March 22nd, 2011

Greece - Day Three

Our four-day classical tour of Greece started bright and early at 7:30 a.m.  Our first stop was the Corinth Canal, which connects the Ionian and Aegean Seas.  Gorgeous and impressive, especially the striations in the stone.  I’m sure you’ll all share my disappointment that the gate leading to “Best views and bungee jumping” was padlocked shut.  So, no heart-stopping leaps of illogic…or any other kind…for me.

Then we were on to the Theatre at Epidaurus (Epidavros), built in the 4th century BC, the best preserved and one of the largest theatres from ancient times.  The guide said that it would originally seat 17,000 people.  A second tier was later added for an additional 5,000 seats.  (The links I found had lower estimates, so I suppose it depended on how much everyone liked each other...or it could be that I misheard.)  The most amazing thing about the theatre is that the acoustics are still intact.  You can stand in the orchestra section, speak at a normal volume and be heard perfectly in the highest seats.  We tried it out and can personally attest to this.  The only part of the theatre that no longer stands is the two-story stage and backdrop (like the one you can see in Day 2’s picture from the Odeon of Herodus).  You can still see scattered about the stones that used to comprise the proscenium and can almost imagine the actors in their masks performing tales of the gods and plays written by the great writers Euripides, Aeschylus and Aristophanes.  (I remember reading Aristophanes’s Lysistrata back in college and can highly recommend it to anyone interested.) 


While we were there, Ty found a perfectly heart-shaped rock and presented it to me, causing my own heart to melt just like Icarus’s wings, but with less tragic consequences.


We made a quick stop at the beautiful port of Napflio to take pictures of the incredible panoramic view and the fifteenth century castle that guarded the port, from which chains could be raised to prevent unwanted ships from sailing into the harbor before continuing on to Mycenae, with its Cyclopean construction and it’s Lion Gate.  The trip would have been made right there; I could have gone home happy, but there was more to come.  There’s no way to adequately describe the sheer size of Mycenae.  It’s no wonder stories arose that it had been built by the legendary Cyclops.  The stones are huge and the scale massive.  Here was built the palace of the Mycenean kings.  Figures I know from the Odyssey and my years in Latin class actually lived here.  They’d taken on the gloss of legends in my mind—no less amazing and no more real than the gods and goddesses—but to know that Agamemnon, Clytemnestra,  and their children, Orestes and Electra were actually here, to see it for myself…my heart was full to bursting.

Just feet away was the beehive tomb first called the Treasury of Atreus when archaeologists thought it to house a royal treasury.  (All these tholos tombs were empty—looted—by the time they were discovered, so there was no initial evidence of their true purpose.)  There were nine of the beehive tombs scattered about the area close to the acropolis, all of which were covered in dirt after they were completed to hide them away so that they presented only as mounds or rounded hills.  However, Agamemnon’s Tomb, as the Treasury later came to be called because it’s one of the largest and dates to his time, though they can’t be sure it’s really his, was never covered in the same way and thus was visible and easily discovered.  The shape really is that of a beehive or an egg-shaped igloo with thirty-three increasingly smaller rows of stone capped by a keystone with the same type of huge monoliths framing the lintel as could be seen at the Lion Gate.  The lintel stone here has been estimated to weigh approximately 120 tons.  I know I hated just moving the air conditioner in and out of the window of our New York apartment.  I can’t begin to imagine what must have gone into lifting this behemoth into place.  (The National Archaeological Museum had a drawing of what the decorations on the outside of the tomb would have looked like and some fragments as well.  We didn’t seem them until day seven, but I present them here where they’re relevant.)

Lunch, a short stop at a pottery place, and we were off toward Olympia and the Hotel Europa.  Tomorrow we will explore the birthplace of the Olympic Games, get to do some local wine-tasting and head off for Delphi.  Have I mentioned trip of a lifetime?