Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Argolid Pt. 1 (APRIL 7, 2009)

Hello again! Sorry I haven't been keeping up to date. I've been busy here, and with all the stuff we do, I just feel so exhausted. Anyhow, this post picks up where the last one left off. On Tuesday, I had to get up early to catch the bus on our three day excursion to the Argolid, the region in the northern Peloponnese surrounding Argos. I slept for most of the trip out of Athens, but I woke up right as we were driving over the Corinth Canal, which is actually quite an impressive sight to see. The canal, interestingly enough begun personally by Roman Emperor Nero shortly before his death, is 6 kilometers long and cuts through the narrow Isthmus connecting Mainland Greece with the Peloponnese, essentially rendering the latter an island. The sheer cliffs that compose the side walls of the canal are simply amazing. I saw in Michael Palin's Around the World in 80 Days how they get ships through the canal: three men board each ship, a pilot and two men who watch over the sides, and through communications between the three men they are able to guide ships unscathed through the canal. It was actually pretty cool. After our snack break at the canal, we boarded the bus and continued on to nearby Isthmia, a site that had been excavated by Oscar Broneer of the University of Chicago. Because of our connections, we received an exclusive tour run by the site architect (the member of the excavation team who essentially pieces everything together and draws out plans and elevations among other things). We were allowed into the new museum, not yet open to the public, where we were treated to artifacts associated with the cult of Poseidon (including remains of the cult statue of Poseidon's wife, Amphitrite, still in bubble wrap), the Isthmian games (including an iron discus and part of a chariot wheel), and the sunken harbor of Cenchreai (including decorative glass panels). Outside the museum we walked around the site, even going beyond the ropes into the foundations of the Temple of Poseidon (which was awesome). Our guide showed us a reconstruction of the ancient wall surrounding the sanctuary as well as the old altar and running track, where he explained how footraces worked in ancient Greece, with the starting line where the runners were tethered until the race started (and how the starting line had to be rebuilt because it was so easy to cheat using the old one by simply stepping on your opponent's string). Next to the starting line was the Roman shrine to Palaimon. Palaimon was the son of a Boeotian prince and Ino, the rearer of Dionysus. When his father was driven mad by Hera, he cast ino and Palaimon into the sea. Palaimon's body was taken by a dolphin and deposited beneath a pine tree on the Isthmus of Corinth, where he was discovered by his uncle Sisyphus and brought to Corinth. At the command of the Nereids, Sisyphus established the Isthmian Games in Palaimon's honor. The shrine to Palaimon, the third or fourth of its kind, was supposed to have been constructed above Palaimon's grave (it's actually above a sewer pipe). Here sacrifices were made to Palaimon for good fortune during the games. As we were running out of time, our guide led us to a cavern/dining room and allowed us a distant glimpse of the Roman Baths before we were herded back to the bus for our next destination: Nemea. Nemea is well known for its role in one of the twelve labors of Heracles, the slaying of the Nemean Lion (a fact acknowledged accidentally by Sarah when she insisted she was Heracles and her fleece jacket the skin of the Lion). Our first stop at Nemea was the Archaeological Museum, housing the finds from the excavations conducted by UC-Berkeley. There we were treated to very nice models reproducing the Sanctuary of Zeus as well as the nearby stadium, site of the Nemean Games. After a gander at the miniatures (and Helma mistaking graves for sheep) we set off for the real thing. We walked along the path past fields of grapevines first arriving at the Roman Baths, which had a recognizable frigidarium and caldarium. After basking in the fallen glory of Roman luxury, as well as strange fascination with an octagonal trash can, we moved on to a strange circle of pavement which we really couldn't figure out the purpose for, but decided it was certainly something having to do with religion, and moved on, passing by the ruins of a Roman monastery. We then arrived at the Temple of Zeus, which was clad for the most part in scaffolding. The reason for this was that Berkeley was re-erecting several of the fallen columns, which is at one level good, because they're recreating the experience for future generations, but on another level it removes the romanticism of the site, with its former silhouette of three columns against a sunset with other columns fallen upon the ground looking remarkably like round dominoes. Beyond the temple, we saw the Great Altar of Zeus, where competitors in the Games would sacrifice and proceed to the Stadium on foot, but we decided to take the bus, because we had a few buildings and fences in our way. When we got to the Stadium site, we first passed through the apodytrion, or changing room, then through a tunnel into the stadium itself, which is practically perfectly preserved. Our group gathered at one end, but I clambered to the top of the hill the stadium was built into to get a better view and to see the footrace about to ensue. After that, we reboarded the bus and headed to Mycenae, the location of the citadel of Agamemnon (and his tomb, according to Schleimann). After a brisk trip through the museum, we entered through the Lion Gate, something I've been waiting to see for a long time, and proceeded past the "grave circle of Agamemnon" where Schleimann gazed into the face of Agamemnon to the Megaron and the cistern, which was at least 50 if not 100 steps below ground, cut into solid stone. It was amazing. After those escapades, we went to the tholos tombs nearby, named arbitrarily by Schleimann the tombs of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra and the Treasury of Atreus, which were pretty impressive (especially once we realized the Treasury of Atreus was a whisper dome). After the tholoi we boarded the bus headed for Nafplio, where we stayed in a hotel for the next two nights. That night we went on a hunt for an amazing gelateria which eluded us but was eventually found by accident. Afterwards, we had a very nice dinner as a group at this nice tavern which seated all 26 of us outside in the alley, but it was so cool and the food was delicious. We of course had a repeat run at the gelateria, this time knowing precisely where it was, and later I fell asleep satisfied and awaiting my next day with more ruin-hopping. Well, reader, in the interest of preserving your interest, I'm going to start the next day in a new post. So, until next time…

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