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Thursday, June 21, 2007

AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL FIELD TRIP

JUNE 20

I started out my day with a visit to the little 'village' of Anafiotika nestled under the Acropolis walls in Plaka. These little whitewashed cube houses and tiny narrow lanes were built by people from the Cycladic island of Anafi who moved there after an earthquake on their island. It's one of Athen's hidden treasures, most often overlooked by tourists, a beauitful get-away, with flower pots and tiny gardens and magnificent views of the city over the red-tiled rooftops of Plaka.
I used to go up there often in the evening and sit on a ledge listening to the distant city sounds below. Today I met two tourists who were quite amazed at their 'discovery'. Maybe it's just as well that Anafiotika is still 'undisvcvered' as it remains today just as quaint as it was 25 years ago, like stepping into an island village of long ago before the tourist industry took over the islands.

A friend of mine, George Voutsinas, had a house there and when I first started coming to Greece from '79 I sometimes stayed with him. Later my friend Cor and herdauaghter lived there with him. George died a few years ago. His house sits vacant and forlorn - no boxes of marigolds, his pride and joy, not any sign of life. "Ti krema," as the Greeks would say. "What a pity!"

From there I set off an an archaeological field trip. As often as I've visited the sites around Athens they nevere fail to amaze me, and what's good is, every tie I come back there is always something new to see. This time it was all the previously unmarked sites around Philoppapou Hill. so today I took myself on a little trip with the help of a booklet produced by the Association of Friends of the Acrop9lis.

When we were scouting out the birthday party site, I had noticed several new plquqe and sign posts in the area. For one thing, it was exciting to learn that the sunset picnic site had once een the Deme of Melites on the wewtern slope of the Pnyx where there are rock-cut ground plans of houses, shaircases and resevoirs where once the homes of the Athenian privileged lived including Miltiades, Themostocles and Phokons, who plays a role in my nove.

The treek hills of Philioppou, The Hill of the Muses, Pnyx and the nymphs, were according to Plutarch, the scene of various battles in antiquity including Theseus' battle against the Amazons.
There were also three important demes here. After the Persian wars the hills were imncorporated into the organized city which was encircled by the themostoclean Walls (479=8 BC) They plaed an important defensive role when Kimmon and Pircles built the Phalerian Wall and the Long Wallss (mid 5th C) that connected Athens with it's harbors at Phaliron and Pireaus. The two most important demes were that of Melite and Koile. The Deme of Melite belong to the Kekropis tribe and the deme of Koile belong to the Hippothootes tribe. theother deme was Kollytos which was separated from Melite by a boundary stone.

The Deme of Koile covered the bottom of a large ravine between the Hill of Muses and the Pnyx. It was a busy, noisy place with a large agora. Through it ran the most improotant road "the road Through Koile" which was marked by the burial tomb of the Olympic victor Kimon, father of Miltiades and his relative, the historican Thycydides. this raod was an improtant military and commercial axis and led from Athens to Pireaus throug the Long Walls. It starts ahte NE slope of the Acropolis. As you reach the first part of the raod a trail leads off to 'Socrates Prison," an elaborate structure cut in rock on a rocky slope. There are three rooms with doors and possibly there were roof beams extending to support a second flooor. during WWII, the facade was covered with concrete and used to hide the statues of the museum of the Acropolis and National Arch. museu. the 'prison' is also sometimes referred to as a bath house. so whether or not this is where Socrates was held is up for speculation.

A new wall, the Diaheuchisma, was built near the Koile Rd. around 33 BC to protect the city from the Maceodnians who had a garrison there. Across from that, known as the Dipylon over the Gates, was a small sanctaury dedicated to Herakles or Aies, a hero of the ten tribes of Attica. this is under the apse of the Agio Demetrios Loubardiares Byzantine church (12 AD) uilt for the military saint Demetrios. "Loubadiares" means "bomber". St. Demetrious protected his church from bombardment by the Turks in the 1600's. The present church is from the 16th c. AD. And guess who I found sleeping under one of the benches on the church porch. Rei, the registered stray who usually hangs out at Chris's house just over the hill!

The Koile Road follows a deep gorge which leads to a valley through a gate of the Themistoclean Walls. this was the shortest road from Athens to Pireaus and thesfest for travelers and merchants as it was protected by the Long walls. So it was used as a safe path. The raod had incised wheel-traces for the safe tranport of wagons and even anti-slipping sidewalks. At the cross-roads there were wheel trace convergences called 'scissors'. There seems to be ongoing excavations along the road and it's clearly marked althoughI can't recall every seeing it before, so this was quite an exciting find. It makes certain details clearer now for a couple of scenes in my novel that til now I only guessed at. For instance, in one part of Shadow I have Kassandros and hisfriends coming into Athens by the Long Walls but I had no clear idea of where the road was. And now I've actually seen it! These little details are improtant for historical fiction writers because there are certain things y ou can't 'make up'.

My next exciting 'discovery' was at the Pnyx itself. On my last visit I explored a bit but things seem more clearly marked now so it's much easier to get a real sense of what it was like when the assembly met there. and imagine hoe thrilled I was to find the actual speaker's ema where famous orators and statesmen such as Pericles, Demosthenes and Aeschines addressed the crowd. I have used this setting in a part of novel so having a real clear view of it helps make the dramatic scenes more authentic and 'real' to me. The bema isn't a large platform. It's mounted by steps and overlooks a wide swath of grassy area where the Assembly would gather. there were various places of the Pnyxy whcih overlooked the Agora, the Areios Pagos and the Propylaeia of the Acropolis. The grassy slope (the koilon) could host up to 5,000 people but eventually was extended so 6,000 could gather then and in the 4th C. BC (around 330- 326) the capacity increased to 13,500 people with the construction of a monumental retaining wall along the embankement of the koilon (still visible). The access was probably through a central staircase.

Below the area, in a NE direction, were remains of classical houses and they have discovered a road equipped with drains for rain water.

It was an isnpiring field trip for me to end this spectacular holiday. I have stored up a lot of new knowlege (to add to my already bulging research files) and it gave me the inspiration I need to resume work on the final chapters o f Shadow when I return.

NEXT: In Departure Mode

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