An autumn weekend in east Peloponnese (Argolis)
I left Athens on a Friday afternoon for an autumn weekend escape. Makis and Glenn were eager to follow. It was a decision I got without much thought as I have some very hard time at work the last months.
Our destination: Old Epidavros, a little coastal town some 130 km away from Athens on the Peloponnese (on the Saronic gulf, just opposite Agistri island).
The best way to go there is to drive for the first 80 Km on the highway (E94) as far as Isthmia (Corinth canal) and then, just before crossing the canal, to get off the main road by turning right (towards Loutraki). This way one has the opportunity to cross the old bridge over the canal which is spectacular.
The rest of the journey is 60 km on a scenic road (N10), among pine trees and green slopes.
Our plan for this weekend was (based in Old Epidavros) to explore some of the very rich history of the Argolis (Αργολίδα) Prefecture.
Argolis is scattered with picturesque towns and numerous archeological sites. Lots of greek mythology has its origin here and the place is full of history going back to prehistoric times.
The following 1969 popular song came into my mind: "Ta karavakia"
Lyrics/Στίχοι: Κώστας Γεωργουσόπουλος
Music/Μουσική: Βασίλης Κουμπής
Στο Πόρτο Χέλι στην Ερμιόνη
κι από την Κόστα στο Γαλατά
κάνουν σινιάλο απ’ το τιμόνι
τα καραβάκια στο Ματαπά.
Την τράτα λεν Μαρίτσα,
τη σκούνα Βαγγελή,
Σουλτάνα τη μαούνα,
τη βάρκα Παντελή.
Από την Ύδρα στον Κάβο Ντόρο
στη Σαλαμίνα, Μονεμβασιά
καραβοκύρη έχουν μαγγιόρο
τα καραβάκια με το βοριά.
Απ’ το Τσιρίγο και τη Ραφήνα
Καβοκολώνες και Ωρωπό
γοργόνες φτιάχνουν στη λαμαρίνα
τα καραβάκια με τον αφρό.
Note: One cannot explore this area in just one weekend. The area is rather small in size, but there are so much to see and do. For example, intentionally, I left out of this trip two of the most important sites: Mycenae and Epidavros Theater & the archaeological site around it.
This page is just the beginning of me giving you some information and ideas about this lavish part of my Country. Certainly, this page will be revisited many times and new info will be added.
On our way there, we stopped for the oblate picture on the bridge over Corinth Canal and lunch at Isthmia (Ίσθμια).
The Corinth Canal connects the Gulf of Corinth with the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea. It cuts through the narrow Isthmus of Corinth and separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland. The builders dug the canal through the Isthmus at sea level: no locks are employed. It is 6.4 kilometers in length and only 21.4 meters wide at its base. The canal was initially proposed in classical times and a failed effort was made to build it in the 1st century AD. Construction started in 1881 but was hampered by geological and financial problems that bankrupted the original builders. It was completed in 1893 but, due to the canal's narrowness, navigational problems and periodic closures to repair landslides from its steep walls, it failed to attract the level of traffic expected by its operators. It is now used mainly for tourist traffic.
In the past we used to stop for fish (koutsoumoures) at a very nice taverna situated just by the waters, just where the sinking bridge is, but it is closed now for some years.
Not knowing where to eat, Ι just looked on google maps and I saw a place called “Sea and Sand café”. The food was reasonable, but the scenery is very beautiful.
Even though, it was late in season, the weather was very good (23C and a very bright sun). We had some fried calamari, fillet mignon, small fried fish, cretan salad (ndakos) and octopus salad for lunch.
The tables of the café are put just at the edge of an organized beach. I suppose in summer it gets very crowded, but one can combine swimming and lunch.
On the way from Isthmia to old Epidavros (some 7 kilometres from it), stands the monastery (moni) of Agnountos, a small but beautiful monument of Byzantine Art and local architecture, which evokes admiration to its visitors and its researchers.
Built on the slope of a mountain, the monastery greets visitors with beautiful olive groves, rocky hills and mountains covered with wild vegetation.
What really is of great admiration, is how neat and tranquil this place is. The moment you enter its gates you emerge to an almost heavenly world. A small garden full of flowers welcomes you.
Although there is no evidence for its construction date, some graffiti made by monks have been found, dating back to 1029 AD.
There is a souvenir shop at the premises, just after the main gate, and a good-natured nun always happy to show you around and to remind you that it is not allowed to take pictures inside the beautifully painted church.
The village of Old Epidavros-Παλαιά Επίδαυρος (or Ancient Epidavros, as it also known) is a small fishing village situated in a well-protected small bay.
Today, the village serves mainly as the gateway to the Epidavros theater and the small theater of Old Epidavros. During summer months, small boats bring ashore tourists who literally swarm the place.
Lots of small hotels, restaurants and cafes cater for the tourists who come to see the numerous archeological sites of the area or to watch a performance at the very prestigious Epidavros Theater.
Less than one kilometer south of the village (where the beaches are), and just some meters from the shore, visitors have the opportunity to admire some underwater classical era ruins. This is the Sunken City of Epidavros.
The most significant place of interest in Old Epidavros is the small theater. It is about 1,2 kilometers walking distance at the foothills of the Acropolis of old Epidavros, located just to the south of the village center amongst orange orchids and olive trees.
The theater used mainly for the events of the Dionysian cult, so it was dedicated to the god Dionysus. From the dedicatory inscriptions, it can be concluded that the construction of the theatre was held during the 4th BC century, with the sponsorship of prominent rulers and upper-class people.
A remarkable characteristic of the theatre is the inscriptions, which consist a real living-museum. This is why the theater is called “the theater that speaks”. After 23 centuries of silence, the excavations began in 1971. Today, the small theater is beautifully restored and every July, significant musical and theatrical events take place in it. The most important is the program “Musical July”.
In the area in front of and around the theater, the excavations continue bringing into the daylight significant secrets of the local life in the ancient times.
On Saturday morning, after a long, good sleep and a fulfilling breakfast, we decided to visit Kranidi town and the seaside villages of Ermioni and Porto Cheli for coffee.
On our way to Kranidi, we saw a sign saying “to the prehistoric caves” or something like this. We decided to take a detour and see if it is of any interest. Besides, the detour was not more than 10 kilometers long.
After some driving on a not so good road, we arrived at a beautiful deserted beach (Fournoi Beach) with small pebbles, sand and armyrikia (salt cedar) growing just one-two meters away from the water. South of this beach, on a rock, is located the small white-washed church of Aghios Ioannis, an excellent place for a pick nick. Just opposite the church and across the bay, one can see the Koilada village and the private island of Koronida (it belongs to the Livanos shipowners family).
Coming down from the little church to the south, one meets another long sandy beach. After walking along this beach for a kilometer, one reaches a cave at the base of a rocky hill.
This is Franchthi Cave, which was occupied from the Upper Paleolithic circa 38,000 BC through the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, with occasional short episodes of apparent abandonment. The cave last occupied around 3,000 BC (Final Neolithic). Franchthi cave, is one of the very few settlements in the world that shows nearly continuous human occupation for such an extended period of time, and is one of the most thoroughly studied sites from the stone age in southeastern Europe. The excavations at Franchthi Cave began in 1967 and lasted for a decade.
Kranidi (Κρανίδι) is a town south of Epidavros at the eastermost finger of the Peloponnese peninsula.
The town has a significant nautical tradition and has preserved much of its old character. Even though Kranidi has some interesting churches and old mansions to boast for, it is mainly known as the gateway of the two seaside villages of Porto Cheli and Ermioni, both of them at a distance less than kilometers from it. The greater area of Kranidi is the location of second homes of several prominent celebrities, including Sean Connery and the Dutch royal couple king Willem-Alexander and queen Máxima.
Porto Cheli (Πόρτο Χέλι) is a summer resort town in the southeastern part of Argolis, Greece. It is situated on a bay of the Argolic Gulf, 6 km south of Kranidi. The island of Spetses is located 6 km south of Porto Heli. There are ferry connections from Porto Cheli to the islands of Spetses, Hydra and Poros, and to Ermioni and Piraeus.
The village is mainly known for the mansions of rich and famous. Ex-King Constantine II of Greece lives here with his wife the Anne-Marie of Greece.
There are lots of cafés by the sea to enjoy your coffee and also to watch people passing by. At the southern most point of the café-row there is a new, but nice, all white church. We talked about its ongoing restoration (the first after 1975, when the church was built) with the priest of the church, a good looking young man.
While in Porto Cheli, do not forget to pop in to Drougas Bakery for some delicious and fresh sandwiches and cakes.
When we arrived in Nafplion (Ναύπλιο) in the late afternoon, the sky was already grey and rain was due any moment. The place was so crowded and you had the feeling that the whole population of Athens had the same idea with us: to have lunch and coffee in Nafplion. Actually, we met there my friend Myrto with her friends who have visited only for the that evening.
It took us long to find a parking place, but, eventually we parked in the very heart of the city. We call it «κωλοφαρδία»!
After parking, we went directly for lunch. The restaurants which are located (one next to the other) on Boumpoulinas street (that is the wide street along the port) have all good food, more or less of the same quality. We chose to sit at «Veto Taverna» (ταβέρνα Βέτο), because its outside dinning area was well protected from the wind and the rain that just started to fall.
We had aubergines (eggplant) in tomato sauce and garlic, fried calamari, veal in tomato sauce (exactly the way my mother used to cook it for me), fried cheese (saganaki), greek salad and meatballs stuffed with feta cheese and Chios mastic (masticha).
And of course, we had lots and lots of Fix beer to drink.
After lunch, we walked a little bit, but as it was raining we went for coffee and dessert at «3Sixty Grill and Wine Bar». 3Sixty is a new addition to the culinary scene of the city. It is a café, a bar, a wine bar, and a restaurant located on the ground floor of a neoclassical building of 1890 in the historical city center. It has a very posh metropolitan ambience: certainly, the hot spot of the town.
We just had coffee and some dessert, which I have to say was rather disappointing: ice-cream sealed inside a big chocolate ball, which melts when you pour hot chocolate on it! I had the same some weeks ago in Tbilisi, Georgia. Obviously, it is a very fashionable dessert these days. But, this one was too sweet for my taste, the texture of the hot chocolate was not smooth and had an aftertaste of cheap, low cocoa content chocolate.
On Sunday morning, we decided to visit Argos and Nemea, before heading back home in Athens.
"Leonidas taverna", Ligourio
Very close to Epidavros Theater, at Ligourio (Λιγουριό) village, there is probably the most famous taverna in Greece.
“Leonidas” (Λεωνίδας), is not just the theater men’s taverna, it is a legent. During the summer months, all actors performing at the Epidavros Theater, as well as all visitors attending the performances stay overnight at Ligourio and they all dine at "Leonidas".
Leonidas, the owner, was the psyche of the place. He died some months ago, but his family continues the tradition of many decades of feeding traditional greek food to the theater lovers.
The place inside is full of pictures of Leonidas taken together with famous actors, producers and directors.
Argolis is full of Mycenean monuments, as the area was the heart of the Mycenean civilization. Among others, there are at least five Mycenean bridges scattered all over the place.
On the road from Epidavros to Nafplion, there are at least two of these bridges one can visit.
i. The first one is called the Arcadian Bridge, also known as bridge of Kazarma, and it is located near the village Arkadiko, on Asklipiou Avenue. Asklipiou avenue is the local road that runs parallel to the main road N70 and passes through Ligourio and Arkadiko villages. The bridge can be easily seen by a road bend just one kilometer before Asklipiou avenue meets N70.
This bridge is considered as the oldest preserved bridge in Europe and the oldest single-arch bridge still in use today. The bridge was built by the Mycenaeans in the 13th or 14th century BC and was part of the road network. The bridge is made of giant boulders, characteristic of Mycenaean cyclopean structures. Its length is 22 meters, its width 5.6 meters and its height 4 meters.
Note: The story says that when the single European currency introduced (euro) and they had to design the paper notes (which are common throughout the Eurozone), they decided on one side of them to depict European bridges (as a symbol of the European integrity... you see EU was supposed to build bridges among peoples): the one with the lowest value (5euro note) should have the oldest bridge on and as the value of the note increases it should have newer bridges on them. The note with the highest value (500euro note) depicts a modern bridge. As "stupid Franks” do not know much about history (actually they believe European history starts with Charlemagne on the 9th century AD), they put a roman bridge on the 5euro note instead a Mycenean bridge. Let’s hope when they introduce the 1euro note (there are thought about this) they restore the truth.
ii. The second bridge is located further west on N70. One has to be alert to be able to see the “Mycenean Bridge” sign on N70 and to cautiously stop on the N70 itself, as there is no dedicated parking area. Then, walk for about 1,2 km up a trail called “Mycenean Trail”. The trail is not clear of vegetation and can hardly be seen. It is supposed to exist two bridges there: Bridge A & Bridge B. I managed to find just one of these two.
The archeological site of Tiryns (Τίρυνθα) is visible from the national road (N70) leading from Nafplion to Argos: one does not have to get into the archeological site to see the impressive fortification walls.
Tiryns was a hill fort with occupation ranging back seven thousand years, from before the beginning of the Bronze Age. It reached its height between 1400 and 1200 BC, when it was one of the most important centers of the Mycenaean world. Its most notable features were its palace, its cyclopean tunnels and especially its walls, which gave the city its Homeric epithet of "mighty walled Tiryns". In ancient times, the city was linked to the myths surrounding Hercules, with some sources citing it as his birthplace.
The site went into decline at the end of the Mycenaean period, and was completely deserted by the time Pausanias visited in the 2nd century BC. This site was excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1884-1885, and is the subject of ongoing excavations by the German Archaeological Institute at Athens and the University of Heidelberg.
Argos (Άργος) was one of the most significant cities in ancient Greece. Today, Argos is a rather unpleasant city, but it has a very interesting archeological site and a compact, but important, Archaeological Museum.
We stopped for coffee at the main square of the modern city (Saint Peter’s Square), where the cathedral church and the Archeological Museum stand. There are lots of cafés on the square, but what is really beautiful is the view from the square towards the acropolis of the city: the view of “Larissa Castle” on the top of a high hill and of the “Monastery of Panagia Katakekrymmeni”, located just below the castle, is just stunning.
The archeological site has lots of interesting buildings to enjoy, but the baths and the ancient theater certainly attract visitor’s attention. The ancient theater is one of the very few ones totally carved on the hill rock itself.
It was already late in the afternoon and we were hungry. We headed north to wards Nemea having in mind to find a nice place for dinner. On our way to Nemea, we passed the Dervenakia pass.
Dervenakia (Δερβενάκια) is a small village on the old national highway from Nafplio to Corinth (N7). The name is derived from the Turkish word “derven”, meaning mountain pass. Actually, there are many villages in Greece called Dervenakia or Dervena.
The place is famous for the Battle of Dervenakia, fought on 26–28 July 1822 during the Greek War of Independence, where 2,300 Greek irregulars under Theodoros Kolokotronis defeated the 30,000-strong army of Ottoman general Mahmud Dramali Pasha.
One kilometer north of Dervenakia, on the N7, there is one of the best spots of the area: “The Chani of Anestis” (Το Χάνι του Ανέστη).
This is an exceptional beauty location of an historical Inn built by a natural water spring. The vegetation is dense, making the spot a great place to escape from the merciless summer sun.
On that very spot of the old Inn there are two tavernas.
These tavernas are what we used to call “rural family taverna” in the old days of my childhood. This kind of restaurants are simple tavernas with a limited variety of dishes to offer: actually, they offer only grilled meat. We’ve chosen the taverna on the right hand, which seems to belong to the same family the old Inn belonged.
Under the dense shade of the trees, accompanied by the sound of running water and by ten kittens and two dogs, we tasted the traditional grilled pork steak-brizola (μπριζόλα), saganaki (σαγανάκι) fried cheese (of course), greek salad and we had some deep red house wine to drink. The area is well known for producing some great wine.
Nemea (Νεμέα) is an ancient site situated in the regional unit of Corinthia.
Here, in Greek mythology Heracles (Hercules) overcame the Nemean Lion of the Lady Hera, and here during Antiquity the Nemean Games were played, celebrated in the eleven Nemean odes of Pindar.
The archeological site, one of the most beautiful in the area, is located among vineries, which can be visited. The temple of Zeus is dominating the place, while the small but important museum gives the visitor a complete view of the life in ancient times and an interpretation of the excavations in the area.
Not far away from the temple of Zeus is located the ancient stadium.
A bit of History
The Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea developed in the beginning of the 6th century BC, with the institution of the Panhellenic Nemean Games. The first temple of was constructed during the Archaic period. At the end of the 4th century BC, a new temple of Zeus, baths, a hostel, a Stadium and the Heraion were built as part of a large construction project. After the transfer of the games to Argos, in 270 BC, the sanctuary fell into decline.
The first, small-scale excavations were carried out in 1766 and were continued in 1884-1912 by the French School of Archaeology at Athens. Between 1924 and 1926, investigations on the site were undertaken by the Americal School of Classical Studies. Following a long interruption, C. Williams, brought to light in 1964 some new findings. Extensive and systematic excavations on the site were carried out from 1973 to 1986 by the University of Berkeley at California, under the direction of Stephen G. Miller.
The Stadium of Nemea, which could accommodate 40.000 spectators, was built 400 m SE of the Temple of Zeus. The track (total length of 178m) was bordered by a stone water-channel with stone basins at intervals for drinking water. The stone starting line was on its western extremity. A rectangular building with an internal colonnade on its western side served probably as a "changing room". From it, the athletes and the judges entered the Stadium through a vaulted tunnel. The spectators sat in roughly levelled terraces (degrees), cut in the soft rock, while two or three rows of seats were constructed between the starting-line and the stoas.
The Stadium in which Panhellenic games were held every two years in honour of Opheltes, was built at the end of the 4th century BC, as part of a renovation project of the Sanctuary. In about 270 BC, the games were transferred to Argos.
The modern Nemea Games
Today, the Modern Nemea Games are organized (called Nemead). The Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games is a movement born from nearly 40 years of excavation by the University of California at Berkeley in the panhellenic Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea, Greece, and from the enthusiasm and dedication of local residents of Nemea who feel that they could make an important contribution to today's world because of their personal ties to Nemea.
"It is our belief that the modern Olympic Games, despite their obvious success in many respects, have become increasingly removed from the average person. Our goal is the participation, on the sacred ancient earth of Greece, of anyone and everyone, in games that will revive the spirit of the Olympics. We will achieve this by reliving authentic ancient athletic customs in the ancient stadium of Nemea." (Statement of the Purpose of the Society, December 30, 1994).
Already six Nemeads organized and the seventh one will take place on June 26-28, 2020.
January 2018 update:
The American archaeologist who masterminded the recovery of the ancient site in Nemea says that because of lack of guards, the site is in effect off limits to visitors for much of the year.
I am afraid this is typical of most archeological sites in Greece, which remain closed during winter months (off season), or close early in the afternoons, due to lack of personnel.
Read the full article at:
Nemea, is very close to Corinth. There are lots and lots of interesting and beautiful places to visit around there.... but let's leave it for another weekend.
It is already late and the drive to Athens is more than an hour long (on the highway). I need some rest. GOODNIGHT.