Outside Athens I went first to Nafplio, a compact town that was briefly Greece's capital when the country first became independent. It is now mostly a tourist town, though when I arrived it had a strange end-of-season character as everyone seemed to have gone away and wind blew through the picturesque but empty streets. Come dinnertime, Nafplio was revealed as being not quite so empty, but it was not as rammed as I bet it must be in high season.
Attractive enough in its own right, what drew me to Nafplio was its proximity to two other sites. Firstly Epidauros, which in ancient times was famous as a cult centre of the healing god Asclepius. The place is mostly another picturesque rubble park now, but its great claim to fame is its well-preserved Roman-era theatre, where theatrical events would have been staged for the entertainment of people looking for healing and the various other people who lived or visited the town. It is famous for its astonishing acoustics, with the jangling of keys or the rustling of a plastic bag in the centre of the theatre being clearly audible on the back seats. People kept testing this out, and other people would demonstrate the acoustics by breaking into song, which would typically generate a round of applause from the tourists present. Another great thing about the theatre, in which they stage ancient Greek plays in the summer, was the presence of a cat who went up to two visitors and despite their clear lack of interest kept trying to see whether they had any tasty treats in their bag.
The other great site near Nafplio is Mycenae, an olde palace whose heyday was around 1600 BC. They say that it was the residence of Agamemnon, who led the Achaeans at Troy. It is now largely fetching rubble (you may sense a theme here) on top of a hill, but it is beautifully situated beside two enormous hills and does still have the famous lion gates guarding its entrance. There are also a number of flash tombs, named fancifully after various figures from Mycenae in the myths of the Trojan War. In one of these was found the so-called Death Mask of Agamemnon; in another, the jewels of Clytemnestra. There is a sense of the great passage of time here, a place that was mysterious and ancient to the classical Greeks and which is much older than many of the things I saw in Egypt.
I mentioned that Nafplio itself is something of a tourist town. It is also somewhat Italianate, as it was owned by the Venetians or some other lot like that in the Middle Ages. Above the town - some 900 steps above it - there is a fortress that of course I climbed up to. There are amazing views from there, but the strange qualities of the fortress itself were most astonishing - it seems to have been designed by MC Escher and reminded me very much of the Doctor Who story Castrovalva - linear movement between two points is impossible and advancing in any direction seems to bring you to somewhere completely different than the place you expected.
The other Mycenaean-era site of Tiryns is just outside Nafplio. I did not visit it but I did see it from the bus. It looks quite impressive in an and of itself but its setting is far less spectacular than that of Mycenae.
The journey continues and concludes here.
All my Greek pictures
An inuit panda production