Friday, 13 July 2012

Lost Cities of Greece
Part II: Heraion of Perachora

Lower Sanctuary

Upper Sanctuary/City
 My friend Mike was hanging around the office when he heard me asking someone about road trips. I had some time to take one but didn’t know exactly where I wanted to go. When the conversation was over Mike, who was reading a magazine, dropped it on his lap and said, “I could take you to a pretty cool place a few miles from Corinth. I discovered it last week while I was hitchhiking.”
At this point I gave Mike a funny look. What with all the scarey movies coming out about hitchhiking and stuff I did'nt think people did it anymore. “Hitchhiking,” I exclaimed, “Why on earth were you hitchhiking?”
Mike’s response was innocent and simple: “Eh, I heard some people in my theater troop talking about it.”
Upon further inquiry, Mike had explained that he had stumbled upon an ancient city that was crumbling into a crystal clear sea, and as if this wasn’t enough there were also cliff-diving opportunities. For me it sounded perfect. 

Although he couldn’t recall the name of the place he visited he still remembered how to get there.
Later that night my curiosity got the best of me and I spent a few hours online trying to figure out what “ancient, underwater city” he was going to take me to. In my research there seemed to be a good number of these “underwater cities” in Greece and elsewhere; most of these places were either flooded, brought down by earthquakes or consumed by tsunamis or rising water levels. Eventually I had deduced that the city, or place, that Mike was referring to was a place known as Helike. Helike was close to Corinth as Mike had said, and according to archeological record it was a city that was totally and completely swallowed up by the sea around 373 BCE. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of this city the earthquake/tsunami had taken all with it in one night. Historical accounts say that when men arrived at the scene to rescue survivors they could only see tree tops above the surface of the water. There were no survivors to be found. Quite a spooky story don’t you think?
In the end it wasn’t Helike but rather a place called Heraion Akraia, or Heraion of Perachora, some 45 miles from Athens at the end of Loutraki in a place called Perachora (or rather the end of its peninsula). Armed with a full tank of gas, little knowledge, sun cream and some snorkeling gear we set off for Heraion Akraia.
The day was turning out to be a nice one for swimming and exploring. The roads were free and clear and getting to Loutraki was easy enough. It was only after Loutraki that I had no idea where Mike was taking me. We ended up on a small country road that went alongside a mountain then down into a valley. As we were driving I asked Mike how in the world did he get here hitchhiking, and how long did it take him to get here. What took us about one and a half hours with a coffee break at a local bakery took him about 4 hours. He casually explained his adventure of riding with farmers, a bread delivery guy who was probably delivering more than bread and a couple of guys with tattoos and gold teeth speaking some weird dialect of Russian to him (Mike spent a number of years in Russia doing theater work). Not really my cup of tea, but seeing how remote and difficult it was to get out here I suppose you had to take what you could get, which sounded like 9 out of 10 times was going to be some strange character.
The first site we came to were the remains of an ancient fountain. Judging from its look I wouldn’t say that it was a nymphaeum (νυμφαιον). A little later, and a little further reading, revealed that this fountain and “fountain house” were probably the main water source for Heraion of Perachora. Because there was so little left of this fountain house it was a bit difficult to imagine what this hexastyletemple/structure would have looked like. 

We can just make out 4 of the 6 columns for this hexastyle "water-house".

I could only make guesses as to what this was.
Getting back in the car we took a short drive around a lake called “Lake Vouliagmeni of Perachora”. Around this lake there have been discoveries of prehistoric settlements and an EarlyHelladic II tomb. Unfortunately we never saw any signs or traces of this along the way. But driving around the lake was nice. The water was calm and there were a few fish taverns (Ψαρι Ταβέρνα) I kept in my mind for later. 
The Lake. Taken from one of the fish taverns that placed its umbrellas, tables & chairs at the waters edge.
No more than 10 minutes from the lake the road dead ended into a sort of parking lot where atop a mountain overlooking the sea (Cape Heraion) was a lighthouse.  Although I never went all the way up to the lighthouse to investigate further I did see a bus group go up there for photographs. But it was the ancient city we were after, so down a simple foot path we went. 
The lighthouse as seen from the side of the Cape.
When first walking down the path you can look down from on high and see the crumbling remains of what use to be a city, and from the city, at the far end, is what looked to be an ancient pier of the sorts jetting and crumbling into a deep blue sea. At this point I knew exactly where I would sunbath and where I would swim from.
Lower Sanctuary...note ancient pier/best place to chill out!

Walking down the steep and narrow path there were excellent views of the "upper-city". Looking down on this part of the site it appeared to be quite large in terms of area.
View of the "upper-city" from the foot path leading down.

Cistern in foreground, Dinning Hall in background.
As the foot path twisted here and there we came to the upper-city where stood the remains of a dining hall, a temple (?) dedicated to Hera Limanaia, ancient walls (of course) and a huge double-apsidal cistern (the highlight in my opinion).  Since there were no guards around to ask, and no information about the site, we kind of had to make educated guesses as to what this place was all about. I was hoping I could remember it later in order to do further research. One thing that was quite interesting was the network of water channels that ran from here to there. This in my opinion would have been the vein of the city, the life line, as everything around us looked dry and/or stunted from lack of rainfall.
Steps leading down into the double-apsidal cistern.

Person for proportion.

Massive walls moved from some great force of nature?

All that's left of the Temple of Hera

A perfect place for a picnic!

Crazy Mike just had to do it! Enjoying a Cheese Pie (Τυροπιτα)
After exploring the “upper-city” we made our way down to the sea where the L-Shaped stoa was and the remains of that “ancient pier”. Before we made our way down we stopped by a small church that was overlooking the site (lower-city) which was acting as a meeting place, guard shack and information center. In reality it was just a church where 3-4 locals would gather to have coffee and a nice view. The only purpose it served for the site was that someone had nailed some maps of the site on the side of the church (see above).
When we first entered the lower-city/sanctuary we came across the L-Shaped Stoa which was dotted with crumbled columns. Passing through on the other side of the stoa were the remains of a triglyph and metope altar I had supposed was dedicated to Hera of course. At the far end was a temple dedicated to Hera herself.  Not only is this temple very unusable in design (its cella being divided into 3 aisles) it is also the mythical, or not so mythical, place where Medea’s children were buried (according to Strabo). Just over the hill behind the ruins of the temple is a nice view of the lighthouse and a solitary rock projecting out of the crystal clear sea. It’s also near a point where you can cliff dive, as Mike was obliged to show me.
Closer view of the L-Shaped Stoa

Remains of the 3 aisles temple dedicated to Hera in the background.

Note the Metope & Triglyph Altar of Hera between the two columns!

Remaining walls of the Stoa

On the other side of the temple are some cliff diving spots and a nice side view of the lighthouse.
Down on the “ancient pier” it was a day of sunbathing and swimming. Opposite the "ancient pier" are some rocks that you can jump from. At first it doesn't look so far up, but once you're at the top it can be a bit intimidating to take that leap. I'm not very adventurous but after seeing Mike do it and a few others I made the jump.

Our time had ended at this wonderfully, beautiful and amazing site and it was time to return before the sunset. On our way back we stopped by the lake at a fish tavern and had some deliciously fresh mezedes at the waters edge; it was the perfect way to end this extremely wonderful road trip and a great way to pick Mike's brain about other obscure/forgotten places in Greece one should visit.

Getting There:

Car: The best way to get to Heraion of Perachora is to drive your own car. Being that it’s not far from the Center of Athens about 50 miles; if you were to leave early in the morning you would find plenty of time to see the site and to enjoy some swimming. You could always get a quote on rental cars from our website. Gas may set you back 30-50 Euros, but no more (current price per-liter is 1,75 Euros). Here's a map.

Bus: If you wanted to take public transportation, which I really don’t recommend nor do I think is possible simply bear in mind that buses during Greece’s Economic Crisis are a bit unpredictable, as some buses and/or times have been cut. For the bus you will take the KTEL bus from Athens to Loutraki (bus departs from Terminal A at 100 kifissou Street Tel. +302105237889 or +302105150287  Fare. 8,50 Euros Departs: 8:30, 10:30, 14:40, 16:40, 18:10, 19:40, 20:50 Returns: 6:00 (exc. Sun), 7:30, 9:30 (exc. Sun.), 10:30 (Sun.only), 12:30, 14:30, 17:30, 19:30, 21:30  get off at Loutraki and take a taxi to the site which is about 8 miles and could set you back 10-15 euros if the taxi doesn't wait on you (keep in mind that you probably won't have a chance to hail down a taxi from the site so make some sort of arrangement with the driver before he leaves otherwise you're camping).

Taxi: From Athens to the site and back may cost around 200 euros.

Archeological Site Information:

Tel. N/A
Tickets: N/A or FWA (Free to Wonder Around)
Hours of Operation: N/A (Not gated so I assume open all year round)

More detailed information concerning the site and its structures can be found here.


  1. Hi,
    Really amazing blog post.I saw and read your site, this is a nice blog and really like this site. Please keep sharing more and more information......

    Athens Tours

  2. Hey its Chris Brown from Italy, Nice post, nice photos,