Saturday, May 7, 2011

Olympia and Nafplio

The trip from Delphi to Olympia was basically around the northern shores of the Gulf of Corinth, across a rather spectacular bridge and down a coastal strip. The shores of the Gulf were rather lovely in the morning light, with clouds and blue water and distant land with the surprise intrusion of mine drives and some sort of red ore extraction process that stained the roadways and land. I concentrated on the pretty stuff for photos, including at one stage amazing Venetian fortified walls around the town of Nafpaktos.

Misty Gulf of Corinth
Venetian fortifications

The bridge across the Gulf at Rio is like two Anzac Bridges and rather lovely, high enough in the centre for large ships to pass under. I was happily shooting away through the windscreen and Nick was getting in the centre lane to line up the towers when my SD card in the camera announced it was full. So no nice centred shots and we certainly weren’t going back to try it again as it costs E12.90 per crossing.

Bridge crossing the Gulf of Corinth
Bridge pylons almost lined up

Into Olympia where we had a nice hotel, Pelops, with a blessed lift so no stairs to lug the suitcases up. The town was really a one main street place, full of hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants, all eagerly vying for business.
The site was in easy distance of the town and had several museums associated with Olympia Archaeology and the Olympics. We first visited the archaeology museum to get an idea of the site and its treasures, including sculptural pieces from the Temple of Hera and votive offerings. It is often these small and personal items that take my fancy, like the horse below which was about two inches long, or the wonderfully expressive lion face of a waterspout. I also liked the gorgon shield, gorgons becoming a bit of a theme in the photos in Greece.

Lion waterspout
Part of pediment sculpture from the Temple of Hera
Tiny horse votive offering
Gorgon shield

The Olympia site was flat and easy to negotiate but, while there were some signs explaining areas, there was not a lot on the cohesion of the parts or information about what had been restored and what was original. It was one place where a guide would really have helped. So the pictures generally showed columns and bits of ruins but to me they don’t tell any real story, so I will show only a few.

Columns through the pretty branches of the Judas Tree
Entry arch to the Stadium

Our trip on to Nafplio was slightly hair raising as it went up, and up, and up through spectacular gorge country into the mountains, past shepherds and shaggy sheep, and through obvious snow country to Tripoli (the Greek one) and then on to Nafplio, the first capital of Greece.

Gorge country
A herd of shaggy sheep

Nafplio was a revisit for us as we had stayed there for four nights almost 9 years ago and really enjoyed the location of the town and its (then) sleepy charm. We arrived on the Sunday of the last week of Easter school holidays. It appeared that every Athenian and anyone else within striking distance had decided that Nafplio was just the place to spend the day. All the waterside cafes were full, the street tavernas also. Finding our tiny hotel was also a bit of a difficulty, so small it had only four rooms, but charming and welcoming.

Polyxenia Hotel in a small pedestrian side street
Festive balloons for sale

Nafplio is set on a harbour with a fort in the water, the Bourtzi and a sevenfold fort on the hill behind, the Palamidi. Across the water is a conical hill crowned with walls. That just happens to be Ancient Argos. Five minutes down the road are the massive remains of Tyrins and not too far off the monumental walls of Mycenae. Talk about being right in the middle of my ancient history book.

Bourtzi fort
The flower covered dome of the old mosque
Ancient Argos
Bourtzi at night from a pleasant waterfront cafe
Palamidi fortress
Pristine boat in the harbour

Mycenae was something new for us. We debated whether to go and were so glad we did. The site, while high, was well ramped rather than with steps which made it relatively easy to negotiate. The size of the rocks is enormous. the word “cyclopean” was coined for them as it was felt only giants could have lifted them into place. One enters through the Lion Gate and immediately comes on the grave circles where Schlieman thought he had found Agamemnon. The view from the top is amazing. All these cities could see each other and cooperated with each other on projects. This was about 1300BC.

Nick gives scale to the cyclopean walls
View from the citadel
The famous lions at the Lion gate
Grave Circle A

The associated museum concentrated more on the pottery finds from the site, though there were copies of some of the gold artefacts, the originals being in Athens. The so called “Mask of Agamemnon” is a beautiful thing, especially considering how long ago it was made.

Nearby is the Treasury of Atreus, a beehive tomb of massive proportions. Again, how on earth did they lift the massive blocks, especially the lintel block? If you look very carefully you can just see Nick being a measuring stick near the entrance.

The entrance to the Treasury of Atreus
The walls on Tyrins beside the road to Nafplio
The interior of the tomb. Note the lintel block

So, fantastic finds and sights in and around Olympia and Nafplio. Highly recommended.

A curiosity:
Driving along roads bounded by pine forests I could see shining white things in the trees. Somewhat closer, they resembled pinecones wrapped in web and didn’t look too pretty. Spiders? Moths? Cocoons?

Turns out it is a nest for processionary caterpillars who come out at night to eat the pine tips. Some of the nests look rather revolting. The caterpillars cause irritation to skin with fibres, a bit like our “spitfires” on gum trees in Australia. They harm the growing tips of the pines but not enough to kill the trees. Anyway, Urk!!!
Next episodes, Santorini and Rhodes.

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