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Arcadia 1989

Megalopolis to Andritsena

5/1/89 - As I rode my bike back to Argos from Nauplion on the previous evening, I had run into a fierce rainstorm and crashed my bike on a downhill curve. None of my equipment was damaged but I was bleeding from many abrasions on my legs when I was discovered by a motorist who directed me to his home where I was bandaged and provided with a bed for the night. Early the next morning he walked me back to the Argos train station to spare me the 54 km ride through Lerna to Megalopolis while I mended from the previous day's fall.

To be quite frank, Megalopolis seemed quite horrible and I could not wait until I escaped its streets and rode into the Arcadian countryside toward Andritsena. On the way I stopped for lunch at Taverna To Konaki in the small medieval village of Karitena (pop. 271) where my guidebook told me that I would find a castle built atop a massive rock by the Franks in 1245. A stepped path led me from the central square to the castle itself where I found the ruin of a long building, with a Gothic window and several large cisterns.

The spot was chosen by Hugues De Bruyere in 1245 as a site to build a castle, which was then sold to the Byzantine Andronicos Palaeologos and remained under the Greeks until 1458. After it changed hands several times, it finally fell in Turkish control in 1715 and remained so until 1821, when it was liberated by the Greek Freedom fighters. It was repaired in 1826 by Theodoros Kolokotronis, the famous warrior of the Greek Revolution, who used it as his headquarters during his fight against Ibrahim Pasha. This historical fact was behind the decision of the Greek State to issue a 5000 drachma bank note with Kolokotronis on one of its sides and Karytena Castle on its reverse side. This banknote was in use until national currencies were replaced by the Euro. The castle itself is located on a triangular-trapezoidal rocky hill with bushes and some trees; Karytena village is built around it.

Megalopolis Train Station Karitena and Castle Rock Karitena Overview Karitena Castle
Karitena Sreet Bridge on 5000 drachma Karitena Elementary School Theodoros Kolokotronis

Leaving Karitena, I shouldered my camera for a harrowing one mile ride down the twisting mountain road to a bridge crossing the Alpheus River. About 75 mi long, it is the longest river in the Peloponnese. It rises in Arcadia and flows northwest through southern Elias into the Ionian Sea. Olympia is on its northern bank. It shares its name with the ancient river god, and it figures in Greek legend, including Hercules' cleaning of the Augean stables. Like most of the Greek river-gods, Alpheus is a son of Oceanus and Tethys. Telegone bore his son, the king Orsilochus. He was also the grandfather of Diocles, and great-grandfather of a pair of soldiers, Crethon and Orsilochus, who were slain by Aeneas during the Trojan War. According to Pausanias, Alpheus was a passionate hunter and fell in love with the nymph Arethusa, but she fled from him to the island of Ortygia near Syracuse, and metamorphosed herself into a well, after which Alpheus became a river, which flowing from Peloponnesos under the sea to Ortygia, there united its waters with those of the well Arethusa. This story is related somewhat differently by the Roman writer Ovid: Arethusa, a beautiful nymph, once while bathing in the river Alpheus in Arcadia, was surprised and pursued by the god; but the goddess Artemis took pity upon her and changed her into a well, which flowed under the earth to the island of Ortygia.

heus and Arethusa heus and Arethusa Alpheus and Arethusa Sculpture of Alpheus

After crossing the Alpheus River near its junction with the Gortynios River I rode up an increasingly steep hill following the Gortynios until I came upon the rather shabby town of Gortyna. In ancient times Gortyna was an important town of Arcadia. According to the legends, the ancient city was built by Gortys, son of Stymfilos and great grandson of King Arcadas. The ancient city was built right next to the river, starting at an altitude of 340m. The city had a sanctuary dedicated to Asclepius, large spas - both famous throughout the Peloponnese, two strong citadels, and other sacred public buildings. The most important period of glory of the ancient city was in the 4th BC century. Also, the excavations showed that the city was destroyed in the 12th century.

Even though I had covered less than half of the 28 kilometers to Andritsena, my wounds had weakened me to some extent and I decided to spend the night in Gortyna so that I could find whatever ruins remained. My room with bath actually seemed to be constructed out of stone from the 12th century and it leaked badly during the night so that any of my clothes that had dryed were again soaked.

Gortynios River Ruins in Gortyna Ruins in Gortyna Ruins in Gortyna

5/2/89 - I spent a long rainy morning mostly pushing my bike up the switchbacks of a lonely road toward Thissoa while I looked sort of desperately down on the Alpheus flowing deeper and deeper though the valley on my right. When I finally arrived in Thissoa, I found it to be nearly a deserted ghost town and its buildings unused. I was told that almost the entire population had emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. I climbed up what I was told was called Lavda Hill to walk around the ruins of the old acropolis. I could not deduce anything from the crumbling walls and fluted column drums but it seemed to have the feel of a classical site that had not been "improved" during the Roman occupation. Soon the abandoned village below would again be just a jumble of stones barely distinguishable from a natural rock outcropping.

Arriving in Thissoa Thissoa Church Thissoa School Church in Thissoa
Thissoa Fontain Old Bridge in Thissoa Ruis on Thissoa Acropolis Acropolis with Alpheus

It had begun to rain again as I left Thissoa on the road toward Andritsena. As darkness fell early, I began to despair of ever finding the town. The ghostliness of Thissoa and the lack of lighting made me feel that I might have passed by the darkened Andritsena without seeing it and my tiredness, soreness, and lonelyness were momentarily getting the best of me. I had given up any hope of riding in the pitch darkness because I felt that another fall would put an end to my adventure. Very near the end of my wet shredding rope, I finally saw a sign for Andritsena and shortly after I came upon what seemed to be a small abandoned apartment building. I was well beyond caring whether I was arrested for breaking and entering so I opened an unlocked door and found my way to a room with a bed and made immediate use of it.

5/3/89 - When I awoke the next morning, the sun was shining brightly and I had somewhat recovered my spirits. I walked around and found myself to be the only occupant of what seemed to be a three room B & B facility of some kind. I decided to face up to my trespassing and walked out to the street to see if I coukl find someone to confess to. A Greek woman dressed in totally black garb, approached me in a friendly manner and wished me a good morning in Greek. I mustered up the little charm that I possess and asked for her forgiveness because I had been too tired and cold and wet when I arrived in town that I was not able to determine what I should do to obtain lodging. I then paid in advance to rent the room for an additional two nights so that I could get some real rest and recuperation before continuing on.

Andritsena Andritsena Andritsena Andritsena

5/4/1989 - As soon as "dawn's rosy fingers" had extended themselves over Andritsena , I headed my weight lightened bicycle to the south to visit the ruins of Apollo's temple at Bassae. The temple is built of grey limestone in the Doric style and is surrounded by a colonnade. I feel that the temple is not so remarkable except in its appealing proportions and in its harmony with the landscape. It does, however, have some unusual features, including that of a great length in relation to its width (15 columns by 6), its north south orientation (in contrast to the usual east west), the opening in the long east side to provide light to illuminate the statue of Apollo in the 'naos', Ionic half columns in the naos with buttresses joining then to the walls. The first Corinthian column was found in this temple, but with its capital missing and two other flanking columns may also have been of this type. There is a frieze of the battles of the Greeks with the Amazons and also of the Centaurs and Lapiths-- the earliest example of a sculptured frieze adorning the interior of a Greek building.

The temple was dedicated to Apollo Epikourios ("Apollo the helper"). It was designed by Iktinos, the architect at Athens of the Temple of Hephaestus and the Parthenon. The ancient writer Pausanias praises the temple as eclipsing all others but the temple of Athena at Tegea by the beauty of its stone and the harmony of its construction. It sits at an elevation of 3,700 feet above sea level on the slopes of Kotylion Mountain. The temple is of a relatively modest size, with the stylobate measuring 38.3 by 14.5 metres containing a Doric peristyle of six by fifteen columns (hexastyle). The roof left a central space open to admit light and air. The temple was constructed entirely out of grey Arcadian limestone except for the frieze which was carved from marble. Like most major temples it has three "rooms" or porches: the pronaos, plus a naos and an opisthodomos. The naos most likely once housed a cult statue of Apollo. The temple lacks some optical refinements found in the Parthenon, such as a subtly curved floor, though the columns have entasis.

Next I rode off to find whatever I could of the ruins of the city once inhabited by the ancient Figalians who had built the temple at Bassae. I had read that the ruins had been buried by an earthquake long ago but I was still surprised by how little remained of the once great city. Apparently it is not deemed worth a serious dig by the archeologists.

Temple of Apollo at Bassae Temple of Apollo at Bassae Temple of Apollo at Bassae  Bassae Frieze from Briish Museum
Ancient Figalia Ancient Figalia Figalia Figalia Waiting

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