Monday, 29 April 2013

Lost Cities of Greece Part VI: Vravrona & The Dancing Bears
Labelled plan of the Sanctuary of Artemis
J.M. Harrington, self-made image

About 45 minutes away from the center of Athens lies a site that goes relatively unnoticed. The place that I'm referring to is called Brauron, or in the modern Greek, Vravrona. Vravrona was probably first inhabited during the Neolithic era, around 2000 BCE. But the remains that visitors will see today date around the 5th & 4th cen. BCE (respectfully).

Many years ago my wife and I had driven around the site, parked on the side of the road in order to give it a visit but unfortunately discovered it was closed that day. 3 years later on a quiet Saturday it was my suggestion that we take our son, and the grandparents, on a educational lunch trip. Once agreed we packed the necessary snacks for the little one and off we went to see the sanctuary where young maidens preformed a religious dance known as the "Bear Dance", "Arkteia" probably dressed as bears, called "Arktoi", or "She-Bears". It is believed that on certain occasions young boys were able to participate. This was probably only evident in the case of dizygotic, or fraternal twins most likely because Artemis had a twin brother named....that's right folks, Apollo.
Our Lovely goddess, Artemis

Heading in the direction of Rafina we found that within about a 40 minute period we had arrived at the north side of the site where the museum parking lot is located. Once we got out of the car the first thing we noticed, besides the lush green hills to our backs, were many sarcophagi protected behind a cyclone fence. Upon first sight I had secretly wished I could have examined them with a closer eye, but knew this to be very unlikely.
Sarcophagi probably from the early A.C.E After the Common Era., but the word "sarcophagus" is a Greek word: sarx=flesh & phagein=to eat. This came from a particular limestone that was believed to decompose, or eat away, the flesh that was interred in it.

Note the cataloged items/objects locked in the back.

Translation: Archaeological Museum Vravrona
On the other side it the entrance to the museum and the path that will take you to the actual archaeological site of Vravrona.

Although the museum is somewhat small I was surprised at how modern, up-to-date and organized it was. Probably the most notable collection would be that of the votive statues. Although I didn't take count I would venture to say that there were about 75-100 votive statues (including fragments) on display in the museum.  Obviously most of these votive statues were of per-pubescent girls. As was custom these young ladies would have dawned on a short chiton, one probably died a yellowish color to symbolize the she-bear shedding its fur, a sign of renewal and maturation. It is very likely that at one time real bear skins were used but as bears became more scarce these saffron-yellow chitons would have been used. It's very sad to think that at one time lions, elephants, bears and other great wild beast used to roam quite freely through the region we now call Greece.
For those that are interested...maybe wear one when you go to Vravrona? Just don't forget the rope/string wrapped around the middle.
Votive Statues

Votive Statue Heads

More Heads

So what actually was the rhyme and reason behind this peculiar ritual? And why the bear? Dr. Donald J. Huges in his publication, "Artemis: Goddess of Conservation" explains, among other things, that the name, "Artemis" probably breaks down to "ark-temnis", "bear-sanctuary". As for the ritual(s) themselves they could have been preformed for a number of different reasons some most likely include the following: education of ecological/conservation efforts, a type of sex education and/or homemaker's course for young ladies and given the remoteness of the sanctuary possibly a place to hide the women-folk during times of invasion. Concerning the sanctuary being a place to educate young ladies in the ways of being a "good" wife we can deduce that this is most certainly true by merely examining the offerings that were found on the site of Vravrona: spindles, spindle wool, loom weights, mirrors, jewelry boxes. If this isn't enough we can derive from the fact that Artemis was actually worshiped as a great she bear that allowed girls to undergo a moment of ritual "wildness" before puberty. I'm sure the scholars out there have a lot more to interject but this is the extent of my knowledge (sorry folks).

Another interesting thing about the museum was a very small "coin" or rather "token" that allowed entrance into the theater. This is the first type of ticket or token I had ever seen before. Basically the smallest object in the museum was something that fascinated me the most. Go figure. Actually, if it weren't for my father-in-law (A.K.A "The Captain") pointing it out to me I may have missed this precious treasure. Being an avid coin collector he always seems to gravitate to such things, or at least I assume he does. Of course there were many other interesting things in the museum: Stelae, Poetry, Stone Capitals from the 4th/5th cen. A.D., Glass Amphoriskos, Wooden Offerings, Bronze Mirrors and a very, very impressive Gem, Ringstone & Scarab Collection among other things.
Stelae at the main entrance of the museum

Kylix, or drinking cup. The more you drank the more the picture at the bottom of the "cup" was revealed...really interesting form of ancient Greek entertainment.

Oil Lamp with a little "angle" in the middle.

Glass Amphoriskos late 6th cen/early 5th cen

Model of the Temple of Artemis

4th/5th cen A.D. Capitals

Gems and Ring Stones and Scarabs Oh My!

Model of the Π-Shaped Stoa

"Relief of the Gods" 420 BCE depicts Zeus (seated) Leto, Apollo and Artemis

From a different angle

Many Sacred objects from Elysius are depicted in this scene: Basket on head of figure (far left) Large Sacred Pine Torch (right of the alter) & could that be a bundle of wheat (figure far right)

Note the figure at the end that has a giant basket on their head. This is the same motif that we see in Elysius. This basket was supposed to hold the sacred items for the Elysian Mysteries.

Quite a large collection of Pyxides which were basically wooden boxes that kept women's toiletries and/or jewelery.  These objects usually date between the 6th-4th cen BCE.

Bronze Mirrors

Wooden Offerings

Geometric Pottery

See Caption Below

Bronze Theater Ticket from 4th-3rd cen. BCE

When we finished our little stroll through the museum we exited and made our way to the left of the museum down a dirt path that ran along the edge of what appeared to be a marsh. During the Classical Period of Greece this marsh would never have existed. In fact the marsh would most likely be the shore line of the sea. Since then the sea has receded considerably. Because the weather was still a bit chilly and because there were a few more weeks till spring we needn't worry so much about pesky mosquitoes, but judging from the many pockets of standing water I would have guessed that the area would be swarming with them come summer time.
Path beside the museum that will take you to the site

Follow the Captain

Pools of standing water are hiding behind these dwarfed trees.

The Future of Mosquitoes

About 10 minutes into our walk we arrived at the site. With a surge of excitement to finally enter and get an up close and personal look at the Π-Shaped Stoa the lady at the ticket booth told me that the site was closed for renovations. Apparently the Ministry of Culture had received some long overdue funding and appropriated some of that funding to "fix up" the archaeological site. It looked as though they were planting trees and making cobbled stoned walk ways for future guest. Although I was a little disappointed the ticket lady did say that we could follow the path along the fence and get a chance to see most of the site from a distance. No one was really interested in this but me so I left the little one with the grandparents at a bench under the shade of a large tree and made my way slowly along the fence.

The Π-Shaped Stoa

Even before I made my way along the cyclone fence the remains of that Π-Shaped Stoa were very evident. From the gate one can clearly count 13 Doric Style columns remaining.  Most of this Stoa was constructed from local limestone and then covered with a marble stucco. The only solid marble remaining are of the capitals, metopes, lintels & threshold. Although I never got a chance to see this feature, apparently the platforms at the back of the stoa are dotted with "cuttings" that contain led. These "led-cuttings" were originally used to hold coaches, the kind of couches used in ancient Greek dinning rooms. I have seen these ancient dining rooms before, most recently at Perichora, but never got a chance to see any of these led fasteners.
Fixing up the site

View of Π-Shaped Stoa from fence


The Sacred Spring

Not far from the Stoa is supposedly a spring (another interesting site that you can not see from the fence). This spring has had cult activity from a little after the Bronze age. From what has been uncovered/discovered at Vravrona it seems that cult objects were thrown into this spring.
Sacred Spring Photo taken by JM Harrington

 The Temple of Artemis

Although there would be very, very little to see, near to the stoa would be the sparse remains of a 6th cen BCE temple. Actually this "temple" would have been the Sanctuary of Artemis herself. Although the Temple dates back to the 6th cen BCE it was actually destroyed by the Persians around 480 BCE. The Persians also took the liberty to carry off the Cult Statue and give it a new home in the Persian Capital of Susa. Around 420 BCE the temple was reconstructed. Because there is so little left no one really knows in which style the temple was constructed in. But some scholars kind of agree that the temple would most likely be constructed in the same style as that The Temple of Artemis in Loutsa about 4 miles away, the Temple of Artemis at Aulis some 41 miles away and possibly the Temple of Aphaia on the Island of Aigina, although Aphaia was a goddess exclusively worshiped on that island in that particular temple.
Platform of the Temple of Artemis Photo taken by JM Harrington

The Oldest Bridge in the World

Of course I had to save the best for last, the "best" being that post & lintel bridge which just so happens to be the only known example of a Classical period bridge in Greece! Needless to say its also one of the oldest bridges in the world! The Telegraph had an article, with photos online, which stated the following: "The oldest bridge in the world is the Pons Fabricius or Ponte dei Quattro Capi in Rome, Italy, which was built in 62 BC" My only guess is that they were referring to bridges that are still in use....maybe? Another interesting feature of this bridge are the wagon wheel ruts in cut into the stone. Its just amazing to picture wagons loaded down with wears and "clopping" across this bridge. Again, it was sad, but I never saw the bridge from the fence.

The old bridge Photo taken from museum

The old bridge Photo taken by JM Harrington

Wheel Ruts on the post and lintel bridge Photo by JM Harrington

The Shrine Turned Saint

Another site I couldn't see from the fence was the makeshift chapel of St. George, which just so happened to be built on the location where a small shrine to Artemis would have been.

After seeing all that I could I made my way back. It was getting late in the afternoon and we were all ready to try out some of those tavernas down by the sea. While we were in route to get something to eat my mother-in-law asked if I saw anything interesting unto which my response was, "Not really."

Some of the surrounding area

Note: As you can see I've included a few pictures some mine, some "borrowed" via the internet. Maybe if I ever return to Vravrona and actually make it in I'll do a follow up, but until that time I wish those who may be heading that way the very best of luck.

Getting There:

Car: The best way to get to Vravrona  is to drive your own car. Being that it’s not far from the Center of Athens about 35 miles it makes for a easy road trip without a lot of travel time and/or hassle.You could always get a quote on rental cars from our website. Gas may set you back 15-20 Euros, but no more (current price per-liter is 1,65 Euros). Here's a map.

Bus: From Nomismatokopeio Metro Station catch Bus #34. The bus Terminal is in front of the Mare Nostrum Hotel. Buses depart from 5:35 and leave about every half hour till 21:15. Return buses from Vravrona are usually from 5:00 till 22:15.

  You can also take the private bus system (KTEL) from Mavromataion St. & Alexandras Avenue (Plateia Egyptou) every 30min for Markopoulo  then get a taxi-cab to the site (11km away).

Taxi: From Athens to the site (one way) may cost around 50-75-100 euros (depending on the integrity of your driver).

Archeological Site Information:

Archeological Site Tel. N/A

Museum Tel. +30 22990 27020

Tickets: 3,00 Euros per-person (includes Site & Museum)

Hours of Operation: Tuesday-Sunday 8:00-15:00 (Winter) or Tuesday-Sunday 09:00-16:00 (Summer June 8th - October 31st)

Free admission days:

6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
5 June (International Environment Day)
18 April (International Monuments Day)
18 May (International Museums Day)
The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
27 September, International Tourism Day
Sundays in the period between 1 November and 31 March
National Holidays

Hours changed due to budget cuts


1 comment:

  1. I have been there - to the museum in 1990. I was on an archaeological tour with a group of other college students, and Vavrona was a side trip we took on the way back from seeing Mycenae and Corinth, and Epidaurus. The museum was filled with some of the most exquisite pieces - especially the bas relief slabs showing the Greek people, and some included animals like the stags or deer, etc. We were told that it was a family who owned the museum, as the Temple and many of the items were discovered on their property.

    Enjoyed seeing your photos showing the other things out near the Temple of Artemis - like the old bridge, and the sacred spring. Did not even know about those, either.