Happy Easter everyone! This morning we picked up the rental van and drove from Athens to Thermopylae, where the famous Spartan King Leonidas and his personal bodyguard of 300 (and the couple thousand other Greeks forgotten by popular history) gave their blood to delay Xerxes’ Persian forces. There is not much left on the site, just a statue of Leonidas and memorial to the Thespians stand now, but what a story to tell!
Knowing the Persians were coming, Leonidas sent an envoy to Delphi to consult the oracle (as was often done before war). He was told: you will either lose Sparta or you will lose a king. Leonidas knew he would have one chance to meet the Persians as they landed their boats at Thermopylae (“hot gate”) and give the Greek city-states a chance to collect themselves before the barbarian hoard made it to Athens. Unfortunately, the timing was all wrong for the Spartans as this was during a holy time where no war could be conducted legally. So he set out with 300 members of his bodyguard, all of whom had sons to be left at home to continue the family line. He knew it was a suicide mission.
As the Spartan 300 moved toward Thermopylae they sent out envoys to collect other willing Greeks to fight along with them so the total amount to meet the Persians was around four to five thousand. There was a bloody two-day battle that resulted in mostly Persian casualties. On the third day Leonidas knew the battle was lost and sent away almost all of his Greek army, hoping to leave only his 300 men. 700 Thespians refused to leave and fought to the death alongside the Spartans.
The sea has long since retreated from the foot of these mountains but we enjoy making the stop here and paying homage to those who loved their country so much they would lay down their lives for it. We get to talk about the phalanx and the clever use of topography, about the gruesome reality of hand-to-hand combat and about the courage of one king whose military decisions paved the way for the Persian defeat.
Leaving Thermopylae we drove to Vergina, stopping at Meteora to gawk at the glacier-cut mountains and wonder at the hermits who built monasteries atop ragged cliffs. These monasteries draw pilgrims, sightseers and adrenaline addicts alike – we’ve seen rock climbers, high-liners, and motorcyclists trying their best to die heroically. We weren’t expecting the Great Meteoron (the largest monastery) to be open on Easter Sunday but were overjoyed that the doors were open and we could wander through!
Arriving in Vergina we unpacked at the Hotel Evridiki and had a joyful reunion with Roula and Costas. Roula had made us reservations at the only restaurant open on Easter. Actually, the restaurant wasn’t technically open – they were having a family get-together but graciously let us join in on the fun and food. We were served lamb, chicken, salad (which they called “hope”) and got to talk with the family and learn about the region. What a wonderful evening.