Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome Italy.

Green lungs of Rome.

The Villa Borghese Gardens (80 hectares) is the third largest public park in Rome, Italy.

Originally, a private vineyard, the Park Garden was redesigned and enlarged in the early 17th century by Cardinal Scipione Borghese (nephew of Pope Paul V). It was further landscaped following an English-style gardens design in the 19th century.

The main building of the Villa is the 17th century Casino Nobile, which houses the Museo or Galleria Borghese. Designed by Giovanni Vasanzio (Jan Van Santen), the Villa was built to house the extensive collection of paintings, artwork, ancient statues and artefacts owned by Cardinal Scipione Borghese.

Often referred to as the green lungs of Rome, the park, which is easily accessible from anywhere in Rome, features wide leafy shady lanes, landscaped gardens, several museums, neo classical temples, beautiful fountains and many monuments and statues.

Biking through park. Villa Borghese gardens. Rome. Italy.
Rome. Italy. People biking through the leafy lanes within the Villa Borghese Gardens, which is the largest public park in Rome.

It also has a scenic lake or lagoon that allows tourists and locals to hire boats and row in amongst the water fowl and around the imitation Ionic Temple of Aesculapius.

It’s a pleasure to walk or bike through its shaded pathways and observe Romans and visitors at play or relaxing and escape the hectic streets of Rome. Note: The Villa Doria Pamphili is the largest landscaped park in Rome and the Villa Ada is the second largest.

Click to view the complete Villa Borghese image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Krak des Chevaliers, Syria.

 Outstanding Crusader castle

Krak des Chevaliers (Crac des Chevaliers) was largely built by the Christian Knights Hospitaller (Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem) who occupied it around the 12th century.

The strategically positioned crusader castle lies on a volcanic crater with a view of Homs gap which gave access to the Mediterranean coast and interior of Syria. 

The castle eventually fell to the armies of Islam, who occupied the building for hundreds of years and strengthened the defences further.

Gothic, Romanesque and Arabic architectural elements and legacies are found throughout the well-preserved castle, which is one of the greatest masterpieces of military architecture found anywhere in the world.

Crusader castle. Krak des Chevaliers. Syria.
Krak des Chevaliers. Syria. View of an Inner vaulted passageway set-up with souvenir and handicraft stalls at the crusader castle.

Krak des Chevaliers is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Click to view the complete image gallery

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Aegina, Greece.

Ancient Island Powerhouse

A stone’s throw south of Athens lays Aegina, an unspoiled and historic Greek island endowed with splendid archaeological remains, beautiful beaches and charming harbour towns. 

Located between the Attica and the Peloponnese, the island of Aegina (Aigina) is part of the archipelago known as the Saronic Gulf Islands which are regarded by Athenians as their own a little secret paradise to escape to from the hustle and bustle of the capital. (Salamis, Poros, Hydra and Spetses are the other Saronic Gulf Islands)

In the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Aegina was a mighty maritime state that rivalled Athens in power and prestige. 

Aegina minted the first ancient Greek coins (marked with a tortoise) and traded and established colonies throughout the Mediterranean. However, the imperial ambitions of Athens eventually eclipsed and then conquered Aegina in the 5th century BC. 

Between 1826 and 1828, Aegina town became the first capital of the new Greek state after winning independence and the new government of Greece was set-up there. 

Aegina Town is a picturesque harbour town, overflowing with colourful fishing and coastal boats and a lively waterfront lined with neoclassical buildings, taverns, churches and many stands selling Aegina’s famous pistachios, considered the tastiest in the world. 

Aegina. Greece.
View of the East and North sides of the Temple of Aphaia or Afea, Aegina Greece.

On eastern side of the island, set atop a pine crested hill, stands the impressive 5th century BC Temple of Aphaia, which is one of the best-preserved ancient temples from the ancient Greek world. Dedicated to Aphaia, a local goddess, the perfectly proportioned Doric Temple has twenty-five of the original 32 monolithic limestone columns still standing. 

The Temple of Aphaia, together with the Parthenon in Athens and Temple of Poseidon at Sounion, form a perfect isosceles triangle which continues to mystify scholars today.

Aegina is easily reachable from the port of Piraeus, with many ferries available throughout the day ranging from approximately 40 minutes to 75 minutes in travel time.

Click to view the complete Aegina image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas

Bulla Regia, Tunisia.

Subterranean Roman City.

Bulla Regia is a notable archaeological site in a highly fertile region of northwestern Tunisia. It is officially recognized as Colonia Aelia Hadriana Augusta Bulla Regia.

The ancient city was under the influence of the North African powerhouse Carthage around the 3rd century BC. With the collapse of Carthage, the Romans eventually obtained absolute authority of the city in the 1st century BC.

Prosperity for the city was the greatest between the 1st and 3rd centuries as it became a major producer and supplier of wheat, grains, grapes and olives to the Roman Empire. 

Bulla Regia and other Roman towns in the region have been referred to as the breadbasket or granary of Rome.

Roman ruins. Bulla Regia. Tunisia.
Bulla Regia. Tunisia. View of remains of buildings, including the House of the Fishing at northern end of the archaeological site.

Abandoned after a catastrophic earthquake, the city was buried by drifting sands and lost to the world for many centuries.

A French company constructing a railway through the region accidentally rediscovered the city it in the late 1800s. Unfortunately, some of the well-preserved buildings, including the monumental gateway to the city, were recklessly destroyed.

Thankfully, the site is home to various fine remnants of its history, including a well preserved Roman theatre. However, the site is famed for its unique and distinctive underground villas that distinguish it from all other Roman towns.

The subterranean villas are adorned with magnificent exquisite mosaics in situ built by the town’s wealthy Romans residents in the second and third centuries AD. The Villas provided an escape from the baking Tunisian summer heat and provided warmth in the Winter.

Click to view the complete Bulla Regia image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Villa d’Este, Tivoli Italy.

Garden of the High Renaissance.

The Villa d’Este is situated 30 kilometres east north of Rome in the lush, picturesque and historical hilltop town of Tivoli, in the Lazio region of Italy. 

Renowned for its spectacular use of water, the Villa d’Este represents the quintessence of the Italian garden of the late High Renaissance and has elements of the mannerist and baroque architectural styles.

Converted from a Benedictine monastery into a sumptuous palace around 1550, the much-copied Villa d’Este is a masterpiece of Italian Garden. 

Hundred Fountains. Villa d Este. Tivoli. Italy.
Villa d Este. Tivoli. Italy. View along the avenue of the hundred fountains or Le Cento Fontane at the Villa d’Este at the hill town of Tivoli. The wooded walkway is flanked on one side by over one hundred hand carved waterspouts jetting out cooling water into three overlaying canals.

The Villa d’Este is one of the most significant and complex examples of Renaissance water gardens in Europe.

Visually stimulating, spectacular and theatrical, the Villa d’Este has been a tremendous influence on European garden design.

Its grounds, which have varying elevations, are replete with greenery, sculpture and statuary and a myriad of imaginative fountains, grottoes and water features. 

Tivoli and the Villa d’Este is a very rewarding and relatively easy and relaxed day trip from Rome. Whenever I travel there, I usually take the train, which takes about 1 hour from Rome. 

The Villa d’Este is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Click to view the complete Villa d’Este gallery.

All text, images and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Cappadocia, Turkey.

Extraordinary Rock Formations.

Cappadocia is an extraordinary historical region in landlocked Central Anatolia, in the Nevsehir Province of Turkey. 

The area is most distinguished for the remarkable dramatic rock formations and eroded volcanic rock tuff landscape. Formed millions of years ago, the otherworldly scenery is the collective work of lava spluttering volcanoes being eroded over time by wind and water. 

The region is famed for its basalt capped fairy chimneys, natural rock formations in various shapes. Some rock formations have been excavated and hollowed out and converted into houses, hotels, chapels, churches and monasteries. 

Aerial landscape view. Cappadocia. Turkey.
Cappadocia. Turkey. Aerial view from a hot-air balloon of the spectacular rock formations and eroded volcanic rock tuff landscape.

The Goreme open-air Museum is a microcosm of the Cappadocia region. Goreme has some dramatic rock structures and a cluster of several fine christian chapels, churches and monasteries with exquisite frescoes dating from the 9th century onwards and built out of the volcanic tuff.

Cappadocia is one of most magical places in the world to take a hot-air balloon ride and I spent an hour slowly drifting over the lunar like landscape taking several images in the early morning summer light. 

UNESCO lists the Goreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia as a World Heritage site. 

Click to view the complete Cappadocia image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.   

Palmyra, Syria.

Bride of the desert

An oasis in the Syrian desert, Palmyra was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. 

From the 1st to the 2nd century AD, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilisations, married Greek-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences. 

Palmyra prospered in ancient times as a caravan staging post, primarily because of its location on one of the main ancient routes from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates and to markets further east, including those on the Silk Route. 

Palmyra reached its zenith of prosperity (earning it the nickname ‘bride of the desert’) around the 2nd century AD, when it was under the mighty rule of Queen Zenobia, who challenged the powerful Roman Empire and nearly bringing the Romans to their knees. 

Tetrapylon. Palmyra. Syria.
Palmyra. Syria. The towering Tetrapylon, with its Corinthian columns, dominates the central section of the Great Colonnade Street. In the background is the hilltop 17th century Arab castle or citadel of Qala’at lbn Maan. The Tetrapylon, which marks and masks the change of direction of the great colonnade, has four independent pylons, each comprising four columns and stands on a moulded square plinth at the four corners of a stepped platform.

Palmyra has many outstanding remnants of its past, including the following;

 The 2nd century theatre which laid buried under sand until the 1950s has largely been excavated and restored back to its former glory. The magnificently adorned stage has a large central door known as the Royal Gate, which is flanked by two smaller ones. Facing the stage is the semi-circle orchestra; 20 metre is diameter and beyond it rises the cavea with its nine rows of seats.

The Monumental Arch which was erected in the early 3rd century AD under Septimius Severus in order to disguise the thirty degrees change of direction of the first and second sections of the Great Colonnade.

 The Temple of Bel which is the most impressive remnant of Palmyra. Dedicated to Bel who is thought to be the supreme God of the Palmyrene pantheon, the Temple is an enormous complex and its major construction was performed over several stages from the Hellenistic through to the Roman periods. 

Unfortunately, several of the ancient monuments that I photographed at Palmyra have been severely damaged or destroyed, one consequence of the devastating civil war.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palmyra, is, without question, one of the world’s great archaeological sites. 

Click this link to view the complete Palmyra

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Cyrene Libya

The Athens of Africa

Founded by the Greeks, Cyrene is a one of the great cities of antiquity. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the vast evocative ruins of Cyrene in North Eastern Libya are one of the most impressive of the ancient world and provide a majestic insight to its wondrous and celebrated past.

In the 7th century BC, the Greek island of Thera (modern Santorini) was experiencing a severe drought which overwhelmed its limited resources, causing its monumental struggles in sustaining its increasingly distressed population. Because of this, the island’s leaders sent a committee to mainland Greece to seek advice from Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi, the largest and most famous mystical spiritual centre in the ancient Mediterranean world.

The Oracle at Delphi advised the committee that to change their fortunes and to survive as a people that they had to establish a new settlement in the lush north-eastern coast of Libya, a place that rained regularly, a place that the “sky leaked through a hole in the heavens”.

So in 631 BC, led by Heroic Battus (the first Greek King in Libya) the Therans founded their new city-state, Cyrene, on the fertile highland ground overlooking the Green Mountain plateau or Jebel Akhdar uplands, 13 kilometres inland from the Mediterranean. Note: The famous Ancient Greek historian, Herodotus, describes the foundation of Cyrene in his ‘Histories’, which is the founding work of history in Western literature. 

Cyrene produced and traded olives, dates, apples, grapes, and cereals and was renowned for its horses and medicinal plant silphium.

The city and people thrived in the lush environment, and Cyrene quickly established a profitable maritime trade with other Greek cities. Cyrene soon became the principal and most prosperous city of Libya and because of its success; four more cities were founded in the region. Known as the Pentapolis, these flourishing cities were Cyrene, Apollonia, Teuchira, Ptolemais and Eusperides. 

Cyrene was famous around the whole Ancient Greek world for its intellectual pursuits and philosophy school and became known as the ‘Athens of Africa’.

The city was established as a Roman province in 74 BC and continued to prosper and be a major influence and important player in the Mediterranean world. Cyrene was severely damaged in AD 115 because of the Jewish revolt and then completely rebuilt during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian (117 to 138).

In 365 AD, a catastrophic earthquake (and subsequent tsunami) struck off the Western coast of Crete that lifted that island 9 metres. Because of this event, Cyrene and many other cities in the region were severely damaged or destroyed and many thousands of people died. Cyrene never recovered from this and eventually declined as an influence and fell under the Arab conquest in 643; however, by then it was only dusty footprint of its glorious and opulent past.

Sancturay of Apollo. Cyrene. Libya.
Cyrene. Libya. Overview of the Sanctuary of Apollo which is dominated by the Temple of Apollo. The sanctuary is beautifully situated 600 meters high, overlooking the Green Mountain plateau and 13 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea.

Famous Ancient Greeks from Cyrene:

Eratosthenes–Born 276 BC – Died 194 BC (82 years).
Mathematician, Geographer, Poet, Astronomer and Librarian.
First, to prove the earth was a sphere. The first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth. First, to calculate the tilt of the Earth’s axis. Calculated the distance from the Earth to the Sun and invented the leap day. He created the first map of the world and inventing the idea of latitude and longitude. Became the Chief librarian of the Library of Alexandria: the most important library of the ancient world.

Arete–Born c 400 BC – Died c. 340 BC (60 years).
Teacher and Philosopher. Daughter of Aristippus of Cyrene, who was a close follower of Socrates. Arete was a career teacher of natural and moral philosophy at the academies and various schools of Ancient Greece. She also wrote over forty books.

Arete was so highly esteemed that they had inscribed on her tomb a truly beautiful epitaph which declared: 

she was the splendour of Greece,
and possessed the beauty of Helen,
the virtue of Thirma, the pen of Aristippus,
the soul of Socrates and the tongue of Homer.

Click to view the complete Cyrene image gallery.

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

Arykanda Turkey

Built on a series of terraces on a rocky steep hillside overlooking stunning mountainous and valley landscape, Arykanda’s location resonates like mystical Delphi in Greece and is perhaps the most beautiful of ancient cities in the whole of Lycia, an ancient geopolitical region in Anatolia. It is in the province of Antalya on the southern (Turquoise) coast of Turkey.

The city was well known for its grand and lavish buildings, however according to ancient sources, the citizens of Arykanda were apathetic and in the habit of living extravagantly beyond their means. It is said that they fell into debt; and it is believed they repaid their extravagance through new special taxes.

Arykanda was a small obscure settlement when it was invaded by the Persians in the 5th century BC. Like other Lycian cities, Arykanda heroically resisted the invasive powers, however, they eventually succumbed to the might of the Persian Empire.

During 333 BC, Alexander the Great arrived in Lycia (on his way to defeat the Persians) and was welcomed as a liberator by the citizens of Arykanda.

With Alexander came the overwhelming force of Hellenism. Arykanda fully embraced the Greek culture and way of life, which included the Greek language, and it was transformed with all the buildings necessary for a Greek metropolis.

In antiquity, Arykanda was a representative (with voting rights) of the Lycian League and even minted its own coins.

Arykanda continued to grow and prosper after the premature death of Alexander and remained under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasties. It briefly changed hands to Antiochus III and again to Rhodes around 190 BC (ally with Rome at the time). It was formally annexed to Rome in 43 Ad.

Grand Baths panoramic view. Arykanda. Turkey.
Part view of the Grand Baths complex and stunning landscape surrounding Arykanda, Antalya province, Southern Turkey.

The city continued to prosper as a Greek city under Roman authority; however, its prosperity was stalled when it was struck by two significant earthquakes in 141 and 240 AD.

After a bitter struggle with the city’s pagans, Christianity prevailed in Arykanda and the city became a bishop’s seat in the Byzantine age. However, the city was on the decline and sometime between the ninth and eleventh centuries AD; the site was abandoned because of the Arab invasions of the region.

British researcher and explorer Sir Charles Fellows rediscovered Arykanda in 1838. The isolated archaeological site is extensive and thoroughly sign-posted.

It has a very impressive array of excavated architectural remnants from its illustrious past including: Stadium, Theatre, Odeon, Agoras, Baths, many Temples or Sanctuaries, Nymphaeums, Houses and Villas and at least 15 monumental tombs. 

Click to view the complete Arykanda image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.

Ancient Nemea, Greece.

Panhellenic Sanctuary of Zeus

Nemea is on the north-eastern part of the Peloponnese in the prefecture of Corinthia, southern mainland Greece. Ancient Nemea is the old stamping ground of Heracles and a precinct and sanctuary sacred and dedicated to the God of Nemean Zeus.

Situated amongst gentle rolling hills overflowing with Greece’s premier vineyards lays Ancient Nemea, famous in Greek mythology as the place where Heracles slew the ferocious Nemean Lion.

There’s no sign of Heracles these days, but the local red wine is known as the ‘blood of Heracles’ and among the sacred cypress trees at Nemea’s sanctuary of Zeus, the timeless 4th century BC Temple of Nemean Zeus currently endures as the proud witness to the legendary feats of antiquity. 

Nemea was not actually a permanently inhabited town, but one of four famous ancient Greek Panhellenic sanctuaries (Olympia, Delphi and Isthmia were the others) where festivals (Games) took place in rotation in the late summer every two years. During the classical period, all four Games were of an equal importance and the ancient Athenians awarded free meals for life to her citizens who won a crown at any of four games. 

The Nemean Games were established in 573 BC and organised every two years after the model of the Olympic Games, with the emphasis on Athletic contests.

According to the oldest myth, the establishment of the Nemean games is attributed to the death of the prince Opheltes, the infant son of Nemean Priest King Lykourgos and Eurydike.

When Opheltes was born, the King consulted the Pythian oracle of Delphi on how to ensure the well-being of his new son. The Pythian oracle responded the baby must not touch the ground until he could walk. The nursemaid, entrusted by the king to look after his son, was walking through a meadow with the Royal baby when she was approached by the “Seven champions marching against Thebes” asking her for something to quench their thirst. 

The nursemaid placed the infant down momentarily on a bed of wild celery to fetch them water from a nearby stream. Tragically, a snake that lay concealed in the celery killed the baby prince. The “Seven Against Thebes” took this death as a bad omen (which it turned out to be) for their own mission and renamed the baby Archemoros “Beginner of Doom” and to appease the gods they held the funeral games, hence founding the Nemean Games.

In honour of the infant prince Opheltes, the Games Judges wore black robes of mourners and victors received a crown of wild celery. This was normal practice for the duration of the Nemean Games through the centuries.

Ancient Greek Stadium. Nemea. Peloponnese. Greece.
Nemea. Peloponnese. Greece. View of the excavated and restored ancient Greek stadium at Nemea which dates from 330 BC. Located 400 meters southeast of the Temple of Zeus amidst scenic landscape, the stadium is partly cut into the hill and the 13 lane 600 ancient feet long running track still has its original starting lines marked with stones.

By the end of the 5th century, the sanctuary of Zeus had been destroyed and the Games were transferred to Argos, a nearby powerful city of ancient Greece. The games returned to Nemea around 330 BC when the city was raised from ruins by a burst of building activity that included a new Temple and Stadium of which are to be seen today. 

Unfortunately, the new prosperity was short-lived when the games were once again transferred to Argos with the sad fact they were never returned to Nemea. Over the following centuries, the sanctuary was abandoned and the temple columns were knocked down and used for other building projects.

Fortunately for us, the temple has been restored in parts and so has the stadium, thanks to the dedicated efforts of many including the University of California at Berkeley operating under the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and with the permission and supervision of the Archaeological Service of the Ministry of Culture of the Hellenic Republic. The Director of those excavations was Professor Stephen G. Miller.

The Nemean games resumed in 1996 thanks to the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, a movement intended to resurrect the competitive and egalitarian spirit of ancient Greek athletics. They have been held every 4 years since and are open to anyone who wishes to take part.

I have been to Ancient Nemea several times and I have always found it a highly rewarding site to visit. It has a splendid museum and the Temple of Nemean Zeus and the Stadium are outstanding examples of their time.

Click to view the complete Ancient Nemea image gallery.

All Images, Text and Content are Copyright Steven Sklifas.

Recommended websites:

https://nemeangames.org/

https://www.opheltes.gr/

https://nemeacenter.berkeley.edu/about-ancient-nemea/