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Our September Fortnight in Greece

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Trizina and Ancient Troezene -
21st September 2007


  • A Funeral.
  • Travelling to Trizina.
  • Ancient Troezene.
    • Theseus Rock.
    • Tower of Diateichisma.
    • Devil's Bridge.
    • Aesklepion & Temple of Hippolytos.
    • Church of Episkopi.
    • Early Christian Church (?).
  • Costas - Another Cousin of Zefi.
  • The Poseidon again.

View from Troezene Across Orchards and Harbour to Poros
View from Troezene Across Orchards and Harbour to Poros

An Unexpected Funeral :

This day we decided, was Trizina day, when we would go to the area from which Zefi's family had come, to look at the ancient remains of the city-state of Troezene, the birthplace of Theseus. Full of confidence, we walked into Poros for the Galatas ferry, evading Choco's attempts to follow us. Just past the main entrance to the Naval Academy, a taxi pulled in to our side of the road, and the driver and a passenger both got out. To our astonishment, a large black Cadillac or similar rolled slowly past, followed by a walking group of black-dressed mourners, apparently a family; the vehicle had been a hearse on its way to the cemetery in Askeli. Jenny and myself drew ourselves up and stood in appropriate respect, wondering who or what had warranted such an event, then continued on our way, reminded of Death Road (see Poros 2006 - 'Et in Arcadia Ego') the previous year. We did not at the time connect this event with the helicopter seen on Tuesday 18th, and would have to wait until the day's end before this was resolved.

After no more than 0.5 Euro each for the ferry, we were in Galatas in what (we thought) would be good time for the bus to Trizina. Alas, there was to be no bus to Trizina until 2 p.m., with the next... on Monday 24th ! Time then for some thinking, so we walked east along the front to a car-park - sighting a rather nice mermaid sign on the way - then back to Top Cars for some idea of an alternative. To do him justice, the owner suggested we take a taxi for 7 Euros, which we got at about 1 p.m. The driver was very good natured and took us to the Theseus Bar on the main square of the little town, which has a small central area but scatterings of houses out for a kilometer or so. The driver assured us that we would be able to phone for him from there to be picked up and returned to Galatas.

Mermaid Sign at Galatas Taverna
Mermaid Sign at Galatas Taverna
Theseus Cafe Sign, Trizina
Theseus Cafe Sign, Trizina
Theseus Stone at Troezene
Theseus Stone at Troezene

Theseus Stone and the Tower of Diateichisma...

There are fairly good brown tourist signs from the centre of Trizina west into the ancient town, which is covered by terraces for fruit and olive trees. We got the impression that the ancient city was far larger than modern Trizina, as it took us a walk of half a kilometer just to reach a junction where the so-called 'Theseus Stone' stands. I have to admit that it looks more like a shaped and rather battered lump of building stone and must weigh about a ton. However, I think Aegeus, the legendary king who hid sandals and a sword under it, may have made use of a lever, and his equally shrewd son may have done the same. The Theseus Bar has a local artist's sketch of a Herculean Theseus shifting the stone with raw muscle, whilst his charming mother watches in appreciation.

Beyond the stone on the left fork of the track are the remains of an ancient barrel-vaulted structure half-buried in earth; I suspect that it may be of Byzantine origin, probably agricultural but just possibly religious. But the eye and the feet were drawn to a tower up and round the corner, its uncoursed rubble stonework on top of a far better squared and coursed stonework that looked Roman or pre-Roman in origin. In under fifty metres we had gone from legendary and Classical Greece into the post-Roman and mediaeval period, for this was the Frankish Castle of Damala, built upon the remains of fortifications of the 2nd Century BC. This 'Tower of Diateichisma' was a tower keep similar to many in our home area of Kirkcudbrightshire, such as Carsluith and Cardoness Castles, but rather less well built. I have to say that the term 'mediaeval rubbish' came forcibly to mind. Nearby and downslope across the road were more old structures, possibly castle outbuildings or an olive press. Apparently, Damala was one of three strongpoints in Argolis that the locals handed over to the Venetians, hoping to keep the Turks out of Morea (mediaeval Peloponnese) after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. After taking a few pictures, it was onwards and upwards round the side of the Tower towards a river gorge and the mystery of 'Devil's Bridge'.

Tower of Diateichisma / Castle of Damala
Tower of Diateichisma (Damala)
Entrance to Tower of Diateichisma
Tower Entrance
Internal View of Tower of Diateichisma
Internal View of Tower

Devil's Bridge and the Mystery of Trizina ...

Ancient bridges often are attributed to a hero or devil, who typically constructs the bridge in a night in return for a princess's hand or somebody's soul, generally because the locals had lost the bridge-building skills of their ancestors. At the head of the track was a turning/parking area, as sign that somebody had seen the need, with over the edge of the unwalled cliff, a neglected multichamber water cistern, with a half-ruined farm nearby. Intrigued, we followed the track's continuation up a narrow path to the mysterious bridge. More recent locals had spray-painted a devil on a bridge on a rock-face near the bridge, below which we heard running water. I turned round in just the right moment to take a picture of Jenny and the devil, then we looked at the bridge. The stone gutter to the left of the picture solved the mystery; here was an aqueduct bridge thousands of years old, used to convey water taken from up the gorge down a gutter to water the town and its fields. At the end of the hot and dry summer, the water in this gorge and one further east, is still the source for Trizina and its irrigated fields. Without this constant source, Troezene/Trizina/Damala would never have existed. Springs were often dedicated to Nymphs and Goddesses, the Church later demonising these spirits and claiming any benefits as coming from a Saint or the Virgin Mary. So there is this strange and ironic link between pagan Troezene and Christian Trizina. Southeast of Trizina is Aghios Dimitrios Monastery, a post-Byzantine monastery that we did not visit but will do so in the future.

Devil's Gorge with River
Devil's Gorge with River
Jenny at Devil's Bridge (Aqueduct)
Jenny at Devil's Bridge (Aqueduct)
Path in Aqueduct Channel
Path in Aqueduct Channel

Returning down the path, which was recognisable as a rock-cut aqueduct channel, we regained the track, then headed down past the Tower and Theseus Rock towards the river-ford, heading for the Asklepeion. With thoughts of water and agriculture now firmly in mind, it was easy to see some of the kilometers of ditches and plastic pipes that distribute irrigation water throughout this fertile area. Olive, orange, lemon and pomegranate trees, all sat in slight depressions, as in the garden of the Saga Hotel, but in addition, the orchards were levelled and terraced to prevent water runoff. It was a lesson in effective irrigation, but I began to wonder if the water in that gorge was now able to flow towards the sea. On the way we passed a small but perfect Church (alas, closed) set in surprising isolation. From a reference I found (and then lost) this Church may mark the Agora (marketplace) of ancient Troezene, having been built on the site of a classical temple.

The road reaches another fork (you go to the left) and then, soon after, reaches the ford of the river from the gorge. Sadly for the river, but fortunately for us walkers, the ford is dry, with some damp in the old river-bed the only signs of water. The demands of irrigation have indeed dried up that rushing stream we heard up at Devil's Bridge. As is too often the case in our imperfect world, the old river-bed has become a convenient dumping-ground for fly-tippers. A number of cyclists and a determined tourist on a quad-bike passed us, showing the best ways (other than taxi and on foot) to reach this area. Otherwise, it was very quiet, with only a faint sound of traffic on the distant road from Galatas northwest to modern Epidavros. We passed some fields of roses and pinks - near the end of the season - then (still keeping to the left) passed two more road-forks, the last near a rather beautiful Church. But the track was coming alongside a fairly odern farm and at last we reached our main target, the Asklepion of Troezene.

Terraced Orchard
Terraced Orchard
Dry River Bed at Ford
Dry River Bed at Ford
Irrigated Field of Pinks
Irrigated Field of Pinks

Asklepion and Hippolytos Temple The Church of the Episkopi :

The Asklepion of Troezene is very small compared with the vast structures at Epidauros, but the purpose and design are as distinctive as looking at your second Roman fort. Yet again, there is this interest in water, accommodation, temples to the classical deities, exercise yards (stadia) and 'mens sana in corpore sanum'. The variant at Troezene is that to the west of the Asklepion are the foundations of the Temple of Hippolytos, Theseus's dead son, who was declared a divinity and worshipped here for millenia. We had brought some fruit and water, sharing this snack on a stone of the Asklepeion before studying the building further, and I told Jen a little about Hippolytus. A sad story, but basically his stepmother, Phaedre, thought herself in love with him, Hippolytos was horrified and fled Athens, Phaedre denouncing him as a rapist and his father getting the Gods to kill his son. Phaedre committed suicide out of remorse. Dramatic and rather terrible.

Troezene Asklepion - Infirmary  Courtyard
Troezene Asklepion - Infirmary Courtyard
Yard and Treatment Rooms
Yard and Treatment Rooms
Aphrodite Temple/Church of Episkopi
Aphrodite Temple/Church of Episkopi

The Church of the Episkopi :

My anger was really raised by the tottering ruins of the Church of the Episkopi, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and built on the pediment of the Temple of Aphrodite Kataskopeia. Bad enough to do this anyway, but the Diocesan Church of mediaeval Damala is unstable and ruined, its remains showing a structure worse built than the Tower we saw earlier. I was livid at the sight of the rotten masonry and the casual way it had been thrown together - a Frankenstein's monster built out of the remains of beautiful temples and a hospital. No doubt the rubbish lookled better if rendered and stuccoed, but this was the worst piece og Greek ecclesiastical architecture I have ever seen, unconserved and dangerously unstable. The brightest note was a small owl (sacred to Athena, Goddess of Wisdom) which emerged from a hole in the Church.

Episkopi Interior - Unstable Stonework
Episkopi Interior - Unstable Stonework
Episkopi - More Unstable Re-Used Stonework
More Unstable Re-Used Masonry
Temple of Hippolytos (foundations)
Temple of Hippolytos (foundations)

Hippolytos Temple and Early Christian Church :

We inspected the footings of the Naos Hippolytos and found then not unlike those of the Naos Poseidon over on Kalavria. The broken bottom stone (runner) of an olive press at a corner of the Temple was a a reminder of the importance of the olive here and throughout Greece in history and legend. We left the Asklepeion behind, returning (keeping to the right) past the ford, then turned left down a track through more fruit trees, searching for the site of the Early Christian Church. That eluded us, although I did find an open excavation beside the road, with the footings of various ancient buildings. That seen, we carried on along the track, which curved round and delivered us to the road up to Trizina. A long walk (maybe 5 kilometers) but the Theseus Bar's cool and facilities were worth it.

Broken Olive Press Runner
Broken Olive Press Runner
Early Christian Church (?)
Early Christian Church (?)

Another cousin of Zefi... :

When I explained about a taxi and Galatas, the Saga Hotel and all, the lady behind the bar gave us a smile and very kindly did it for us. I had ordered a lemon Nestea for me and a Coca Cola for Jenny (4 Euros total), so with those and the much-needed toilets we began to recover from our 'Troezene Trek'. It seemed all too soon when the taxi arrived, so we finished our drinks, thanked the amused lady of the 'Theseus Bar' and got in.

I told the taxi driver where we were staying and he burst out laughing. It turned out he was another Costas (Constantinos) Zefi's mother's sister's son and so a first cousin of Zefi. There was delight on both sides at the acquaintance, for we praised Yota, Yorgi, Zefi and Takis - a good policy, it seemed. Costas pointed out various places oif interest, including the building business outside Galatas that Takis is concerned with. It was almost with reluctance that we got out at the ferry, promising to remember Costas to Zefi and to mention him in the blog.

Yota, The Funeral and the Poseidon...

When we returned to the Saga Hotel, I was surprised to find that Zefi had gone to Athens, apparently to sort out the college arrangements for one of her daughters; the paperwork was likely to take some days, this being Greece, so her second daughter Yota was managing the bar and the business. A dark-haired young lady raised to be just as skilled as her mother, Yota was managing with slight self-consciousness to run the Hotel, assisted by the staff and the barman. We conveyed her uncle's good wishes to Yota,

On reporting our involuntary attendance of the funeral, we were finally told what had happened by the barman and the other guests. At the point where the Death Road joins the main road, a motorcycle carrying a young man and his fiance were involved in an accident. The young man died almost immediately from head injuries, the girl was taken by helicopter to Athens but died in the hospital there. The funeral was of the young man and had paused at the scene of the incident. Any death is a loss, but for two young folk at the start of careers and relationship to die in this way was especially terrible and would be widely mourned. This blog sends condolences and respects to the families concerned.

After this melancholy event, we felt we had to raise our spirits, walking in to the Poseidon Taverna for an excellent meal. Jenny had a fillet of fish in batter and I had a mixed grill, both with the Poseidon's excellent chips, for a modest 17 Euros. We walked up to the Rota, near which I bought Jenny a decent sponge for 6 Euros, then returned to the Cinema Cafe for our customary hot chocolate before heading back to the Saga Hotel.

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© 2007 and 2008 Richard Edkins, Dalbeattie Internet.