“Exploring the Peloponnese” is Peter Sommer Travels’ second scheduled tour in Greece in 2018. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog, following last year’s precedents in Crete and the Dodecanese. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
The last day of our “Exploring the Peloponnese ” tour, prior to tomorrow’s departures, took us to the archaeological site of Corinth and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. The Athens museum is a key moment and proper finale for our tour because it houses most of the spectacular finds from the shaft graves of Mycenae, the spectacular Bronze Age citadel we visited the day before. Corinth is a different story, too long to tell here, but firmly set within the Peloponnese peninsula and unthinkable without its position between two seas and between the landmass of the Peloponnese and that of central Greece.
Ancient Corinth (really Korinthos) is a sprawling site, still undergoing excavation. It was one of the richest and most powerful Greek cities from the seventh century BC onwards, a rival to Athens, Sparta and the other great city-states, especially because of its fabulous wealth. In the Classical era of the fifth century BC, when Sparta and Athens were vying for dominance over Greece, Corinth was still wealthy, but had been reduced to a secondary position, only to be re-established as the nominal centre of the Greek World when the Kingdom of Macedon, having established dominance over the Greek city-states, made it the centre of a panhellenic (all-Greek) alliance in the late fourth century BC.
Corinth continued as a wealthy and important city, but made bad political choices, as a result of which it was razed to the ground and depopulated by the Romans in 146 BC, only to be refounded as Roman colony (a place where army veterans were allocated terrain) 102 years later, in 44 BC. This refoundation was followed by many centuries of success as an affluent Roman – and later Byzantine – city, before it was temporarily abandoned in the late first millennium AD.
During the secondary flourish of Corinth as Roman city, in the late second century AD, a wealthy Roman, maybe a successful merchant or perhaps an official of the Roman Empire, had a villa built and decorated at the site now called Kokkinovryisi, near ancient Corinth. One of its mosaics, actually part of a larger composition originally, is now a proud display in Corinth museum.
It shows a Roman romantic take on the Peloponnese and its life, depicting a nude shepherd boy playing the flute while watching over a herd of cattle. It is a beautiful piece, almost certainly derived from wall paintings or panel paintings of its era, and presenting an idealised bucolic scene, typical of its era, a period when rural Greek life was idealised and romanticised as unspoilt and uncorrupted, as pure and honest and as a contrast to urbanised Roman life. It was as unlikely for Roman travellers to see happy flute-playing nude cowherds in the Greek landscape as it is for us today, but rural Greece – especially the Peleponnese and more especially Arcadia, not far from Corinth – had become a popular projection surface for such fantasies of a pristine Peloponnese.
We hope to have shown our guests the Peloponnese properly, profoundly and enjoyably: its archaeology and history, its reality and its imaginary roles. its mysteries and its answers, its immense depth and its extraordinary beauty. Tomorrow, our guests will depart from Athens, to go home or to set our on further adventures. some of them with Peter Sommer Travels.