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Poros 2007 -
Our September Fortnight in Greece

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A Morning at Epidauros -
19th September 2007

  • The Adventures of Choco.
  • Galatas and Hire Cars.
  • The New Coast Road to Epidavros.
  • The Theatre of Asklepios and the Asklepieion of Epidauros.
  • A Declamation in the Theatre.
  • A First Visit to The Asklepieion of Epidauros.

Map of the Aesklepieion of Epidauros. The Theatre is down in the right corner.
Map of the Aesklepion of Epidauros.
The Theatre is down in the right corner.
Warning : Large image - may take time to load.

The Adventures of Choco :

Up at 6:30 am to get ready for the Big Day visiting the main historic sites in Argolis, with the sky clear and steadily getting hotter. We walked to the vehicle ferry, where I bought tickets for four (total 4.40 Euros) from the kiosk, went aboard and then found that we had been followed by the Hotel dog, a mongrel called Choco. This sneaky, not-so-faithful hound has a reputation for wandering around Kanali and Poros, even going to Galatas if he can wangle it. He knows that Frances and Dennis go to interesting places and wanted in on the expedition. Frances will not be dictated to by any dog and borrowed a cord to leash Choco's collar firmly to the gangway rail of the ferry. Stymied, Choco gave us a dirty look and settled down to wait until Zefi or a Hotel staff member could collect him. I gather Choco had several hours of free rides from Poros to Galatas in the meantime - but, then, that's Poros.

Galatas and Hire Cars :

Galatas was its usual self, a mixture of businesslike scurry and Greek provincial calm, less chocolate-box beauty than Poros but a lot of quiet commercial activity. Those used to the high-pressure Protestant Work Ethic of Northern Europe may wonder how anything gets done, possibly because the network of extended family contacts means that something has to be done. Last year I was amazed to see a man in fez and Algerian djellaba, but Frances explained that Tunisians and Algerians routinely stay to pick flowers for commercial growers at Trizina, then move on for orange, lemon and other fruit picking. With palms in the main street of Galatas, one might almost wonder whether the area was North Africa, but Greece is Greece and the Muslims are only really welcomed as cheap labour. The heat seemed top be getting to Dennis, whose face was looking rather red; unlike him, I had more heavy-duty sunblock on face, arms, neck and legs, so was still a paleface.

Frances was a bit put out when there was no owner at Pop's Cars - prices starting at 25 Euros per day, but although he was supposed to be open at 8 am, nobody there at 9:00, so Frances decided to check another concession - Top Cars. That was open, the man behind the desk wearing a teeshirt with the slogan 'Vanity is not a virtue, it's a fraud'. He wanted to rent out an expensive and high-powered BMW or similar to Dennis, so instead back we went to Pop's Cars, whose very laid-back owner had finally arrived at 9:10 am. For those who want to rent a car, the price per day ranges between 25 and 50 Euros (Dennis got a mid-range car for 35 Euros), you have to show a valid full Driving Licence. Pop's is a National car dealer, which means that a car ordered there could be left after use with a similar agent elesewhere in Greece. You must always say what kind of car you want, or (this is Greece) they may give you a swish version that can be harder to use. The other key points are to remember to fill the tank (the petrol station is on a street parallel to the waterfront) and to get the mind used (for British) to driving on the 'wrong side' of the road. Readers of my previous Poros 2006 blog will recall how I nearly came to grief at my first junction.

Dennis's Sketch of Choco
Dennis's Sketch of Choco
Hire Car Office, Galatas
Hire Car Office, Galatas
A Caravan At The Top of The House
A Caravan At The Top of The House

The New Coast Road to Epidavros...

Filled up, on our way with Dennis driving, we headed west along the coast. The town of Galatas gradually petered out, leaving us surrounded by orchards of olive and citrus trees. One unusual feature was a house under construction with a caravan on the upper floor - Dennis pointed it out, leaving us to wonder whether it had needed a crane to lift it into place. Touring caravans are completely absent from Poros itself, which makes this one on the Galatas road rather a celebrity. We passed massive stands of bamboo with a large nature reserve the other side of them; apparently, the coastal salt lagoons are popular as overwintering for flamingoes, which arrive white, eat the red shrimps and depart suitably pink. The road ground onwards into a new and rather impressive section blasted out of the coastal cliffs all the way to modern Epidavros. At one point, the road had to go through a covered tunnel to protect it from rock slides. I gathered from Frances and Dennis that this remarkable piece of work had taken years to build and that previously the traffic had to go up some hair-raising roads into the hills and down and round again. I got pictures of the road and (belatedly) of some of the offshore view towards Methana, Dennis being surprised at my choice of shots.

Methana from the Coast Road
Methana from the Coast Road
New Coast Road
New Coast Road
Road Blasted from the Cliffs
Road Blasted from the Cliffs

Dennis took a sign 'Ancient Theatre of Epidauros 13' (kilometers) before we reached the coastal town of modern Epidauros, askance at my being slow to guide him, but alas I did not have the map. We had to go along under a new road then up and round onto it, taking what seemed a long time and distance through very rough country. Sheep and goats have eaten the land bare, the hills showing a lot of empty rock and scree, the soil eroded to a few patches. I was amazed at the semi-desert conditions and at the heat, for this was a fairly hot day. However, we finally reached a lot of open ground with trees beyond and a litter of coaches and cars. This, we were given to understand, was the car park for people who came to the seasonal performances at the Theatre of Asklepios; in 2006 they performed 'Clytemnestra', in 2007 it was 'Medea'. Out of the car (parking it under the shade of a tree) then to the Ticket Office. To my shame I did not buy a guidebook, but 6 Euros a head (and thoughts of the Athens theft) deterred spending so early in the day.

The Theatre of Asklepios and the Asklepieion of Epidauros :

Vast is an overused word, but it is the only term I can use to describe this enormous site. The Acropolis and its theatres would fit comfortably into a corner of the Great Asklepieion of Epidauros. A crown of a site, with its jewel the huge Theatre of Asklepios, seating nearly twenty thousand people. Those who do not enter the Museum first go the the right of the Ticket Office and the Museum, up a slope and through a grove of cypresses towards the bottom of the Theatre. I was reminded of a small volcano, as I followed Jenny up into the almost circular stage. The buildings behind the stage have gone but the stage and the tiers of seats are impressive enough in themselves. One of the achievements of the ancient architects was to work out that they needed a parabolic shape rather than a conical dish for best effect. The seats are laid out with a sort of foot-gulley at their back, so the people in the row above don't kick you in the back, but this same gulley may have been useful as a drain to prevent rainwater from eroding the structure. All of this immense structure is precisely aligned on a small spot about a metre across in the middle of the stage, the place from where an actor's voice could be heard clearly in even the topmost tiers of the theatre.

Theatre Stage and Seat Tiers, Epidauros
Theatre Stage and Seat Tiers from west.
Jenny Contemplating Theatre
Jenny Contemplating Theatre.
Guide Rustling Paper.
Guide Rustling Paper.

A Declamation in the Theatre...

Jenny and myself witnessed the guides' favorite tricks of crumpling paper and dropping a pin, both from the stage level and from the upper tiers, before we went down to the centre stage. As I said later to Jenny, it is the oldest and largest hearing aid I've ever seen - and no batteries. I had heard that British tourists tend to recite Shakespearian phrases like 'To be or not to be', so had been determined to try something more fitting. When barely twelve, I had read Geoffrey Treece's 'Crown of Violet', in which a teenage playwright thinks up a poem to be declamed in the theatre of Athens and frighten traitors so they would reveal themselves by fleeing. Here it is, with apologies to Geoffrey Treece :-

"Men of Athens, Freedom Lovers, Listen Now, Be On Your Guard -
Let The People Stand Together, And the Armoury be Barred !
On Yon Hill is Perched Your Peril, Long Beaked As A Bird Of Prey -
Masks Are Not For Actors Only, Traitors Keep This Holiday !
And At Home In Hippias' Mansion, 'Tis No Wifely Arms That Wait -
Cold As Iron - Comfort Only To The Traitor At The Gate !"

I rather self-consciously managed to declaim this from the circular stage, the whole Theatre ringing with it when I had finished this tiny homage to the Theatre. Did I get applause ? Yes, a little - but far more was given, five minutes later, to an enterprising guitarist.

An Englishman in Epidauros
An Englishman in Epidauros.
Looking Into the Theatre - and at Jenny
Looking Into the Theatre - and at Jenny
General View of Theatre
General View of Theatre

A First Visit to The Asklepieion of Epidauros :

If the Theatre was the famous home of Greek Drama, and continues to be honoured today, the biggest surprise came when I and Jenny went down the hill to the enormous site of the Asklepieion, technically the principal Temple of Asklepios, God of Medicine. There are temples there, but the main function of the site was as the first and largest of over 400 identified classical hospitals in the Greek (and, later, Roman) world. Starting as a healing centre at the springs of a nearby mountain, the shrine was later moved downhill to this enormous site, with its zenith between about 6th century BC and the 3rd century AD. It seems that the citizens of ancient Epidauros laid their name and claim to the site to get the advantages offered by tourists, patients and other visitors. Smaller and similar sites were set up to serve other cities, including one at Troezene (ancient Trizina) which we were to visit later in our holiday.

A Quarter of the Asklepieion Hospice (Katagogion)
A Quarter of the Hospice (Katagogion)
Hestiatorium (Ritual Meal building)
The Hestiatorium (Ritual Meal building)
Temple of Asklepios being conserved
Temple of Asklepios being conserved

What we were able to look at really summed up the ancient ideal of 'Healthy Mind in Healthy Body'. The site had been massively altered throughout its history, but the essence was a place to stay, with places where one could eat, be ritually cleansed and worship Asklepios, be treated with the modest medical and herbal knowledge of the time, and exercise to restore fitness. Dennis was less interested in the Theatre than he was in the big Stadium, a rectangular space with seats either side, for racing and gymnastic display. Much investigation and conservation work is still in progress. Alas, we did not have time to investigate further, although I did find a Temple to Athena and the end of the aqueduct that carried water from the ancient spring to the new site. It is impossible to describe the entire site in this over-worked blog page, so I will do so elsewhere. More details >>>. I would say that the Asklepieion of Epidauros is maybe not as impressive as the Acropolis of Athens, but is certainly more enjoyable and well worth a repeat visit.

Stadium of the Asklepieion
Stadium of the Asklepieion
© D. McCallum
Self at the Temple of Artemis
Self at the Temple of Artemis
Conservation work at the site
Conservation work at the site.

Onwards to An Afternoon at Mycenae, Tiryns and Nauplion - 19th September 2007 p.m.


© 2007 and 2008 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.