I was having a wet Sunday afternoon organising my photos when I came across a Greek set which I couldn't find any clue as to where they were. Then I remembered there was a draft post lurking somewhere which identified where we had been.
So here is a post from Spring 2005 when we were still living in Athens, and I had just started my blog. Arcadia seemed such a nice place to make a trip to. I wasn't sure why and I only just now looked up what I had at the back of my mind: et in arcadia ego. It seems it's an inscription on a tombstone, implying that the person too once enjoyed the pleasures of life on earth. So somehow Arcadia is the place to go for the pleasures in life.
Anyway Bee needed a field trip for her history class (after the failure of the Jewish Museum in Vienna) and I needed a Sunday outing for Easter. Bee hates outings to see old bits of rock (as she put it), though she loves history. We both needed a Sunday lunch by the sea.
A chance article in Saturday's Kathimerini about turning the Roman villa of Herod Atticus into a museum gave a direction. Neither of us knew where Kynouria was, but a map revealed it had enough sights for it not to matter if one was a dud. So we set off late (forgot to adjust our clocks) with road map, Rough Guide to Greece, and various printouts from the internet to tell us what to look for.
According to our own theory of travel (still to be written down) nothing you read before going makes any sense till you see it, and by then you have forgotten what you read. By the time you get back you have forgotten what you saw but what you read then can at least bring back memories. This is taken to mean that you should forget guide books and follow your nose for what is interesting at the time.
Here’s the map
After an hour or so down the motorway to Corinth and a drive though orange groves to Argos, we moved into the prefecture of Arcadia and Northern Kynouria. The Rough Guide claimed the villages were very tidy, in itself worth a visit in Greece, and so they were. Not much concrete or building in evidence and well maintained traditional houses, the older ones made of stone.
A detour took us to the Archaeological Museum. This was a very smart building with high ceilings in a lovely walled garden, obviously well cared for. The museum itself was as described on the web, a few local treasures (coins, vases, statues with bits missing) but disappointing to Bee as the curator would allow no photos or sketches. So we came, we saw but we could not take away. Even the headless reclining ladies in the gardens were to be protected from us. We had to content ourselves with photos of the car park, the outside of the museum and a nearby building which took my fancy.
The museum did contain some photos and explanations of the mosaics in Herod’s villa, but they were clearly elsewhere for even more safe keeping. Then off we went to find the original, up the hill to Eva alias Kato Doliana on the map. In a spot with a good view, but not of the sea, we found the villa, fenced off in a desultory way. Nothing at the site to explain what there was, or what had been taken away, so we were not much wiser, except it was a rather big house. to Kathimerini, but this must include the grounds. Compared with the average Athens apartment of less than 100 sq m or even 3000 sq m for a large house for an embassy type, this was very big.
It contains remarkable collections that reveal the history of Herod himself, who dreamed of a happy home filled with original works of ancient Greek art and Roman copies of ancient works. But he succumbed to depression when his wife Rigilla died, children and pupils died, and turned the luxurious villa into a museum and site for the mystical worship of his dead”.
Built in around 117-138 AD, when misfortune struck in 165 AD, the villa was clad in marble from Lesvos, turning it into a mausoleum. No sign of any marble now and one wonders why he brought marble all the way from Lesvos. The heart of the villa was a rectangular courtyard with a garden surrounded by an artificial stream. It was framed on three sides by arcades and corridors with superb mosaic floors in the atrium, and on the fourth side by an exedra or platform. To the west is a small basilica, and on the south side an octagonal sentry post, baths, a semicircular Nymphaion and another basilica (a temple to Antinoos) were discovered. To the east is a series of rooms that lead to a courtyard, from which the gardens probably continued. A third basilica is on the northern side, with a library running lengthwise between it and another stoa. The house remained in use till the sixth century.
But with no plan at the site, it was hard to begin to discuss the changed use of the word atrium or how the different parts of the house must have been used. The website for the villa has little information but mentions an aqueduct (see later).
Afterwards from research we can add that this is the same Herodes Atticus who built the Odeon (open air theatre) near the Acropolis in Athens, which is still used for cultural events all summer and can seat 5000 spectators. Tiberius Claudius Atticus Herodes was a most celebrated orator and Sophist https://www.iep.utm.edu/s/sophists.htm. He was born into an immensely wealthy Athenian family that had received Roman citizenship during the reign of the emperor Claudius. He was befriended by Hadrian and tutored Marcus Aurelius the Emperor of the time. However the depressive version of his life is not mentioned in the standard bibliographies and most refer to his villa at Marathon, where he was born or at Kifissia to the north of Athens.
The newspaper article says there is a plan to cover the site with mesh to provide a roof to reduce erosion by the weather. It seems ironic that Herod Atticus’s own house should lie in ruins and unprotected, when he himself was a great constructor and reconstructor:
Among the great architectural works with which he adorned the city, we may mention a race-course (stadium) of white Pentelic marble, of which ruins are still extant, and the magnificent theatre of Regilla, with a roof made of cedar-wood. His liberality, however, was not confined to Attica. At Corinth he built a theatre, at Olympia an aqueduct, at Delphi a race-course, and at Thermopylae a hospital ; and he also restored, with his ample means, several decayed towns in various parts of Greece.
Trying to find another villa, we found an old bridge which we realised had been an aqueduct. It had been used quite recently but with iron pipes which were still lying there. But the stone walled conduits leading to the bridge were still there as well. The bridge itself had a strange fluid look, but we couldn't get close enough to see why. And the red flowers were pretty.
A long and winding road round the coast for an hour past houses perching on the cliffs and tiny beaches nestling at their foot indicated that this was a quite place to escape the crowds but not the Germans, as property boards advertised for them. Bee slept through it all. Eventually we reached Leonidio and headed inland looking for red cliffs and a monastery hanging to the rock. Then a long drive on a windy road where the cliffs looked they might descend any moment and great chunks already had judging by bits missing in the cliff and the holes in the road, but no signs of Monastery Elona; at least no signs for it, so we never knew where it was.
Then we drove as fast as we could to Plaka, as we were starving. The road took us strangely straight across a wide river bed, with no signs of a bridge. We found a pretty seaside village and packed restaurants. So we bagged a table and rushed to the kitchen to see what was cooking. When we had ordered red snapper, baked aubergines, broad beans and artichoke hearts, and the usual Greek salad and tzatsiki we relaxed at a table on the water's edge, happy that it was time to eat outside again. There was a pebbly beach with a fresh water stream, occupied by a group of ducks. Bee christened a group of four white ones the girly ducks, as they went swimming round in a group ignoring the rest. Occasionally one broke away and we laughed as the others played at "don't want to be friends with you". After lunch, we moved upstairs for coffee and Bee wrote her project.
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