The First Leg – Thermopyles and Leonidas

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monument to king leonidis in greece, rear photo shot

To many in North America, driving 600 km in a day is not a big deal. Well, it’s still a fair distance, but not something many of us would say “No” to, because of the distance. I know that I used to regularly drive this many km and even more in a day, and while it could be tiring, it was doable.

On the other hand, driving almost 600 km in a day in many parts of Europe is looked at with open eyes and some idea that a huge feat was accomplished. Heck, in some places, even driving 20 km is considered “too far to go” at times. And for good reason – which you’d know if you have seen many of the roads and countryside of parts of Europe.

I however, really enjoy driving and while I do find long distances and times behind the wheel to be tiring, it’s also invigorating to me to discover new places, see new sights, and discover areas that I’ve not ever seen. I often like to cover a lot of distance at once, with the view of later returning to spend more time.

So with that idea in mind, we set out from Exarchos, Phthiotis, in Central Greece to head towards the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea in the Pelion region. The big goal was Volos – and when we reached Volos, we’d decide what roads next to take, and see how things went.

Greek Travel Problems

Later, I’ll talk about the roads – but there’s another big problem with travel in parts of Europe, and for today’s purposes, especially in Greece. Everywhere you go, there is some history. And because the geography can change rapidly, there is that as well. This means a big difference from traveling long distances in parts of North America – in Greece, you can travel 20 km and there is some significant historical site to visit and learn about – in Canada, you can drive for 5 hours or more through the prairies, and while there might be something of significance and interesting, in honesty, it’s not the same as coming across monuments built on battlefields that are 2400 years old, or churches built in the 13 century.

No matter where you travel in Greece, there’s bound to be something that is going to grab your attention and interest no matter what historical period you are interested in. And if you’re not interested in any historical period, it’s probably time you examined yourself and your life!

If you are interested, like me, in many different aspects, it causes travel problems – where to stop? What to make an effort to spend time at? What to photograph? Is there something to learn or someone to talk with that might help with some modern hobby I have, but that’s been done in ancient ways since ancient times here?

Tsipouro Comes To Mind

I enjoy sampling whiskies, and especially Irish Whiskies, and knowing their history is interesting to me. Since having spent time in Greece, learning about and enjoying Tsipouro is now also of interest. When I discovered that the Volos area is considered the “home” of the creation of tsipouro, my mind went to ideas of spending time in the area and seeing out tsipouro makers and learning how it’s been done, and what’s changed if anything, over the course of centuries.

But I am digressing from discussing the first leg of our one-day travel adventure.

Molon Labe (or, in Greek: μολὼν λαβέ)

I have the T-Shirt.

“Molon lave” or “Come and take it.” This was the response of the Spartan King Leonidas to the Persian demands. When I heard the story of Leonidas and the so-called “laconic” way of speech attributed to the Spartans, I couldn’t help but think of some of the sayings of my own ancestors, and their own ways of thinking – “You want it? Okay.. come try to take it!”

The old “saucy” Scott clan tried their best most of the time, at warding off conflict and negotiating while also acting as mediators between other warring clans that had disputes with each other, but hey… the style was, “Okay, if you want it, come and get it.” In other words, “No, we’re not giving anything up – you have to pay the price if you want it.”

Indeed, that was the situation faced by Spartan King Leonidas when the Persians demanded of the Greeks their arms and their allegiance. The Persians were extremely powerful and figured that with their power, they could just intimidate the Athenians, Spartans and other Greek city States to cower. Leonidas would have none of that.

So, when I discovered that there we would be passing a monument that had been built in memory of King Leonidas, and on the very place where the Battle of Thermopylae took place, I absolutely agreed we should stop there.

Thermopyles – We Arrive

About 90 minutes after leaving Exarchos, and filling up the gas tank, and with a quick stop to view the scenery in Molos (I think), we found the spot of what is today believed to be the Battle Ground of Thermopyles. The name comes from the fact that nearby, is a river with a very hot spring – in ancient times, it was believed to be the Gates of Hades – hence the name.

For me, even though I don’t try to advertise the fact, I always feel a sense of “overwhelm” or awe when walking on or in “old” places, where there is history and others have come before me. Some lost battles, some won battles, but there is this generally common theme that my heroes stood up for freedom and against tyranny. Perhaps for some, King Leonidas was a tyrant himself; I don’t know but I do know he was not about to allow some Persians to control Greece, even though he himself was officially at war with some of the City States in Greece at the time.

Often, we have our own ideas about times; what should have been done, what was bad, what was good, and project upon them with our present day emotions, expectations, and values and of course, when we don’t try to throw those off, we likely don’t get a fuller picture of what was going on in the minds of the individuals, in their time. Nevertheless, I look up to King Leonidas in many ways; he did not want to be taxed, or disarmed, or give of his efforts to Persians, and even though at times, Athenians might be enemies, the greater enemy was the one that would tax and demand more, and all would have less freedom.

With all this in mind, proudly I stood in front of the monument built to Leonidas. Wearing the t-shirt as well!

standing in front of the monument to king l eonidis at thermoplyes, greece

ian scott in front of monument to leonidis

Things Change, Things Stay The Same

Many of us have this idea in our minds that we hope things never change. The fact is, things always change, although ideas live on; attempting to halt ideas, stop them, censor them, or put them down through law is utterly foolish. Tyrants have tried it many times in the past, and although they have caused enormous suffering to people who want to think freely, investigate and be curious about ideas, – those ideas and the human spirit to continue to be creative, to trade, and to want to defend individual freedom – even joining forces with other “enemies” to defeat tyrants, has been in our history.

Today, we have people who are afraid of many changes – including geological and climate, and we are given “scary” stories about things. Let me tell you more about the how the physical landscape of the battlegrounds of Thermopyles has changed. Perhaps it will provide you with some perspective in regard to your own fears, as well as ideas of change.

The battle was fought about 2500 years ago. The present memorial to King Leonidas is an amazing thing to see, and was built in about 1955. Since then, other additions have been made.

But it is not the same “ground” or land, nor is it anywhere like the same battlefield conditions that existed 2500 years ago. Today, the Malian Gulf is several km away from where the battle took place. Not only that, the actual ground the battle was fought on is covered with over 60 feet (about 20 metres) of sediment from the local river.

If you travel to Thermopyles, as much as it might cause a great deal of awe, (as is natural), you are not at all walking on the same grounds that Leonidas made his stand. They are covered by some centuries of sediment and a receding sea level in the area.

Is it a “catastrophe” that over the course of some centuries, the area has changed and peoples have had to adapt? Perhaps it is a catastrophe that hundreds of years ago, we did not have the technology to control what nature might do, and could not completely preserve the area.

Or perhaps today, there is another catastrophe going on, where attempts to stop ideas, in the silly motivation of keeping things the way they are, are popular.

Well, I have ideas that are not popular today, but they are ideas that have been recorded for thousands of years, and ideas that live on, no matter how much the land changes – the same ideas about freedom and tyranny that Leonidis and others had…

Come and take them.

The ground WILL change. The sea will do what the sea does. People will do what they do, and build in stupid places and try to change nature and blame it on others. And politicians, kings, and silly children will screech and demand our labour. They will give up old Gods and demand you worship their new Gods.

For me, and my ideas, and my goals and loves: Molon Labe. Come and take them. You won’t.

1 thought on “The First Leg – Thermopyles and Leonidas”

  1. Pingback: A Quick Stop In Portaria, Pelion, Greece – Ian Scott

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