Monday, 12 January 2015

Into the Peloponnese - Corinth

Having been woken at some ungodly hour, we were on the bus and heading out of Athens at an hour I'm usually just contemplating getting up, so it felt like a less than perfect start to the day. However as it was supposed to be a day packed full of Ancient monuments, I didn't mind. Having followed the coast south-east the precious afternoon to get to Cape Sounio, we now headed north-west along the coast in the direction of Corinth. First stop was the Corinth Canal, a a thin deep cut through the isthmus connecting the Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf and saving cargo ships the hassle and expense of circling the Peloponnese in order to reach Athens.

While I'd been told 'blink and you'll miss it' I was still amazed at the dimensions of the thing. It was built between 1881 and 1893 and cut down through the 87 metres of rock (8 of which was under sea level).

At sea level, the width was only 21m, barely enough for an old cargo ship and definitely not enough for a modern one while the length was given at 6.343 km considerable more than it looks; this may have been because we could see the deep aqua blue sea on both sides and so tantalisingly close.

Having stopped, taken our pictures and then crossed the canal, we headed on to Ancient Corinth, a pile of ruins in the shade of a huge rock featuring the fortified castle of an even older Corinth on its summit. While a part of the Temple of Apollo still stands, restored and righted by the Roman (if replaced on slightly the wrong angle) much of the remainder of the town was in typically bad shape.

I find the sad thing with quite a few of the Greek ruins I've visited now is that they are in such a dreadful condition that it requires a strong imagination to be able to rebuild the city and make any sense of the rubble that remains. It is to some extent understandable as these cities are over 2000 years old and the building material reused by subsequent generations to build new buildings. Also the Greek community has so many of these ruins and such a financial deficit at the moment that they simply do not have the money to spend on restoring these ruins or making their past accessible to the public.

Having wandered amongst the ruins and had the main features pointed out to us, we headed indoors into the museum when the marbles carved to resemble humans and those with inscriptions were conserved.

A number of those in the courtyard were headless, something we were told was due to a habit of using the old heads to decorate houses. Others looked more as though they'd been carefully chiseled out as though to replace them with heads of different people or heads with more up-to-date fashionable hairstyles.

Still, lots of headless statues, and one I deign to identify as Aesclepius until I have further proof.

Having appreciated Ancient Corinth and the sunshine, we jumped back on the bus for a quick lunch stop and then on to Mycenae. 

Mycenae was one of the places I grew up knowing about not only from its connection with the Trojan War, but also from an archaeological series we had a home, and as a result it was one of those places I was keep to visit. Delightfully the road we took in was such that it was hidden from view until we were near, and then it only looked like an old fortress that had been reduced to a little more than a pile of rubble. Having seen aerial views of the town I knew what it contained (not that I was the only one).

Our first stop was the Tomb of Agamemnon, otherwise known as the Treasury of Atreus. This is a huge beehive tomb with the appearance of being buried into the hill. It is impressive, easily the most impressive tomb in the area and probably was the tomb of a great king of the royal family of Mycenae.

However I find I become extremely sceptical when even the tour guide says in all seriousness that it is believed that this is the tomb of Agamemnon. Okay, yes this particular guy is the king most associated with Mycenae, but I have yet to hear any proof that firstly,he actually existed, and secondly, that they have found scientific evidence linking him to this tomb as opposed to any of the other royal tombs in the area. This is particularly the case given there there is no contemporary writing within the beehive and it was completely looted in bygone years.

Next stop was the Museum. What intrigued me most here were actually the links between this civilisation and that of the Minoans. Linear B, the script of the Minoans was references, and the frescoes on the wall had a decidedly Minoans appearance to them. this was undoubtedly aided by the flared skirts and corseted waists of the females depicted, fashions that differ greatly from the soft draped garments associated with classical Greece but are reminiscent of the Snake goddess figurine found on Crete.

The gold mask of Agamemnon (only named as such), found by Heinrich Schliemann  in one of the old tombs here is not here, being held instead in he National Archaeological Museum in Athens. However a copy does reside here.

Having visited the museum we headed out into the sunshine and climbed up to the lion's Gate, the main gate to the ancient city of Mycenae

For me, Mycenae is a strange city as I  have mostly seen aerial shots of it. So to see it at ground level was almost disconcerting as things no longer looked as I expected. The buildings were less distinguishable and the royal grave circle suddenly had depth which nothing had prepared me for.

What was also spectacular here was the view.

Next stop, Epidauros. A quick aside, Epidauros did once have an Asclepion (hospital) here, however while we saw remains of this complex within the museum we didn't have time to wander amongst its ruins.

What Epidauros is renown for having is the most well preserved ancient amphitheatre. Not the biggest, just the best preserved one. This one only holds 15,000 people and I must say, has the most amazing acoustics.

Standing at the top of the audience (in the heavens) we could clearly hear the faint jingling of our tour guide's keys in the orchestra pit, and then standing in the very centre of this pit and orating, you could feel your voice reverberate out from you and fill the entire area. It was amazing! And yes, I did stand in the middle of the amphitheatre and start reciting. It was the best way to test the acoustics. Besides, some one in the group had voiced an expectation for Shakespeare and i knew a suitable piece. A fellow tour person standing next to me said that even without saying a thing she too could feel the power and carrying quality of my voice (and it wasn't just my voice, which I know can carry.)

It seems this theatre is still used to this day, something which would be wonderful to experience. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity as we were soon back on the bus for the hotel. 

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