Sunday, 6 January 2013

Lost Cities of Greece Part V: Frachthi Cave

Disclaimer: O.K., for all my nerds out there I know that Franchthi is a settlement and not necessarily a city, but after visiting it I just had to include it here. Hope you enjoy!

Mike strolled in one morning with that familiar grin on his face and took his normal seat in the office. "Guess whose got 2 tickets to see The Rhime of the Ancient Mariner preformed by Fiona Shaw at the ancient theater of Epidaurus? Are you game?"
I looked up at Mike and began to laugh. "Am I game," I asked, "of course. Name the day and time and I'm there."

The day of the show just so happened to correspond with some down time at the office so going to the performance didn't seem to be a problem. I fact, I had a few days following the day of the performance where not much was happening at the office so Mike and I decided to turn it into a 2 day road trip.
"You know," I said to Mike, "I don't think he's much into performances but Lil' Martin, the English photographer, might want to come along. It'd be fun to bring him along and I'm sure he'd be able to take some amazing pictures along the way."

It was agreed and with one quick call Lil' Martin was more than up for our little excursion. The only thing that wasn't in order was what we would want to see along the way. This I entrusted to Mike. Mike always seemed to have a very keen sense of direction and possessed this amazing ability to sniff out obscure sites. Quickly he made his way to the map of Greece we have hanging on our wall. In less than five minutes time he pointed and said, "This looks like an interesting place."

Mike's finger was steady on a place I had never heard of before, a place nestled in the Argolic Gulf  called Franchthi Cave. As crazy as it sounds I'm not really interested in Caves but Mike encouraged me to look it up real quick on the computer. I'm glad I did. Apparently Franchthi Cave was/is a multicomponent cave that was inhabited in the Upper Paleolithic period (50,000-10,000 BC). Many scholars seem to agree that Franchthi was inhabited sometime before or around 20,000 BC (much of the stratified remains carbon date to this). Not only was it really old, but the cave was continuously inhabited for more than 20,000 years! until it was abandoned around 3000 BCE (final Neolithic Period). I was in, in, in!

I was a bit surprised to see how much information about Franchthi had been published online (I'm excluding Wikipedia folks). One of the most thorough and compelling one can be found HERE. The article gets a bit nerdy but if you want real scholarly facts and accurate information this article is for you (I urge you to give it a read). For me some of the most interesting facts were as follows:

1) Obsidian from the Greek Island of Milos was found in the cave. For those that aren't familiar with the geography of Greece Milos is about 80 miles from the cave! Nautical!?

2) Large fish bones were also found in the cave....a characteristic of deep sea fishing.

3) From seeds and organic waste there's also evidence that Franchthi shows the earliest signs of agriculture in Greece.

4) Although the excavation was under the direction of T.W. Jacobsen (Indiana University), between 1967 and 1979, the journal Antiquity published an article on new analyses taken from different stratum in late 2011.

Well, enough about history......

As Mike and I studied the map on how to get to Franchthi from Nafplio, a beautiful city near the theater and the cave, we discovered how difficult getting to the cave was going to be. Apparently there were a lot of "back roads" we needed to take to get there. I believe at one point Mike was laughing to his self because a few of the roads on the map didn't have names and/or weren't really roads at all. Well, it wouldn't be my first time driving down a goat path to see some "forgotten" site!

On the day we were supposed to leave we all met up at our usually metro stop and jumped in the car after we loaded up on supplies from the local bakery, or φουρνος.  Getting to Nafplio was easy as we had all been there many times before. Nafplio, the old Capital of Greece, is a seaside Venetian Town and is worth a visit if you've never been.

After about 30 minutes of driving from Nafplio things began to look unfamiliar. The countryside was quite spectacular with its rolling hills, winding mountain roads and small fertile plains. Eventually we came to a part of the road that got off the main road and onto a very small one way street. I turned over to Mike and said, "Are you sure this is the right way?" Mike merely smiled and said, "Yeah, if I'm reading this map right," as he held up a napkin he had drawn a crude map on. What could I say? Mike had never been wrong before when it came to directions so I relaxed as much as I could and enjoyed the ride and made jokes with Lil' Martin who was in the back seat playing with his cameras (he brought something like 5 with him).

Awesome unfamiliar countryside!

Again we were led to an even smaller road, at which point I stopped the car. "Mike," I said, "there's no way this is the right way. We're totally off the map man!" At this point Martin poped up from the back seat. "Let me have a look at that map," he said. After examining it for a moment he handed it back to Mike saying, "looks right to me." So, on we went.

Totally OFF THE MAP!
In the map world this road does not exists.
 It actually wasn't too long before we saw our first sign pointing the way to Franchthi, and after a few more twist and turns the road ended at a pebble beach complete with a bench randomly placed under a tree in the middle of a grazing field where a Russian family decided to park their RV. It was a bit strange. When we parked the car we got out and looked around. Looking at the sea and then to our left we saw another sign for Franchthi. But since it was a warm day Mike and I decided to take a quick swim before making our way to the cave while Martin decided to stay behind and fiddle with his cameras some more.

The first sign

Another one pointing the way.
 Although I don't know what the name of the beach was (Google Maps says its Kiladas) I can say this was one of the worst beaches I've ever been to. It wasn't because of the large pebbled shore it was because the water was nearly black with some strange brownish-like algae floating in it.It was also a strange beach because not only of its location but because it was looking at a fortified island called Kornida that is allegedly owned by the Niarchos Family. Stavros Spyros Niarchos was a multi-billionaire shipping tycoon who was Aristotle Onassis rival. He was also known as "The Golden Greek", which was obvious to me mainly due to the fact that I was looking at his fortified island and his 3 super yachts! Well, I should say that his eldest son probably owns it since the Mr. Stavros passed away in 1996. I read a little about his son, Philip Niarchos, who is not only extremely wealthy, but owns one of the most "important collections of impressionist and modern art in private hands". One peiece in particular, according to what I read, is a self portrait of Picasso that has an estimated value of $47,850,000...not bad. Keep in mind folks that Mr. Philip's estimated worth is $1.687!

Getting back to reality and that "dirty" sea....

 I had a mask on when I went under and could barley see the bottom. After quickly getting out the sea I had an "itchy" feeling all over my body, which didn't give me much comfort. I couldn't really tell if the water was merely filled with decaying plant life, which is natural and fine with me, or if it was polluted with some form of human waste, which is not fine.

Not as nice as one would think. One of those super yachts in the background.

I don't mind pebble beaches at all.
 After drying off and complaining about this being the worst beach in Greece we made our way to the sign at the end of the beach that was pointing the way to the cave. But the sign dead-ended into a hill. Looking around we spotted a bright orange arrow spray-painted on a stone. Clearly this was a marker so we followed and discovered more arrows that led us down a very narrow path that followed the sea. After about a five minute walk of following bright orange arrows we came to some holes, possibly abandoned excavations, and then to the mouth of the cave.

Note the unofficial arrow showing you the way and the warning.

Our first sighting of the orange arrows

Just follow along the shoreline

Looking back

Another one!

Getting closer!!!!

Possibly an abandoned excavation.
Once at the entrance of the cave I have to say I was a bit over whelmed. For me it was almost like I could feel my primodial roots. Upon expressing this Lil' martin told me to "Shut up" and go into the cave.
Of course there was a warning about not entering the cave, which I wouldn't recommend exploring on your own, and a flimsy, orange, plastic fence that looked like it had been ignored by so many before us. Not knowing what to expect I made my disclaimer that we touch nothing that looked remotely important. Once we all agreed we entered.

The first thing we saw was a very large hole. No doubt this was the hole where archeologist found 35 feet of prehistoric remains (just to give you a better idea on how long the cave was inhabited). This part was fenced off by another one of those flimsy, plastic fences. Going a little further there seemed to be a strange triangular shaped formation of rocks, whether this was from the Paleolithic times or not I can not be certain. My first thought upon seeing it was, "no". Still a little further there was a weird looking gate or wall made of tender. Again, I couldn't explain this, but for sure it wasn't from any long gone era (wood rots right?).

As Martin and I took pictures and explored a very dark and narrow crevice Mike had somehow made his way up some large boulders and discovered another part of the cave. When Martin and I got to where Mike was we were totally amazed at how this cave opened up and how large the stone was and how deep some of the fissures were. I'm not exaggerating when I say that some of these fissures were wide enough and deep enough to place 4-5 story buildings in them. I have never in my life seen nature like this before. One thing that worried me is that if any of us made one bad move on the edge of these rocks it would mean certain death.

Mike had made it down to the far end of the cave where he claimed was a small lake, something Martin and I didn't get a chance to see. However, with Mike down at one end of the cave and us at the other end it really gave us a good idea how massive the whole thing was. At one point we could hear Mike but couldn't see him, that is until he started waving. He was a tiny speak at the end of a boulder!

Entrance to the multi-component cave

I think this is excavation pit B

And this one must be A

In one of the articles I read from the ASCSA it said that pit A was dug 12 meters from the cave's entrance. This was the closest one so I'm guessing this was it. Very Deep.

Inside looking out.

I can not explain this.

Couldn't understand this either.

Possibly the excavation pit A

There you go, A & B (I think)

Look real close folks. Mike the actor is wearing a blue shirt and a white hat and holding up his hands....and to think i told him to move up a bit!

Just to give you another idea about the size. Nice pose Lil' Martin.

Scarey and dangerous! It was like standing on top of a very, very high building!

At the end was a little "cave lake" I was told.

One last look.

The daylight was coming to a close and we had a preformance to get to so it was time to bid our Paleolithic Home goodbye. Martin and I tried to talk Mike into spending the night in the cave, but as we were exsiting we then began to discuss how creepy it would be and quickly abandoned the idea entirely.
As we made our way down the path to get back to the car we saw a wonderful sunset, which was the perfect way to end our adventure.

Saying Goodbye to Mr. Niarchos

Its Greece folks. Its Beautiful.

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