“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.
I am always a little sad to leave Arcadia, so I do it slowly. We set out from Dimitsana this morning to see the superb and nearly brand-new archaeological museum at Tegea, now a small village but once an important city on a major route through the Peloponnese. It is an extraordinarily well-organised, well-labelled, well-displayed and well-lit collection, offering a true insight into the past of a region near the eastern boundaries of ancient Arcadia, but well inside them. This was followed by a lovely wine-tasting and lunch in the same area, the wine region of Mantineia. After all that, we truly left Arcadia, returning to the Argolid, the northeastern section of the Peloponnese.
The Argolid is best-known for its unusual wealth of Bronze Age remains, and especially its Mycenaean citadels. The most famous is Mycenae herself, our destination tomorrow morning. Today, we went to see Tiryns, the second most important of those citadels. Constructed on a low limestone outcrop near the (then) seashore around 1,400 BC, Tiryns is an incredibly well-defended place, surrounded by enormous walls built of huge blocks of locally-quarried limestone, in a technique that made the Classical Greeks, a thousand years later, think that it must have been built by giants, not humans, namely by the one-eyed Cyclops. As a distant memory of that view, we call the walling style, defined by large and partially-hewn blocks, and the use of smaller stones in the interstices, “Cyclopean”. The citadel of Tiryns also contains the remains of a so-called “palace”, not at all unlike the one we saw at Epano Eglianos (Pylos) a few days ago.
I have guided groups around Tiryns many times, beginning no less than 18 years ago. Today was different, however, for two good reasons. Never before have we been able to tour the site in the afternoon, because it always closed early. More importantly, never before have we been able to show a group to the most famous of the citadel’s “refinements”, the extra bits added around 1,200 BC, a generation or so before Tiryns, along with all other major Mycenaean centres, fell victim to a violent destruction. The refinement I am referring to is the southern “sally port”, a complex side entrance that was added to the fortification, either as a way to allow troops to foray outside the fortress and to attack or hassle attackers during a siege, or as a trap for ambitious attackers. Added to the outside of the pre-existing fortification walls, it is a sinuous stepped ramp attached to the outside of Tiryns, basically a narrow tunnel-like passageway leading up and into the citadel. It would indeed have been a useful egress for defenders, and a problematic temptation for attackers: after spotting its open entrance and then running up a wavy line of steps in the dark, they would have faced – and almost certainly missed – a sudden right-angle turn, with a deep and vertical shaft right ahead of them, an obvious trap to fall into, but obvious only in hindsight. It was hugely exciting for me to be able to wall the sally port for the first time in my life, and it is always great to share this kind of experience with our guests.
There is more to say about Tiryns – a lot more. Tomorrow, we are visiting two of the most famous archaeological sites in all of Greece: Mycenae and Epidauros.