In true, sporadic Emily fashion, here is a brief account of last weekend’s happenings (in my defense, twice I tried to write but the internet would not allow it). From a leisurely walk up one of Athens’ hills to a field study to see archaeological sites that were occupied over four thousand years ago!
On a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon (sorry to rub it in, Wisconsin friends), roommate Christina and I decided to journey up Mount Lycabettus, Athens’ highest point. We wandered along the path surrounded by wild flowers and giant aloe plants, taking a break halfway up to re-hydrate, soak in the sun, and enjoy some “girl talk” before continuing. Waiting for us at the peak was the beautiful little Chapel of Saint George. Saint George is super hard core and is said to have slayed a dragon . . . maybe not. But he was a soldier under the Roman Emperor Diocletian who eventually ordered all of his Christian soldiers to be arrested resulting in Saint George’s martyrdom.
From the top you could see the Acropolis, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the sea! Sadly all my pictures are awful in which you can’t even see what anything is, so none will be found here. After our journey back down, we stopped at a cafe to enjoy some crepes. The menu had a “build your own” option followed by another section that included basically every combination possible. A indecisive person’s nightmare. Eventually (after about ten minutes of mulling it over) I decided on dark chocolate and orange. A tasty choice.
Because that wasn’t quite enough walking, the next day began bright and early with a bus ride to walk around some Mycenaean sites! But for real, this was a trip that I had been waiting for. Our class studying Aegean prehistory has been recently focusing on the rise and fall of the Mycenaean Culture. This ranges from about 1600 to 1100 BC. Just take a second to let that sink in. We got to walk on the ground and touch the walls that people constructed thousands of years ago. crazy.
Our first stop was Mycenae. This is the largest of the Mycenaean palaces and is the home of mythical King Agamemnon who lead the charge against the Trojans. It was was at it’s height around 1400 BC and has some pretty impressive construction including it’s massive fortification walls said to be built by the cyclopes (also a myth), thus receiving the name “Cyclopean Walls”. These walls were anywhere from 4.6 – 6.7 meters wide! They were pretty defensive people. I could tell you about the grave circles, throne room, and tholos tombs, but let’s just jump to the highlight: The Lion Gate.
The Lion Gate is another one of those things that you see in all Classics textbooks and an obvious point on the sight-seeing checklist. Since the walls were so heavy, making doorways proved a challenge so the technology of a “relieving triangle” was invented to displace the weight from the typical post and lintel construction. This specific triangle includes a relief of two female lions with a column implying some sort of cult practice (but that would go too far to explain). As you can see, the heads are missing. This is most probably because they were constructed out of another material (most likely precious) that was taken in one of the numerous lootings over time. Still just as majestic as ever.
We wandered the site everywhere we were allowed (and maybe where we we might not have been as we were lead under ropes by our professor as she says “Now that they aren’t watching . . .”) and enjoyed the view of the Argive Plain. We even explored the secret cistern which definitely should be blocked off as you walk in complete darkness down the limestone stairs to find a pit of mud. Still worth it.
Next stop, Tiryns. Constructed a bit earlier than Mycenae, Tiryns follows the typical Mycenaean Palace layout including storage rooms (this time inside the walls), throne room, residential areas, workshops, etc. Way back when this palace would have been located right on the edge of the sea but since the sea has receded.
And now the last and smallest stop, Lerna. Lerna was occupied not only during the Mycenaean era, but also has evidence of habitation from the Neolithic times stretching overall from roughly the 5th millennium BC to 1600 BC! That makes it a pretty important archaeological site. Here we find the House of Tiles which is well known in the Archaeological sphere even though we don’t have a whole lot of conclusions about it. It was a public building, maybe for merchants to sell, or possibly a sacred place? There were also two graves found. You can see why there was confusion in deciphering the purpose.
This site was surrounded by orange trees which we were invited by our professor to sample on our way out while being instructed “Guys . . . try and be more discrete”. Who knew Demetra was such a rebel?!
We then dined at nearby Nafplio, our old friend from the first weekend here, before heading back home to Athens. Quite the extensive weekend of city and site exploration, but well worth the lack of sleep and tired feet.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust