Corinth was one of the most important cities of ancient Greece, situated at the foot of its Acropolis, Acrocorinthus and known for its canal. The sanctuary of Asclepius is a hotbed of Greek medicine where pilgrims from all over Greece flocked during ancient times. In Epidaurus, important sports facilities remains were found, but the site is best known for his theater. Finally, Mycenae is a pre-Hellenic ancient city set on a hill northeast of the plain of Argos in the Peloponnese, surrounded by cyclopean walls (huge blocks).
Today is a big day of discoveries! Indeed. it is not less than three historic sites that I will visit, again by bus from Athens. As usual, I’ll leave the Greek capitalcity early in the morning and come back late at night. Let’s hit the road!
We start by joining Corinth and its impressive canal, dug through the Isthmus of Corinth. After a short photo break on the spot, we keep going to the sanctuary of Asclepius.
In classical times, the fame of the sanctuary of Asclepius was great. Here was practiced “dream medicine”. The site includes several public buildings, including a large temple built in the early fourth century BC. In honor of Asclepius were also organized Asclepieia games, including horse racing and poetry contests. The cult of Asclepius peaked in the Hellenistic period. Early in the fifth century BC, a Panhellenic festival which combined gymnastic and musical events was held every four years at Epidaurus. Shortly after arriving, we head towards the famous theater of Epidaurus.
The theater of Epidaurus is the best preserved of its kind and is considered the most accomplished of all ancient Greek theaters. Probably built in the early third century BC, it has survived until today in exceptional condition. The terraces of gray limestone, almost all original, have been restored on both wings. The koilon, which means “hollow” and forming the set of seats develops into a semicircle of 55 rows of seats, divided into two levels by a corridor. It consisted originally of 34 bleachers which can accommodate 6,200 spectators in 12 sections separated by 13 steps. The upper level added to the second century BC has 21 bleachers and 22 sections. The capacity of the theater was thus raised to 12,000 spectators.
Seats of honor made of stone are situated on the first rank, around the orchestra. During construction, the circular orchestra made of clay and bounded by marble slabs welcomed the actors as well as the chorus of dancers and musicians. Quadrangular scene, whose foundations can still be seen today, was added later, as well as the proscenium with 14 columns. The monumental entrance gates have been reconstructed.
The acoustics of the theater of Epidaurus is justly renowned. The slightest sound produced at the bottom of the bleachers spreads to the upper rows. Visitors traditionally are experimenting it with whispering, dropping a coin or cracking a match in the center of the orchestra, where there is a circular slab, reputed to be the altar of the god Dionysus. By the time I climbed to the top of the steps, it is not less than 4 people who start… yodel! I can hear them very well from the top of the theater, like what the reputation of the theater is clearly deserved. I take some pictures and use the time allowed to visit the rest of the sanctuary, frankly not very interesting to me… So I go back to the bus until departure. Before our next destination, we stopped at a small restaurant where we eat some local delicacies. This is one of those tourist restaurants whose price is included in the tour, so nothing special culinary speaking. After lunch, we hit the road to Mycenae.
Once there, we visit the archaeological site, kingdom of Agamemnon, including the tomb of the Greek hero, the Palace and the Lion Gate.
The city of Mycenae is known since the French expedition of 1822, but it is thanks to German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann that we owe the first accurate knowledge of the citadel and tombs, excavated from 1876. Many archaeological campaigns have been conducted and all remains of the citadel of Mycenae were fully excavated. Today, we can see the Mycenaean palace with its Cyclopean walls and a large number of pit or dome graves.
The cyclopean enclosure is pierced by two access. The Lion Gate is the main entrance: it consists of a huge trilithon with a big lintel surmounted by a triangle corbelled discharge closed by a carved plaque depicting two lions erected on either side of a column.
Many royal tombs were discovered inside two circles located in the acropolis. The two large circles, located to the west of the city, contain many pit graves topped by a slab carved in low relief which contain a compound of extremely rich goods such as terracotta figurines, ceramics, masks, vases and gold jewelry. Mycenaean masks, including the famous mask of Agamemnon, were intended to kept in a cast made of gold leaf the features and the memory of the great heroized deads. In five of the 17 graves, lower limb bones (mostly male) have been found.
Nine great monumental domed tombs called “tholos tombs” in a beehive shape were found outside the enclosure and are constructed using the technique of the cantilever. It has been given fancy names evoking the Homeric heroes : treasures of Atreus, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Aegisthus, etc. These tombs, preceded by a long opened corridor, were accessible through a monumental gateway. The one of the so-called “Treasury of Atreus”, accessible by a corridor, is topped by a huge lintel weighing over 120 tons. He was discharged from a triangle cantilever, closed by a decorated plate similar to the one in place on the Lion Gate. The dome of the burial chamber is 14 m and the inside is black as pitch. I finally get out of it fast enough before the flashes of tourists camera make me blind…
As this visit comes to an end, we head to our bus and return to Athens, which we will reach in the evening. Well, that was a great day. On this trip to Greece, I have seen a lot of ruins, some are more interesting and/or more preserved than others and today, I had a bit of everything. The sanctuary of Asclepius, except the theater, did not especially sparked my interest, but the ruins of Mycenae were undoubtedly the best part of the trip. Passing through Corinth canal was very fast, but it was enough for me (people I know who have traveled to Old Corinth told me they regretted the loss of time and money there, so eventually no regrets for me!).