”Leonidas, the legendary King of Sparta”

Leonidas (540-480 BC), the legendary king of Sparta, and the Battle of Thermopylae is one of the most brilliant events of the ancient Greek history, a great act of courage and self-sacrifice. This man and the battle itself has inspired since then many artists, poets and film-makers that hymn the spirit of him and his Spartans.

Little is known about the life of Leonidas before the Battle of Thermopylae. Historians believe that he was born around 540 BC and the he was son of King Anaxandrias II of Sparta, a descendant of Hercules, according to the myth. Leonidas was married to Gorgo and had a son. He must have succeeded his half-brother to the throne at around 488 BC, till his death in 480 BC. His name meant either the son of a lion or like a lion.

In summer of 480 BC, Xerxes, the king of Persia, was attacking Greece with a big and well-equiped army. As he had already conquered northern Greece and he was coming to the south, the Greeks decided to unite and confront him in Thermopylae, a narrow passage in central Greece. Leonidas and his army, 300 soldiers, went off to Thermopylae to join the other Greek armies. The Greeks altogether were about 4,000 soldiers, while the Persian army consisted of 80,000 soldiers.

Xerxes waited for 4 days before he attacked, believing that the Greeks would surrender. When Xerxes sent his heralds to the Greeks, asking for their weapons, as a sign of submission, Leonidas said the historical phrase Come and get them!, declaring the beginning of the battle.

The first days, the Greeks were resisting, until a local man, Ephialtes, revealed to the Persians a secret passage to circle the Greeks and win the battle. Seeing that the Persian army were about to circle them, Leonidas asked the other Greeks to leave the battlefield. He proposed that he and his army would stay back to cover their escape, while the other Greeks would leave to protect the rest of Greece from a future Persian invasion.

Therefore, Leonidas with his 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians, who refused to leave, stayed back to fight the huge Persian army. They were all killed in the battlefield, in this deathtrap, protecting theie homeland and their values. After all, it was disgraceful for a Spartan to return to Sparta beaten in war. A Spartan would either return from war as a winner, or he should not return at all.

Today, a modern monument lies on the site of the battle in Thermopylae to remind of this courageous action, while the tomb of this legendary king lies in his homeland, Sparta.

[SOURCE:greeka.com]

”Brandenburg Gate”’

For more than 200 years, Brandenburg Gate has served as the national icon for an evolving German identity. In the 1730s, King Frederick William I issued orders for the Prussian capital of Berlin to be fully enclosed by a wall. Built not to defend the city, but to tax people as they traveled in and out of town, the Customs Wall was intended to reduce the power of the estates general (the clergy, wealthy merchants, and lesser nobles) by transferring their capital to the crown who spent it on a large professional army to expand the kingdom.

Fifty years later, King Frederick William II decided that the Customs Wall, while useful, was not an aesthetically pleasing way to enter the city. He wanted a much grander entrance befitting royalty but that would also serve to impress and intimidate visitors. Of the eighteen small gates originally set into the wall, only one led to the royal palace on the outskirts of Berlin and to the city of Brandenburg beyond. It was at this site that the monument known today as the Brandenburg Gate would be constructed.

Completed in 1791 by architect Carl Gotthard Langhans and sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow, Brandenburg Gate was a Neoclassical masterpiece that immediately became one of the most recognizable structure in Berlin. Its imagery combined representations of peace with classical allusions to famous victories, suggesting that Prussia’s peace rested on its successful military conquests under the leadership of its king.

In 1806, the city of Berlin was invaded by France. To celebrate his conquest, Napoleon used Brandenburg Gate for a triumphal procession before carrying the Gate’s bronze quadriga statue back to Paris as spoils of war. After eight years as a French satellite, Prussia rebelled against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. The Prussian army was able to seize the quadriga and return it to its rightful place. To mark this new victory, the goddess statue was supplemented with an Iron Cross, a military decoration first given to Prussian soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars, and the Black Eagle, the primary element of the Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Prussia. These two additions suggest that the symbolism of Brandenburg Gate had shifted slightly, focusing less on the power of the Prussian king and more on the power of the Prussian military.

This victory over France and the increased national pride that followed was exaggerated over the course of the next century, eventually becoming a devastating nationalism that led to the rise of Adolph Hitler and his Fascist government in 1933. Hung with the red flags of the Nazi party, Brandenburg Gate became a party symbol. The Athenian iconography of the relief sculptures of the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs, representing the victory of civilized men over barbaric and nonhuman creatures, would have appealed to Nazi ideals.

Berlin was bombarded in the final days of World War II and Brandenburg Gate, the city’s symbol of victory, national pride, and the Nazi party, was a frequent target. Although it was highly damaged, the Gate survived the war and became a witness to a new era of history. Because of its central location in the city, Brandenburg Gate was used to mark the boundary between Communist East Berlin and the Federal Republic of West Berlin. Walled off from both sides with concrete and barbed wire, the Gate was not accessible to the public for nearly thirty years.

However, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Brandenburg Gate was integrated back into the reunited country. To ensure its new place as a symbol of unification, West Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl, walked through Brandenburg Gate to meet East Germany’s Prime Minister, Hans Modrow on the other side. Although the Gate today represents a united Germany, its solid presence also acts as a reminder of this once divided nation.

Today the Brandenburg Gate is a key symbol of modern Berlin and visited by tourists daily. Still dominating the Pariser Platz after more than two centuries, the Gate remains the visual embodiment of German identity.

[SOURCE:cyark.org]