Wouldn’t you love to feel like Indiana Jones for a day? Well, I put on my hat, my leather jacket, my satchel and grabbed my whip and I was ready to begin an adventure on a land of ancient warlords, where many primal fables of western culture were born. As a child I wanted to become an archeologist and I owe this George Lucas’ creation my interest in ancient cultures and history (By the way, there are ONLY three “Indy” movies).
As stated on our previous post, we spent the Carnival and the beginning of Lent in Catherine’s hometown and, although we’ve obviously been in the place lots of times, we tried to act like visitors while there (I guess I did a little bit better than Catherine on this one, but I had the advantage that this region is not my hometown, so I am technically a visitor). The road was almost empty of traffic as we drove towards Argos and after almost an hour of crappy old track, we reached the newly – almost finished highway linking our residence to Athens. Most of the traffic was directed towards the places we were leaving behind us, so no sweat, we arrived at our destination easily and spent Saturday at home.
I wanted to get some pics of the area though and come Sunday morning, I left Catherine and rushed towards the archaeological site of Mycenae, a place I hadn’t visited for many years. I was pleasantly surprised to come across a fairly big crowd, but I guess Sunday is a great day to visit a site and I was glad to find out that my student card was valid and I was entitled to a free entry (there was a 6 euro ticket, which you can also use to visit the tomb known as treasure of Atreus). I have to say, I remembered the ancient town as a smaller place, but I climbed on the hill it was built, passing through its famous gateway, the Lion gate.
On the top of the hill one can find the ruins of the palace, but needs to possess tons of imagination to picture the magnificent four-store building that stood there more than 3000 years ago. Apart from the Lion gate and the cyclopean walls all you can see inside the citadel are the outlines of the buildings and the palace is no exception. Luckily the main hall was on ground level and you can see the location of a couple of columns that supported the construction.
I brought to my mind the stories that surrounded this place from ancient times till today. These stories lay as the founding material of western literature and art, Homer’s epics are related to them and ancient theater adapted them to recount the fate of Kings, heroes and Gods. Somewhere above my head laid the bath where Agamemnon was murdered by his wife and her lover and the rooms where his son, Orestes avenged his father’s death.
I descended the hill in awe, admiring the view of the valley below the hill, thinking that despite the glorious past of the place, nature had eventually conquered it, as trees and flowers grew on the site. I could imagine the ancient city taking life and the now deserted scenery vibrant with people, laughing and crying, loving and hating, striving towards the future or simply admiring the view as I did.
I walked towards the museum which regrettably I do not remember visiting on any of my previous visits on the site, after first visiting a tomb whose dome had collapsed, revealing its walls in the daylight. I was delighted to view the artifacts kept inside the modern building, vases, jewelry, weapons, statuettes and a few parts of fresco’s that were influenced by the Aegean islands’ artwork.
These artwork was retelling the stories sang by Homer, highlighting the achievements as well as the misfortunes of the people living by. It was a real live history lesson, as it is in most museums. Yet, since, we had plans to see friends in Nafplio, where I also wanted to visit the local museum before closing time, I had to return home.
I had to make one last stop though, the so called treasury of Atreus, Agamemnon’s father. Although not related to the guy (who might as well be just a mythological character) it is a huge bronze age tomb, with a spectacular entrance and an owe inspiring dome.
I left Mycenae, anxious to prolong my visit to the ancient world by visiting Tiryns and the archaeological museum of Nafplio, but first I had to return home and pick up the girls. We drove straight to Nafplio, but we had a small delay trying to find a parking spot, since the city was overcrowded with weekend tourists, taking advantage of the following Shrove Monday and the short distance from Athens.
We walked to the main square, after taking some photos and I left the girls to enter the museum, while they would take up the seemingly impossible task of finding a table on a coffee house.
My student’s identity prevented me from paying a fee once more (cheap fare though, a mere 3 euros) and, upon entering I faced the collection’s main attraction. A Mycenaean warrior’s plate mail, the Dendra armour. The person that bore it is long gone and this piece of bronze wouldn’t protect anyone in a modern conflict, but it’s a piece of craftsmanship that stuns the visitor. Its helmet is an exceptional piece of art, decorated with boar tusks, will probably enliven the Trojan war before your eyes.
The museum houses many artifacts originating from ancient cities nearby. It’s an area inhabited from very old times (The nearby city of Argos is Europe’s oldest continuously inhabited city) and many cities and small towns thrived on this small place. Other excibits featured a collection of jewelry, some prehistoric ones, made from sea-shells, vases and parts of murals, statuettes and even an ancient tomb. I was mostly impressed by glass and faience made jewelry and I left the first floor happy with what I had seen.
The second floor guided me towards a later age, as artifacts from geometrical and classical times were displayed. I admired a three horse necked vase, with geometrical shapes drawn on it and I liked the depiction of horses on various other vases. This great animal featured constantly on the items displayed and I thought that this was typical of those warlike early cultures.
I also saw some decorations of war scenes, but on one of them I could clearly discern a bird in the background, thus I could picture the artist thinking
“This war stuff is so boring. I ‘ll draw a birdie here to highlight the contradiction”
I also witnessed sights of the early worship of Athena, the Goddess of wisdom, expressed by an inscription and small statuettes. Some ceremonial masks seemed to be in accordance with the festive carnival party outside and I spotted a classical age helmet.
I was mostly impressed by an elegant bronze mirror depicting a woman on its handle holding on her head – accompanied by a cute puppy the round mirror. I could imagine a girl holding it, beautifying herself, getting ready for a night out (sadly not, since most ancient women were limited to their house).
The small collection of coins was good and I thought that a statuette of a dancing girl looked cool and found a funny resemblance to Shakespeare’s Hamlet on one of the small statuettes.
On my way out I noticed the pics from the excavation sites hung on the wall, presenting views of another side of Greece, an old and simpler one as well as the struggle of those people digging relentlessly in the dirt, during summer heat, in order to uncover the ancient land of heroes.
I left the museum and found out that the girls had successfully completed their mission, so I joined them for a cup of coffee and we decided to walk back to our car through the old fortifications, which have been turned into a wonderful park, with a great view to the bay. The paved road embraces the hill that tops the town and prickly pear cacti create a marvelous sight as they exist literary everywhere above and below the passage. We also got some great views of Bourtzi, the Venetian water castle.
That was a great walk and a surprise awaited us upon getting back to Nafplio. We saw a statue depicting a hero of the Greek revolution, which was identical to another one back home. A long time ago, I was told that such a statue existed, but having not seen it, I dismissed these claims as nonsense. I guess the sculptor was a great con artist! The first thing everyone notice about our statue is his third leg, or as a girl I met noticed, the stick up his ass. It was the same case in Nafplio. A man in a mustache, wearing a traditional costume and a stick going under his traditional skirt.
After meeting Captain Stickupmyass, we got to our car and headed to Argos, in order to catch the Carnival parade. We missed the first chariots, yet we enjoyed ourselves and the festive vibe. Afterwards, we headed towards the main square where we had another cup of coffee, though it was still seemingly impossible to get a table.
After a long but fun day we returned home to grab a bite and rest. It had been a pleasant break and a chance to make this tiny road trip-like route.