The sun was just starting to drop in the sky, and the far horizon was barely beginning to turn to pink as we made a quick u-turn on the highway that was taking us back from ancient Mycenae to Nafplio. We had to stop here, at this particular farm stand, because I needed to do some shopping.
Farm stands are scattered all along the roadsides here, laden with big bulging mesh bags of oranges and lemons. But we had to stop at this one, and only this one, because it was was different – it had a sign advertising olive oil and honey and olives. I really wanted that oil.
We were the only ones on the roadside other than the farmer, who stood behind the counter wearing a red Marlboro jacket, his weathered face proudly beaming as he showed off his produce. To the left, there were big glass jars of unctuous honey, redolent of the rays of the late summer sun. Next to them stood bright jars of homemade jam, like big gaudy, gigantic, gemstones. And then there were the tins of olive oil, which was also available in big plastic bottles that showcased the dusky green shades of the treasure within.
I never got to the oil (which I wasn’t convinced would travel well) – I never even made it past the honey. He had three varieties: thyme, orange blossom, and fir. The latter two captured my imagination and my taste buds. And they captured a few euros for two massive bottles of the stuff.
Honey is an ancient food, and this was a day (and will be a trip) of ancient history. We started by heading East out of Nafplio for Epidaurus. We arrived and were one of but few cars parked here. This remains a great time to travel as there are few visitors even at major sites.
Epidaurus is known for her massive theater, one of the best preserved from the ancient world, and it really is breathtaking, set as it is along the natural hillside.
The acoustics are described as perfect, and from my location in the top row I could clearly hear spoken words that were carried up from the floor far below.
As the myths tell the story, the ancient town of Epidaurus was the birthplace of Apollo’s son Asclepius, the renowned healer, and so this, too, was an ancient center of healing.
We ambled around the rest of the grounds, but nothing is nearly so well preserved as is the theater. A few bits and pieces have been reassembled, but that’s it. A great deal of imagination is called for here.
This piece, enshrouded in scaffolding, is a circular temple. There aren’t many of them, but I’ve seen at least one before when I was first in Turkey near Pergamon. It was at the Asclepion there.
We headed out to the car, passing by this stadium on the way, and continued the expedition yet further back in time. The theater at Epidaurus dates to 400 BCE, but the next site would be hundreds, if not thousands, of years older.
After a lunch at a roadside restaurant where the owner proudly bragged about his house-made oil we were heading north, into the mountains, where we found the ruins of Mycenae.
Occupation of this site goes back to 5,000 years BCE, although little of that remains. Instead there are two grave sites “A” and “B” that fall somewhere between 1450 and 1550 BCE. These are historically very important and the oldest sites here.
The bigger site is the citadel, which once stood high on the hilltop, with its massive “cyclopean” walls, as though built by the mythical cyclops. These walls are somewhat newer, dating to 1000 – 1400 BCE.
The lions gate is well known, although the lions have long ago lost their heads.
We followed the yellow arrows on the footpath, and they took us to the top of the hill, which afforded us a view of the surrounding hills. Then we moved on, down the opposite side.
We were able to see the secondary postern gate, devoid of decoration, there. Despite it’s simplicity, something about its massiveness appeals to me.
After a visit to the museum, where relics of the site are on display, we have one more stop to make. Nearby, is a buried tomb dating to 1250 BCE. It is called the “Treasury of Atreus” or “Tomb of Agamemnon,” although neither of them were likely buried here. The name of that person has long since been lost to memory and time.
The structure is humbling, rising up in the shape of a conical dome, like an incredible stone beehive. It reminds me of the Pantheon in far-away Rome.
Dan and I were discussing the people who built places like this on the ride home, when suddenly we saw that sign for olive oil, honey, and olives. And we urgently stopped the car.