A few years ago two friends and I went by car to a site outside of Athens that is one of the off-the-beaten-path sites, deliberately built far from the city as it was a sacred healing shrine. This is the Amphiareion of Oropos, which is situated in a beautiful setting 6 km outside of Athens near the fortified port of Oropos. It was dedicated in the late 5th century BCE to the hero Amphiaraos and pilgrims visited it to seek oracular advice and healing.
The AmphiarionThere was nobody around the day we visited. I was with my friends Petra, who was assistance director of the Finnish Institute, and Dina who is also an avid historian. The three of us had a fabulous afternoon wandering around, with Petra translating inscriptions on some of the stele and explaining a lot of the functions of the sanctuary. The sanctuary has a temple of Amphiaraos as well as a theatre that seated about 3,000 people. Attending a performance of drama was part of the psychotherapy of those healing shrines. Supplicants would enter the shrine, converse with the priests, attend the theatre and sleep on the stone benches wrapped in the skins of sacrificed animals. Whatever they dreamed was interpreted by the priests who handed out advice.
Another important healing shrine outside Athens on the Attica coast is the sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron (Vravrona). This place has always intrigued me because of the little girls known as "Little Bears" who were acolytes of the shrine. This is where Agamemnon and his fleet gathered before they sailed to Troy. Agamemnon killed a stag sacred to the goddess Artemis and this enraged the deity causing him to then have to sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia in order to ensure a favorable wind for the Greek fleet.
Sanctuary of Artemis at BrauronAround the site are votive dedications including statues of young children as well as items pertaining to feminine life such as jewelry boxes and mirrors. There's an archaeological museum near the site that contains extensive and important collections.
Another ancient site is the citadel of Mycenae, located in the north-east Peloponnese. I visited here on my first trip to Greece back in 1979 and have always intended to return. The citadel is located on top of a rocky hill. It's an imposing structure, centre of power in the late Bronze age (1600-1100 BCE). The famous Cyclopean walls are similar to the megalithic stones of Stonehenge with great rock walls and massive stone lintels. According to legend, Mycenae was founded by Perseus. There's a lot of epic stories and legends surrounding this citadel.
The Famous "Lion Gate" of Mycenae
One part of the site is the famous Treasury of Atreus which is on a hill opposite the palace. This is a beautiful tholos tomb which is also known as the "Tomb of Agamemnon", built around 1250 BC. This is where the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann discovered a golden funeral mask which he called the Mask of Agamemnon. (You can see it in the National Museum of Athens.) This has been disputed because it apparently is not from Agamemnon's time, but just the same it's intriguing and the tomb has an aesthetic appeal. If you're familiar with The Iliad and all the stories told by Homer about the Troy heroes, you can let your imagination go wild here.
I hope that I'm able to visit these site on this trip. There'll be lots of new stories if I do.
Photos courtesy Wikipedia Commons