Sunday, 11 March 2012

These Old Stones

the rocks that form the Pelopponnese on the southern coast of Mani

Anybody who knows me understands how much I love stones. Somehow they are in my Scottish blood. I love them as round even pebbles on river beds, as large boulders piled into dry stone walls, as edging for flower beds but most especially as crumbling buildings of bygone days.
abandoned village house in Karyes

Here in the Pelopponese there is no shortage of stones in the landscape and they are still the favourite building material of houses in local villages. So many of the houses are abandoned as is the one to the right which is directly behind our house and which makes me want to be the Peter Mayle of southern Greece. What fun it would be to take these old stones and make them into a glorious home: all old on the outside and modern on the inside.

In Greece there are some very old stone piles, also known as archaeological sites, and we have visited a number of them over the course of the past few months.

The theatre of Epidavros from the top
Minas and a fan share the stage in Epidavros

Epidavrous, a sanctuary dedicated to Askepius, the God of healing,  lies in a remote part of Attica on a low-lying hill. in the midst of pine forests. The walk through the site is most pleasant with ruins of the various buildings and baths used for healing the sick.but the main attraction is the Greek amphitheatre, which is used each summer for performances and which has marvellous acoustics. From where Minas was standing (with his feline friend) and from where I was taking the picture on the right, I could hear his whispers to me -- so romantic!

a temple in Ancient Olympia
In the province of Ilia, in the north-western part of the Peleponnese, you find Ancient Olympia, dating from 776 BC, and the site of the most important festival of the ancient world. And it continued, uninterrupted for over 1000 years. Back then it was a religious festival of music and drama and, of course, the races! Even now, the Olympic flame is lit first here, every four years and taken to whatever city is hosting the modern Olympic Games. It is also, where in recent months, there was a theft of artifacts from the museum. We haven't heard whether that matter was resolved or not.  The site itself is largely flat and has many standing columns, temples and avenues as well as the stadium for the physical races.

Minas walks between the columns of Ancient Olympi
But my favourite ancient pile of stones is Mycenae, about halfway between Olympia and Epidavros but on the same parallel, more or less. 

Mycenae from the top

Mycenae is the fortress town of Agamemnon, whose entire family: Helen and Paris and Menelaus and Clytemnestra, was celebrated in the writings of Homer, Aeschylus, Euripedes and Sophocles. Although the site has been occupied by humans since neolithic times and artifacts in the museum date from 3500 BC, it came into its own in the Hellenic period and most of the ruins date from 1350 BC.

When you visit, you feel the myth and the magic as well as being staggered by the physical site.

the entrance to Mycenae

stones of various sizes form the outside wall at Mycenae
 The size of the rocks that form the dry stone wall are enormous; they are known as Cyclopean walls, and you wonder how they got them into place to form a wall encircling the city that was thirty feet high. The main entrance gate, The Lion Gate, has a lintel that weighs 20 tons on which rests two lions ( now headless) holding an abacus. And the houses were regularly two stories in height, all without mortar.

the underground water supply of Mycenae

One of the most remarkable attributes of this ancient place was their water supply which came from a spring inside the walls and then was taken by an underground aqueduct system to various parts of the town. The picture on the left shows an underground passage formed of huge boulders, without a cement adhesive, leading down under the city.. This was as far as I got without a light source.

the rear entrance of Mycenae

 Even the back entrance to the city has huge stones as jams and a massive lintel and they are still there nearly 4000 years later.

 Mycenae from the parking lot
And so you leave Ancient Mycenae which looks like just a pile of rubble unless you have explored its marvellous, unique and ancient features and re-call the famous stories of Agamemnon and his intricate family.

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