Our last trip out to the Peloponnese of the exploratory sort was on Palm Sunday 2006, and we climbed Acrocorinth and visited Corinth proper and then went to the cemetery at Aidonia and generally we had a totally diachronic time looking at remains of the three great civilizations which have made Greece characteristically theirs. Hell, it's not me blowing this hot air out of my hat, it's Toynbee himself, who in writing "The Greeks and their Heritages" about the Mycenaean era, the Classical era and the Byzantine era basically said a lot of stuff that struck a chord with me.
So we saw in one day, the Mycenaean cemetery at Aidonia, the Classical civic centre of old Corinth and the fortified Byzantine settlement of Acrocorinth, and then we found time for Frankish gothic architecture and weird mountain lakes before we went on to dodge about dirt roads at altitudes where the snow had not yet melted, but this is all another story.
This time we spread the history and culture with its tripartite nature over the whole of the weekend, and probably skimped a bit on the Classical, though not a lot.
As usual, we left Athens very late and stopped at almost every opportunity for snacks while managing to arrive at our medieval site with only about an hour until sunset. We had spent some time at one of the classical stops on our weekend, so I guess this is not totally unjustified.
My suggested route to the sites requires the driver to take a right immediately after crossing the Inakhos on the way into Argos.
The fortified hill of Deiras sits slightly before the fortified hill of Argos proper, known since antiquity as Larissa - a reference to the seagulls which no doubt frequented the spot. We walked around the sanctuaries of Athena and Apollo, slightly underwhelmed by what we were looking at, in the same way that a visitor to Sparta may be disappointed.
Layers at Deiras
Still there was opportunity to do a bit of archaeo-sleuthing and mental reconstruction and all the other mindgames which offer themselves at sites having more than one building phases or periods of usage. We then drove the circuit of the Aspis hill, stopping at some of the polygonal masonry bastions and remarking at the large number of used prophylactics littering the one lane, but asphalted ring road, before setting off up the windy road to the summit of the hill.
The asphalt road takes the visitor right up to what must be the old main entrance, facing sort of south and a little west and commanding a view over the modern town of Argos right through to Palamidi to the south, and beyond. The books mention that three different building phases are clearly visible and we were determined to tell them all apart, although we were upset that there would be no Mycenaean fortification to look at in addition to all the others.
We took in the view, which stretches easily out to the Palamidi to the south and on down the curving coast towards the lowlands of Arcadian Parnon and then entered the castle by what looks like it ought to be the main entrance after a small diversion playing with plants. Not any old plants - but some plant the name of which I must look up in a proper book because google is not returning anything useful. They have a bulbous head about 7-15 cm above the ground hiding the seeds. If you touch it ever so slightly, it will burst, showering the area with seeds. Very good fun for city kids like yours truly and K.
We took what seemed to be the most logical route around the castle - anticlockwise at ground level then walking back to enter the "keep" and after thoroughly exploring the keep, exiting from the ramp to the south.
There was a nice spolion in the northernmost bastion which I recorded on the video. Spolia are pieces of older masonry re-used as building blocks with no regard for their original purpose or position - all that is of interest is that it is a sometimes ready squared piece of building block. It is often the case that spolia incorporate carved members and inscriptions. It is on the walls of the citadel / keep that the many different periods of construction are visible - in this stretch of wall there are clearly visible ashlar, polygonal and medieval masonry courses.
To the left of the stretch of wall in the image is an improper entrance into the citadel which has some spray paint graffiti creating a rather bad image for the visitor. Talking of bad images for the visitor, the flag is in a very badly ripped state.
Entering the citadel from here (flagpole to your back and graffiti to your right), there is a walk around circuit which takes you to the opposite side and back to the car, while the rest of the citadel stretches out to your right. Do not go straight for the exit as you will miss most of the fun of having come up here.
Graffiti near the flagpole
Its is probably best to walk a little around towards the exit before turning round to face the entrance you have come in from. The upright wall with the window at the spot where you entered should now make sense architecturally. Maybe it won't, but for me it did. The window is the window in the apse of a medieval church, which runs parallel with the wall (with the ashlar and polygonal masonry described above) on the other side of it. The church is set at a level slightly higher than ground level and I am not sure from where access would have been originally. The church has a very simple plan (one aisle basilica with apse) and it was impossible for me to tell whether it was built by the defenders or the subsequent conquerors.
Looking back towards the church with cisterns in left foreground
We are currently standing about two thirds of the way to the other exit, OK - we did not go clamber about the church because I wrote that you should just look over your shoulder at it not go and clamber about. If you have clambered about, you may want to go back to where you were before going to clamber. It is not my fault you won't follow instructions.
With your back to the church, turn right and being careful of the cisterns, walk to the north encircling wall with the walkway that leads to the church again. Hang on - that means the church is set up N-S rather than E-W. The cisterns are fairly interesting in and of themselves. It is so easy to forget how important a reliable and clean supply of water is, no?
So we are now standing in the corner of the citadel, the church to our right in the distance and the cisterns behind us. We are facing northish and the walkway which goes right to the church is in front of us. There is a nice spolion column to our right, but the highlight of my visit to the citadel was this funky spolion incorporating an original archaic inscription. Absolutely mind blowing. The text does a bit of boustrophedon and has very archaic looking letters to my non specialist eye. It begins EPI TONDE and the top right corner is lost to canon or something. It incorporates the Ksi, Phi and Theta letters but as far as I can see no other late letters. I can't tell what it is about, although there is a few lines of text all beginning with KAI. There seem to be digammas in the script too and the deltas are rounded like roman Ds. I had a go at putting stuff into google but did not have as much success as the slab in the Bulgarian bar.
Archaic inscription slab
We left the citadel and came down into Argos joining the so-called ring road which takes you round the town on one way streets rather than through the central vegetable market when you are trying to get through Argos. You normally join this road by taking the right immediately before the very popular and rather good Pantazis fast food place. We went under the theatre etc. and headed out to Hellenikon to show K the pyramid and hopefully have all sorts of discussions about the loons who believe it to be older than it really is.
We did not have the discussion which is a pity on the one hand as I was looking for K to confirm that what the consensus says is right, on the other hand, it was good. Why good? Well, we could not talk about it because K was totally unfamiliar with what it is the kooks say about the "pyramid". We just agreed that, yes it is pyramid shaped and left it at that.
We spent the night at the rather nice Pension Marianna in Nafplio, which is on the castle and just underneath the Xenia hotel. Brilliant view and the rooms were not so bad as well.
K on top of the "pyramid" of Hellenikon - in a pose not unlike that of the French dwarf soldier from the 19th Century
Next time day 2 of the trip to the Argolid.