the island. On our approach, the gunwales of the boat rocked up and down so severely that four dockhands had to grab each of us and hoist (or throw) us out of the boat.
Santorini is home to an archaeological site that most tour groups don’t see, but we were the exception, of course. Akrotiri, named after a nearby village, was an impressive Cycladian city 4,000 years ago. Its residents practiced urban planning that included streets, multi-story houses, and indoor plumbing connected to a network of drainage channels running through the city. Upper stories of the houses were often decorated with beautiful frescoes, some of which we were able to see later in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
The residents of Akrotiri, perhaps warned by a series of earthquakes, abandoned the city before the massive volcanic eruption that created the current landscape of multiple islands surrounding a central caldera. Volcanic ash covered the town, turning into soft pumice stone as it packed and weathered. As wooden furniture and construction beams rotted, open cavities were left, which archaeologists could fill with plaster before chipping the pumice away to reveal well-made beds, tables, and other items.
We had less time than we liked in scenic Fira town, but managed to enjoy a bit of the Aegean ambience before descending on a cable car and enduring another wallowing boat ride back to the ship.
An overnight sail brought us to Athens for the last leg of our journey, but for now, those adventures will have to wait, likely to be written on the long flight from Istanbul to Dulles and posted from an airport or home.
In the meantime, we have a lot of information, experience, and authentic Greek food to digest …
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.