Sunday, 10 June 2012

The Lost Cities of Greece

So, it’s been awhile since our last blog. What can I say? Peak season in Greece hasn’t given any of us much time to think, let alone write blogs. On the personal side of things my wife and I (mainly my wife) have been making the final arrangements for our son’s baptism which is turning out to be something like a wedding. In Greece they don’t play around with baptisms or weddings, but definitely not baptisms. 

Because the baptism will take place on the Greek Island of Lemnos I have been left in Athens to fend for myself. So far it’s not been so bad. The only problem I seem to be encountering is that since I don’t have a lot of time to do simple domestic things, like cooking, I find myself eating out a lot, which wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t souvlaki and pizza all the time. I suppose I’ll have to try and make better eating choices until things get back to normal.

During this time of momentary separation I’ve found a little extra time to whittle away at my leisure. My problem with this is that I have absolutely no idea what to do with this “free time”. This all changed when a good friend of mine started giving me suggestions of places close to Athens to visit; places I have never heard of before. The funny thing about his suggestions was that he had never been to most of the places he was suggesting to me! By accident or whatever he had heard about a particular place from someone else, who in turn had never been either but had heard about it from someone else (I hope you see where I’m getting at). “But the sites have to have two things,” I said, “1) These places must have some sort of Archeological Site 2) A beach near-by would be nice.” So here we are with a new series of blogs entitled, “Lost Cities of Greece”.

OK, OK, they’re not actually lost cities anymore, but they are places that I would venture to say are rarely visited and virtually unheard of. As with all the blogs I’m writing I will include links for further reading, so just point-and-click. I’ll also do my very best to provide you with as much information as I possibly can on how to get to these magnificent places. However, due to the obscurity and utter remoteness of these sites you probably won’t have any other option but to take a taxi (expensive) or to rent a car for a day (30-40 euros). 

I hope you'll enjoy this first blog in the series, and hope you’re having a GREAT summer wherever you may be!

Part I: Rhamnous and the Temple of Nemesis

The Temple....

And the story.....

 I was explaining to a friend of mine that I was in the mood for a day trip and one of his suggestions was a place called Rhamnous. I had never heard of Rhamnous before so I was intrigued when he explained that it was some obscure archeological site near to the sea, or at least he thought this was the case. 

With a little research it appeared that Rhamnous was a 6th cen. Acropolis Site which harbored a temple dedicated to the goddess of revenge/vengeance, Nemesis. Further reading revealed that the temple, mysteriously, was never completed and that it was one of the only known temples to be dedicated to this winged goddess. After reading all these little snippets of information, and concluding that there could possibly be a nice beach near-by, I quickly turned to the maps to plot out my course. 

It took a few good hours to try and figure out where Rhamnous was exactly. There were one or two little things written about the place, but none of them revealed the actual location. From what little was written, or published online, I deduced it was somewhere North-East of Marathon.  At this point I would turn to Google Satellite on Google Maps, which is a very handy program.

 Months back I was able to see the location of a site in Ithaca some believe to be Odysseus’ Palace; a site not open to the public (yet) and a location unknown to many locals on the island. So, a few more hours of going through satellite images of the North of Attica and I found it. Getting to Marathon was easy, as we go there frequently to get to one of our favorite family beaches, Schinias. But going passed Schinias worried me. According to the images I would have to go through what appeared to be acres and acres of farm land on small side roads. Because of its remoteness, and no public transportation running that far out, Rhamnous was shaping up to be quite an adventure. I knew from previous visits to little known archeological sites in Greece (and elsewhere) that they usually proved to be one of two things: A) a few scattered stones requiring a huge imagination and a little knowledge or B) Simply amazing. I was hoping Rhamnous would prove the later.

The next morning I woke early, threw on some swim clothes, grabbed a coffee, gassed up the car and hit the road. It was and early Sunday morning so traffic was virtually zero. I always liked the “back road” to Marathon. What I mean by back road is taking Leof. Pentelis, then onto Leof. Dionisou which takes you over the mountain and through the wildlife refuge of Dimosio Dasos Rapentosas. I always assumed most took the highway, Attiki Odos, but the back road takes you over Mount Penteli, offers great views of the bay of Marathon (where the famous Battle of Marathon took place over 2000 years ago) and glimpses of the ancient marble quarries where marble was used to erect such monuments as the Parthenon.
Sign pointing the way to Marathon

First stretch of the mountain when taking the "back road".

Awesome views of the Bay of Marathon where that famous battle happened long ago.

Ancient Marble Quarry on Mt. Pentili in the distance
 It’s a bit of a windy road but well worth it if you’re not in a mad hurry.
As soon as I passed Schinas I followed the signs that led the way to Agia Marina, which then led me to a place called Kato Souli

Just follow the signs
 Once I got passed Marathon and Schinas the road to Rhamnous was very nice; it was one of those small country roads where you can drive for an hour without seeing another car. One thing that surprised me, maybe because I spend a majority of my time in Athens, was how fertile the countryside was. There were golden fields of straw, olive tree plantations, colonnades of Cypress trees and vineyards (the variety that grows close to the earth instead of up an arbor). 

The fertile plains of Rhamnous

Those wonderfully scenic country roads

Olive Groves

Baby wine
 In about 30 to 40 minutes I saw my first sign pointing the way to Rhamnous, which I found very relieving. I had started out the journey with the expectation that I would have to ask many local farmers along the way where Rhamnous was, something I wasn’t really looking forward to. Another few miles down the road I saw another sign, and even further still more signs pointing the way to Rhamnous. I even saw a few taverns named after the site (how original).

First sign of Rhamnous

Tavern Revenge?
  After a few more minutes the road deadened into the archeological site of Rhamnous.  Of course finding a space to park under a shady tree was easy enough as I appeared to be the only one visiting today. In fact, I was probably the only one in at least 6 months to have visited the site. When I got out of the car a wave of heat hit me with a strange force. A dog sleeping in the shade near-by perked up but then went back to his afternoon nap. The wavering drone of cicadas permeated the air. “This is going to be interesting,” I mumbled to myself. 
Equipped with a map and little bits of information about the site I approached the gate and entered.
At the entrance there was a long gravel path with landscape lights, and after a short walk I came across my first set of ruins; the Temple of Nemesis (5th BCE?) and an older Archaic Temple dedicated to Themis (?)  Titan Goddess of Devine Order (6th BCE?).  The older temple was interesting because of its polygonalwalls which reminded me of the famous one at the Sanctuary of Delphi. As I examined these two fine temples I enjoyed trying to read the various graffiti inscribed on the temple floor (stylobate) and steps (stereobate). One interesting thing about the graffiti was all the various types of feet that were carved into the marble, something I’ve seen before on the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sunion. I still wonder what these feet mean, if they mean anything at all. I do recall seeing one of these footprint carvings at the amazing site of Ephesus which was used in ancient times to show men the way to the brothel, something I seriously doubt was the case with the Temple of Nemesis. 

Unfinished fluting at the Temple of Nemesis

Polygonal Walls

"New Temple" and "Older Temple" in the background.

Strange footprints everywhere

I bet this person was a good dancer.
 After examining the unfinished columns of the Temple of Nemesis I had a nice seat in the shade on some stones near the temple. The cicadas were buzzing away and a nice breeze was blowing. In the strange silence I tried to imagine what it all must have been like, this temple dedicated to a goddess of Revenge. 
Plenty of shade to contemplate.
 Making my way farther up I came to a very narrow path and followed it down. This path was very rocky and revealed hints of marble fragments from various structures that may have been there a long time ago.  Every so many meters there were various retaining walls constructed of different types of stone: marble, poros stone, lime, etc…As I walked down this narrow overgrown path cicadas and locust flew out from everywhere, some running into me, one almost in my mouth.
Beginning of the "Path of Retaining Walls"(?)

Euboea in the distance

Temple of Amphiaraos

Down the path

Thought this "wall" was interesting because of its extremely sharp angle.
Towards the end of the path, in the distance, I could see the Acropolis Site of Rhamnous. The first thing that came to my mind, probably because of its remoteness, was Machu Picchu. Although, while Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century (we’re talking C.E. folks) I was looking at something over 2000 years older!  I could see the labyrinth-like structure of this ancient city left in ruins; deserted and devoid of visitors and staff. In my excitement I rushed quickly to the site.
Acropolis of Rhamnous

A labyrinth of deserted ancient habitation!
 Once there I saw a sign indicating that the towering marble I was looking at was the entrance to the fortress which I’m sure would have been the main entrance to the city itself. When I walked through the fortified entrance I came to a narrow path that went from one small plot of land to the next.

Probably the entrance and exit for this Acropolis Site.
 To make it clearer, try and imagine the grid of a city, but instead of big buildings imagine really small ones. Going from one plot to the next I came across many interesting things: heaps of pottery shards and hewed marble of all sorts (including a Herm!). As I explored these small cubicles where people use to work and live it made me think of how much our “needs” have changed. These small plots of land were no bigger than 10x10, some even smaller. There’s always a possibility that there were 2-3 of these types of quarters per person/family, but even still... I’m sure if you took the modern man and put him in one of these places to live he would truly loose his mind within a matter of months, possibly days, depending on the man of course.
First "house" I saw after entering the Fortified first I thought it was a primitive Tholos.

Grid-Like pattern of living arrangements.

A Herm!

Probably the lip of a Dinos

 After about an hour of jumping around from plot-to-plot I slowly made my way further up the site.  Near to the top I saw something that looked like it would have been a theater. There were of course the once elaborate stone seats reserved for high priest and dignitaries on what would have been the front row, or proedria. Upon closer examination I could make out the names inscribed on these stones seats. Stepping back I found it a bit peculiar that I couldn’t see that “all too familiar” amphitheatrically shape, instead, what I was looking at was a square. Could it have been that this was a “square theater”, possibly an odeon of the sorts? Unfortunately for me I never found enough information on Rhamnous to know exactly. 
The "Square" Theatre

The front row, or proedria

Below each marble "seat" were the names of "important" people.

One of the more complete "seats"
Once at the very top of the acropolis site I found plenty of shade under the canopies of dwarfed pines and other shrubbery. I picked a nice spot to sit where I was graced with an occasional breeze. As I was trying to visualize this city in its past glory I heard strange voices. Listening more carefully they started to sound like Dutch voices. Getting up and finding my way to a cliffs edge (which was quite scary), I could see what appeared to be a delta. Near to the delta there was a fine beach dotted with 5-10 people at most. This trip was getting better and better.
View of "Vengeance Beach" from the top of the Acropolis

The Delta below the Acropolis
So it was that after a few more hours of wandering around the site I decided to get back to the car and figure out where the road to the beach was. For sure it had to be nearby as I could occasionally hear cars passing on the opposite side of the site. Unfortunately due to the dense forest on the opposite mountain I couldn’t actually see this road or get a visual on its exact location.
I took my time getting back to the car, but when I got back to the Temple of Nemisis I couldn’t resist sitting in the shade again and saying good-bye. For me it was a very powerful moment, and why wouldn’t it be? There seemed to be energy there, a voice, but then again that might have been my imagination running away with itself, or it may have been the simple fact that I was the only one around, left in the total silence of this ancient land.
When I exited the site I saw a farmer sitting in the shade. If anyone knew how to get to this remote beach it would be this guy. In my broken Greek I told him I had seen a beach and a small church on the other side of the archeological site and asked how I could get there. He pointed at a small dirt road that ran along the side of the site. What made me even more nervous was that he said the road “bends “ and “turns” and does “like this” and “like that”. Well, regardless of how nervous I was about taking this road I did it anyway, after all, I had big tires and 4 wheel drive.
Dirt Road next to the site that will kind of take you to the beach.
About 5-10 minutes into my drive I realized he wasn’t wrong. The dirt road had actually turned into something more liken to an illegible goat-path. I went through pine thickets, open areas with jagged rock and even past what appeared to be some sort of gypsy-farming-community. This was not a road I wanted to get a flat on. I kept thinking that if something happened to the car how would I ask for help? How would I get the car off this path and back home? It was getting a little tense.
Right before I decided to turn back and abandon the beach the dirt road teed into a narrow asphalt road with no painted lines or signs indicating which direction to go. I always find that when I get into situations like this I seem to always choose the “right”. So right I went.
This was the good part of the dirt road

Finally asphalt! (choose the right)
I wasn’t much worried anymore as I was just happy to see an actual road. The drive was quite nice as it was cutting through a dense pine forest. Then the road came to a fork, in which case I would have turned right but getting out of the car I saw a very faded sign leaning against the ground that read, “Παραλια”, which means “Beach”. It was pointing to the left, so left I went. Not far from that point I could see I was nearing the sea quite rapidly. Within a few minutes I spotted a road with many parked cars so down I went to the beach. I never actually saw a sign that gave the beach a name, nor could I find its name on any map (print or Google), so I will call it Rhamnous Beach, or maybe Nemisis Beach! 
Another dirt road to the beach
It was way past mid-day and to my surprise the beach was packed, but I saw no sign of the Dutch people, only Greek’s (mostly Greek Families). There were so many people on the beach that while I was walking along the shore I was certain I would never find a place to call my own. Luckily there was a tavern on the beach with plenty of nice shade where I decided to sit it out for a while.
 Ironically the tavern, like the beach didn’t have a name either, only a sign in Greek that read “Sandwich, Souvlaki, Ice Cream, Cigarettes, Coffees”. We will call it “Rhamnous Café”, or “Nemisis Café”. When I sat down at one of the tables I knew for sure the prices were going to be very high and the food only so-so. I was certain of this because they were the only ones around for miles (or kilometers) so they definitely had the power to do as they wished as far as prices and quality were concerned. I only say this because of my past experiences. Far be it from the truth! The food was very cheap, very, very fresh, and all around yummy! The portions were quite big as well. I only ordered 2 chicken souvlaki (Κοτοπουλο Καλαμακι), Greek Salad (Χωριατικη Σαλατα) and Fresh cut French Fries (Πατατες Τηγανιτες). To drink I got a large beer and a bottle of water. I paid something like 12 Euros for the whole meal which I had to box up and take home with me.
The tavern must have been a family owned and operated one as the younger kids, which looked to be related, did all the service work (waiters and waitresses). All of the staff were extremely nice and prompt despite the fact that the place was packed. Once the young kids picked up on my English accent in my Greek they quickly spoke English to me.
Shade and nice food at the "Nemesis Cafe"

The only sign for the cafe which reads: sandwiches, souvlaki, ice cream, cigarettes, coffees.
 After the bill was paid and the food digested I made my way back to the beach for a little swim. I finally found my spot near to the end. There were small waves but the water was perfect, and although the beach consisted mainly of very, very small pebbles, inside the sea the bottom was made of fine sand. It was nice to float in the sea and to either look out and see Euboea (pronounced E-via), Greece’s largest Island, or to look up and see the towering Acropolis Rock of Rhamnous.
End of the beach. Note the base of the Acropolis at the back.

Nice views of Euboea
 I was swimming in a place that many years ago an ancient and advanced race of people may have lined up on the beach like we were that day to enjoy some fishing and a relaxation.  Why not, didn’t all people have to find time for leisure? Maybe not, maybe so, but as I floated in that part of the sea I fancied the idea and imagery I had in my mind that they did.

Getting There:

Car: The best way to get to Rhamnous is to drive your own car. Being that it’s not far from the Center of Athens; 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 here. 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). 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 Agia Marina Port (bus departs from Mavromateon St., Areos Park, near Victoria Metro/Train Stop Tel. +302108213203 Fare. 4,70 Euros Departs: 6:00, 8:15, 12:00, 14:00, 16:30 and on Sundays: 6:00, 8:15, 12:00, 14:00, 15:30, 17:30) , get off at Agia Marina and Rhamnous crossroads, then follow the signs 2-3 miles down the road.

Taxi: Or, you could take a bus from Athens to Marathon, and then take a TRUSTED taxi the rest of the way. A taxi for the whole day may set you back 150-250 Euros if you wanted to include a swim.

Archeological Site Information:

Tel. +302294063477 (I tried to call a number of times but got no response)
Tickets: 2,00 Euros per-person
Hours of Operation: Apr-Nov, Daily from 8-3 (But due to budget cuts they are closed on the weekends)

I think this could have been worded differently.

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