Peloponnese (2) Corinth, Nemea, Mycenae

Ancient Corinth

We started the day with ancient Corinth, Akrokorinth, a very large site, an ancient city. When I read a brief history of Corinth, I found there is no brief history. Corinth was founded by a descendant of Zeus, the Triton Oceanus, or Sisyphus, depending on what myth you like best. The city was visited by Herodotus (484-425 BC), Thucydides (460-400 BC), Aristotle (384-322 BC), and Pausanias (traveler and writer, 110-180 CE).

Corinth minted coins, developed the trireme (widely used ship on the Mediterranean in ancient times), and was known for it’s decorated pottery. The setting is distinctive, with the city on a broad plain with a high hill in the distance. Corinth became a province of Rome during the first centuries AD, and on top of all the Greek settlement were Roman villas with elaborate mosaic floors, baths, and more temples.

From Corinth, we went on to Nemea, where Hercules completed one of his labors by slaying the Nemean lion. Today, the site of Nemea is known for the temple whose columns appear to have been shaken apart by an earthquake.

We also found that the tradition of athletes running onto the field from a tunnel in the side of the stadium predates the NFL by many centuries. A true stadium always included an access tunnel for the athletes, even when a hill had to be constructed in order for the tunnel to be dug.

The stadium at Nemea, complete with tunnel, lacking only cheering crowds.

After a break for lunch, we visited one of the high points of the week for me, the site of Mycenae. For this site, we go back in time to 1600-1100 BC, the Bronze age, when Greek city-states were just forming as clusters of settlement around fortified palaces, and Mycenae is the best known example. The tall, fortified walls were nearly impregnable, and the entry way was narrow and angled to make it impossible for more than a few people to enter at a time.

In The Iliad, Homer describes Mycenae as “rich in gold” and as the starting place of the Trojan War, when Myceneans went to war with Troy to return Helen, wife of the king of Greece (Menelaus), who had been abducted by Paris, prince of Troy. The king’s brother was Agamemnon, ruler of Mycenae, and he led the battle against Troy to recapture Helen.

Mycenae has been the focus of study by historians and the very earliest archaeologists, including Heinrich Schliemann. I’ve read a lot about Schliemann, and I have mentioned that his techniques were not exactly scientific, and his ego knew no bounds (who lies in their own diary, in hopes it will one day be published?), but he wanted to show that Mycenae, Tiryns, and Troy, mentioned in the Iliad, were real places, and not dramatic inventions. After his great success at excavating treasure at Troy, Schliemann moved on to Mycenae, where he again named his finds after places in the Iliad. We posed beneath the Lion Gate.

Schliemann’s next great discovery at Mycenae was the gold-laden Grave Circle A (1876). In this part of the site were several stone tombs. The richest of these included the beaten gold mask the inspired Schliemann to send a telegram to the king of Greece, saying, “I have gazed upon the face of Agamemnon.” He was so convinced that the graves were those described by Pausanias that he ceased excavations after finding five tombs, because only five were mentioned by Pausanias. His Greek colleague Panagiotis Stamatakis found a sixth tomb the following year. All the description, cataloguing, and photography of the finds at Mycenae was carried out by Stamatakis, who was assigned to supervise Schliemann’s work, and who Schliemann detested for his efforts to slow the pace of excavation by carefully recording what was found. Stamatakis is the unsung hero of the excavations, because his work lets us know where things were actually found.

So many stories, so little time! We visited the huge beehive tomb, or tholos, at Mycenae, called the Tomb of Clytemnestra, and another called the Treasury of Atreus, that could have been the actual tomb of Agamemnon, as Shliemann’s grand statement about Agamemnon was never accurate.

We had an excellent day, arriving at our hotel in Nafplio in time to head to a small beach just over the hill from our hotel. Once we were there, our phones indicated that the best way to get to our dinner spot was by walking around the point. We asked a man fishing if the path went all the way to the seafront on the opposite side and he said, “It’s not allowed, but everyone uses it.” Off we went. The walk took much longer than we had planned, but the spectacular views were worth it. We arrived in time for dinner at Savouras after a gorgeous stroll. After dinner, on our way to the hotel, we saw the illuminated Palamidi fortress on the top of the hill that towers behind Nafplio (bottom of page).

Lunch: Kolizeras, Mykines (specialty is roast lamb)

Dinner: Savouras, Nafplio (seafood)

Overnight: Nafsimedon Hotel

Below: Palamidi Fortress overlooking Nafplio, day/night

[This is my 701st post. Somehow the landmark of 700 blog posts snuck past me.]


Published by winifredcreamer

I am a retired archaeologist and I like to travel, especially to places where you can walk along the shore or watch birds. My husband Jonathan and I travel for more than half the year every year, seeing all the places that we haven't gotten to yet.

%d bloggers like this: