14 April 2017

Ancient Corinth: Rich & Rich in History

I wanted to see Ancient Corinth (you know, where Paul told the Jews to “tear down this wall!”) and Acrocorinth, so I decided to stay a night in Corinth.

((Do you want to view these photos as a gallery? Simply click any photo and then scroll through the rest in a new frame.))

Modern Corinth is on the gulf and is basically a shipping city. There’s a pedestrian part that’s nice enough, but it’s not a tourist destination the way Nafplio is. I walked around town a bit, but decided to stay in for the evening. I did have a cat come through my window and hang out with me:


 The next morning, I woke up early and had breakfast before heading to Acrocorinth. The ride up was *harrowing* and another typical no-guardrail situation that left me with knuckles whitened. I could not even imagine a bus taking on those hairpin turns, and was SHOCKED to see buses in the parking lot later.

I arrived when the site opened, and had the place more or less to myself for a couple hours. Acrocorinth is basically a huge hill (mountain? I don’t know – I was still harrowed!) overlooking Ancient Corinth and the gulf. It was fortified throughout history and basically maintained as a whole hillside village. There aren’t many actual ruins (see hilltop wind, rain, etc. like on Mycenae), but it’s got some cool vistas and things on the hill to see. The whole thing is 60 acres, according to my handy dandy guidebook.

That's the parking lot down there and yes, buses have arrived!

Ancient Corinth from above.

The first climbing point is the Frankish Fort. This was locked when I got there, but it’s a boxy sort of castle on east side of the hill. More no-guardrail situations, but most of this side of the fort had what’s called a Cyclopean Wall (with stones so big they were moved by Cyclops, of course…). It took about thirty minutes for me to climb up there, and at points, we’re talking full-on hike.

Look, Maja, no guardrails!
Vista from Frankish Fort
After that, I went to find the Temple of Aphrodite at the very top of the hill, but on the other side. This was by far the best view, but there was very little of anything left to see in terms of ruins. You can, however, see 37 miles in all directions.

Lastly, I went to the Peirene Spring, which is how the fortification withstood siege. You can actually walk down into the first vaulted chamber (the lower one is flooded), and it’s so amazing that this architecture existed so long ago.

 Also, on my way down, I saw this view. It really reminded me of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones: 

Ancient Corinth

After finishing up at Acrocorinth, I wanted to head back down the hill. A bus had blocked me in, so I had to do some semi-masterful maneuvering and some off-roading with my little Toyota Argo. I feel like this is the day that made me FINALLY feel decent about my driving skills in a stick shift.

I drove back down the hill/mountain and it was far less harrowing on the inside of the road. Ancient Corinth was a bit confusing and my GPS gave up, but I eventually found some parking and went on foot to the site. Once again, it’s an archeological site and a small museum. I started with the site.

That hill/mountain in the background is Acrocorinth.

Ancient Corinth is in pretty good shape and has good interpretation (signage, etc.), possibly owing to the number of people who come here to follow in Paul’s footsteps. The whole site is *vast* and you really get a sense of how magnificent the city was at its peak. At one point, it had a population of 750,000, and it really shows. You can get a feel for the business district and the residential areas, and it’s clear that they had a good water system and high-rise apartments. The city was made wealthy by its control of the isthmus between the gulfs (which later was made into a canal), and the wealth is obvious, even in ruins.

This is where you begin to feel how densely populated the city was.

This was a fountain, and it's massive. You can definitely imagine that this was the "place to be" socially.

This was a row of shops on the main street.

And when I got to the bema, where Paul was put on trial and accused of sacrilege, it was a cool experience. I am not religious, but I have read the Bible a few times, and as I stood there, a group of young men read the passage from Acts out loud that describes Paul standing in that very spot.

…and like… that’s a cool thing. It is a cool thing to be able to imagine someone (anyone, really) from history standing in the very place you’re standing. When that someone stood there ~two thousand years ago, it makes it even cooler. History is cool. Pretty much the whole time I was in Corinth, I was trying to figure out why I didn’t like History more when I was younger.

Lastly, I had a great lunch at Marino’s, and strongly recommend it.
I told her I wanted to try a bunch of stuff, so she brought me fried eggplant, stuffed tomatoes, different sauces and cheeses, tzatziki, and house wine.
That evening, I walked from Corinth to the canal. It wasn’t as impressive as I’d hoped and it was a super long walk (I hit 27k steps this day, for the record!), but you know… I did the thing.

Check out the rest of the trip: Nafplio - Epidaurus - Mycenae - Nemea

Nemea: Athletes & Architectural Restoration

I had not planned on going to Nemea, but after having seen how compact the sites of Epidaurus and Mycenae were, I figured I’d have enough time to do one more site before heading to Corinth. I picked Nemea kind of at random, since my guidebook had very little about it.

…and holy cow.

((Hint: Want to view these photos as a gallery? Simply select any photo and then you can scroll through the rest.))

So, you’re driving through this rural valley, and all of a sudden, you see the Temple of Zeus in the distance. The columns emerge white against a blue sky and red hills, and it’s just so lovely.

And the story gets better.

So, the site at Nemea is basically seven columns from the temple, and the other fallen columns.

As you go through the site, you begin to understand that there are three original columns that have stood the test of time and three reconstructed columns. Part of the site explains how they’ve done the reconstruction piece-by-piece and what their future plans are. This really tickled a nerd nerve for me, because I’ve long joked about a second career in statue/architectural reconstruction. ((I will disclose, however, that after having seen the whole process laid out at Nemea, it appears to be too much math for me after all.)) It was so fascinating to see how they tried to match ancient recipes for sculpting materials and how they used cranes and other things to put the fallen column pieces back together.

You can imagine/hope that one day, they'll put these fallen pieces back together.

The museum is also amazing. Since the three columns have remained standing since their construction, the Temple was never “lost” like other ruins. In fact, this temple has been visited throughout history by famous artists and poets, particularly the Romantics. I can’t find anything to confirm this on the internet and I didn’t take a picture of this in the exhibit (because I thought it’d be on the internet!), but one of the plaques showed a sentence or two that Wordsworth had written about the temple, and bemoaned that the “great wordsmith” had “nothing more eloquent to say” about it. The museum also did a great job of showing the site as it had been during different time periods.

Lastly, I went out to the stadium. I got to walk through the tunnel, which is the earliest known vaulted entrance tunnel, and imagine I was an athlete on his way to the games. Pretty awesome. ;)

After Nemea, I had THE BEST meal at a restaurant in town. They didn’t have a menu, so I told them I was a vegetarian and they brought me amazing food. Also, they introduced me to the spice Sumac, which was used in ancient times to brighten food before the Romans brought lemon trees to the empire. It’s the red stuff on the fried cheese.

Fava beans, bread, fried cheese, house wine

Fried cheese & sumac

More grilled veggies than I could eat!

A dessert I didn't ask for, but enjoyed. :)

After my late lunch, it was on to Corinth!

Mycenae: A Hill, the Wind, and Open Air

Mycenae is a fortified complex that sits atop an amazing hill. It’s easy to see why it became the seat of the empire – it has a 360-degree view and is simply imposing. The Mycenaean culture thrived from 1700-1100 BC, and this palace was home to a strong ruling class. This palace was home to the classic figures of King Atreus, Agamemnon, and Klytemnestra.

According to legend, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter for a favorable wind to sail to Troy during the Trojan War. When he returned, Klytemnestra and her lover murdered him. In turn, they were murdered by Agamemnon’s children, Orestes and Elektra.

I got to Mycenae around 10:30 and my disappointment is going to weave its way through the post, so I might as well be upfront about it. I can totally understand why Greece wants Mycenae on the map in terms of its age and awesomeness (like, literal “awe” worthiness). It’s close enough to Athens for a day trip and it’s well-stocked with restrooms, a café, and plenty of parking. However, this infusion of tourism mixed with the lack of anything to actually see at the site makes for a dull experience.

Because I had just come from Epidaurus, I couldn’t help but compare the two (naturally). Epidaurus has been protected throughout history by its remote location. It was protected from plunderers, so the ruins are in good shape. Now, it’s protected by its distance from Athens, and thus the experience itself is quite calm for the travelers who go. Mycenae is the opposite.

So, Mycenae is on a huge hill, which is awesome for historic defensive purposes but less awesome for winds and rains beating down on the ruins. There’s very little clarity to the foundations, and the site hasn’t done much to add signs, etc. explaining what you see. Add to this that there were at least four huge groups of school children and college students visiting. At this point, you could tell that they were hungry and bored and their chaperones had checked out and started letting them run across the foundations and holler however much they wanted WHILE THE TOUR GUIDES TALKED. ((This offends me as a teacher AND a former tour guide))

Cyclopean Wall: Built by Cyclops (or, you know, slaves)

The only cool thing to me was the “Secret Staircase” at the corner of the fort. There are 99 stairs (again, WHAT is the deal with this? Just make it 100!) that plunge down into total darkness to tap into a spring. This would have been the only source of water to sustain the fort during a siege. I walked down these (holy crap, was it dark!) and had all these tingly feelings about sieges and history and that unfortunate person who had to haul water up in the dark/by torchlight.

I visited the tholos tombs, and these are pretty cool. They are massive and I kept imagining the elaborate processions involved in interring a person. Pretty much fantasy and not historical accuracy since, again, there were no signs to tell me anything. I relied on my guidebook and my active imagination. ;)

After that, it was off to Nemea!