Cape Zagora on the island of Andros, Cyclades
 


Phaidon's Christmas gift guide: not for boring old arts

The Sites of Ancient Greece revels in the magical realism at the heart of Greek architecture - in pictures and words

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According to Greek myth, in 414 BC, the birds took over the world, setting up shop midway between Heaven and earth, cutting off the mortals on the ground from the Gods who were thought to reside on the mist-enshrouded heights of Mount Olympus. George Gerster, who understands and rejoices in the “magical realism” that was at the heart of Greek architecture, takes a similarly aerial view of Greece, its landscapes, islands, cities and buildings in his photography as featured here. In so doing, he sets in context the ancient ruins of Athens and the modern metropolises in which they presently dwell, as well as ruminating on the distant grandeur of Mount Olympus. The accompanying text reveals the stories behind the outlines of the old settlements below, some of whose traces remain almost a thousand years since they were abandoned. Here is Corinth, whose philosopher Diogenes lived in a clay jar as a reproach to the luxurious hedonism of fellow citizens; there is Ioulida, capital of Kea, Cyclades, where citizens over the age of 60 were encouraged, and in times of war obliged, to drink hemlock so as to preserve food supplies for the young defenders of the city. Paul Cartledge's illustrated timeline, meanwhile, provides an excellent and concise summary of ancient Greek history. Buy it now.


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