Traveling Classroom Foundation
Friday September 22nd 2017

Evolution of a Village

For the past five years, the village of Koutouloufari has been our home away from home whenever we are visiting Crete. While very familiar to us, it is also something of a mystery. So we decide to learn more about it.

Village of Koutouloufari above the port of Hersonossos
Koutouloufari on the lower slope of Mt. Harakas, above Limin Hersonossou

According to local history, the village began during the Byzantine period (306 to 1453 CE) following a severe earthquake, which destroyed a settlement near the port (what is now Limin Hersonissou). The residents then moved eastward and built another village along the beach. However, piracy was rampant during this period, and the new village soon became a target. A band of pirates, who thought the villagers were rich, befriended them and were invited to a festival. After the festival, the pirates kidnapped the young women and stole everything of value they could find in the village.

The church on St. Basil Street is relatively modern (only 160 years old). It was built on the site of the original Ayios Vasileious.

Fearing more pirate attacks, the villagers moved inland – climbing the slope of Mount Harakas. Upon reaching the church of Ayios Vasileious (Saint Basil), they told the priest what had happened to them. The priest, whose name was Koutifari, gave the refugees land around the church to build their homes. The new village was named Koutouloufari, a tribute to the priest.

From their elevated location, the villagers could watch the sea and spot pirate ships long before they reached the coast. This gave them enough time to hide in safe refuges, which the pirates would find hard to locate. They planted their trees and vineyards on the terraced hillside, and – over the years – the village became well-known for its oil, wine and almonds, which were shipped all over eastern Crete.

Olive grove near Koutouloufari village

Clustered around the little church, the village grew and prospered. The houses were practical structures used as homes, for production of olive oil and wine, and for sheltering farm animals on the ground floor. Many of those stone-built houses are still here.

Old stone-built houses (still occupied) near our apartment

Some of those buildings are ruins, tucked between modern structures, others have been modernized and are still used, while still others on the main street have been turned into cafes and shops.

Olive oil factory has become a cafe
Ruins of an olive oil factory converted into a fashionable cafe

When tourism became a thriving business along the beach, some farmers in the village began developing their properties to attract outside visitors.  Now the main street is entirely devoted to tourism. But just off that narrow cobbled road are even narrower lanes still lined with traditional homes.

Odos Sokratous lined with ancient houses in Koutouloufari

We hike up Odos Sokratous (Socrates Street) between ancient homes. At the end of the street, on the edge of the village, is our apartment complex, which was built in modern times on a rocky ledge of the mountain.

Our apartment (upper right balcony) is on the village edge

Back in our apartment, we can still appreciate the early foundations of Koutouloufari. From our doorway, we see an olive grove and a wandering herd of goats from the nearby farm. Above us is the stone face of Mount Harakas, which provided a safe haven for desperate farmers and their families.

 

 

River in the Underworld

Our visit to Kerameikos has made us curious about Eridanos, the stream that appears out of nowhere at the Sacred Gate of ancient Athens. In Greek mythology, Eridanos was a river god of Attica – where Athens is located. In other myths, however, it is mentioned as a river of the Underworld – the realm of Aidēs (Hades in English) and abode of the dead.

Lykavittos hill pokes out the cityscape like an island

As usual, stimulated by some preliminary research, we are off on another fact-finding mission.  Our first stop is Kolonaki, an upscale neighborhood that climbs the southwest slopes of Lykavittos hill. Somewhere up on this huge limestone outcropping is the hidden source of Eridanos.

In ancient times, Lykavittos was outside the city. Its name (which means “the one walked by wolves”) suggests people considered it a wild and dangerous place. But the hill provided Athens with fresh water that flowed through what is now Syntagma Square, down Mitropolias street past the cathedral (lower left in the photo), into the ancient agora and Kerameikos, and then southwards to the Ilissos River. Sometimes the stream was flooded with rainwater runoff from nearby hills (Areopagus, Acropolis, Pnyx). This inspired ancient engineers to channelize the stream to limit flood damage in neighborhoods and public areas.

Eridanos eventually slipped beneath the ground, either into man-made water tunnels or natural pathways – and was forgotten in modern times. When the Athens Metro used radar-sound equipment in 1993 to investigate the subterranean zones of Syntagma Square (for a planned subway station), they discovered a small river still flowing beneath the heart of the city.  Part of the old riverbed (now dry) is on display in the Syntagma station.

Strata of ancient history revealed by excavation of a subway tunnel

Walking from Syntagma station to Mitropolios square, we see no evidence of the old stream. However, in the square are some large plane trees (platanaceae), whose existence can only be explained by the flow of underground water. Such trees require a lot of water, and often grow on the banks of rivers. We continue from the cathedral to Monastiraki, a bustling square at the corner of the plaka and the ancient agora.

Monastiraki Square is a constantly active flea market (pazari)

Passing the tiny Pantanassa monastery (monastiraki literally means “little monastery”), we head towards the new metro station across the street on Athinas. Parts of the Eridanos waterworks were discovered there while tunneling for the Syntagma-Ethnikis Amynas subway line.

Eridanos water channel constructed by Greek engineers

These discoveries are carefully preserved inside the metro station, and displayed in a museum-like setting.

Brick drainage system introduced by Romans

There is some moisture at the bottom of these channels, but no flowing water – not that we would expect to find any in summer.  We are told that, in winter, people waiting for the train can sometimes hear water flowing on the other side of the tunnel wall. It is only few hundred meters from Monastiraki to the open channel where Eridanos flows into Kerameikos.

We know that the stream cannot be seen most of the time, because it flows underground (in the “Underworld”).  And it traverses the ancient cemetery (or necropolis, which means “city of the dead”). So one might also say that Eridanos courses through the realm of the dead, ruled by Aidēs (whose name just happens to mean “hidden”).

Makes you wonder when, where and how ancient myths were created in the first place, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

Gates of the City

An electric tram carries us from the Faliro waterfront to Syntagma Square in about forty minutes. It is a short walk from the Syntagma station to the Ministry of Culture office, where we must present our credentials to obtain scholar passes. Since the official paperwork won’t be done for a few days, we walk back to Ermou street and find a kafenion where we can plan our day.

Tram station is a short walk from our apartment in Paleo Faliro

After sipping an ellinikos (Greek coffee) we stroll down Ermou, a very commercial pedestrian street named for Hermes, the ancient god of commerce. The store displays offer little of interest, so we continue until we reach a place we haven’t visited in years: Kerameikos. This was the demosion sema (public cemetery) of ancient Athens. It was named after the community of potters (kerameis) in this part of the city (or after Keramos, the mythic lord of potters). The defensive wall built by Themistocles in 478 BCE (after the Persian wars) split the Kerameikos district. Pottery shops were inside the wall near the agora (market), and the cemetery was outside the city gates.

Small grave markers became mandatory to conserve space

The first thing we see upon entering the site is a collection of what appear to be stone bollards in a pine grove by the little museum. These are simple grave-markers used after a law was passed to prohibit more elaborate monuments (statues, tombs and such), which had formerly been fashionable. As we walk into the old cemetery, it is easy to understand why the city might have passed such a law. Some monuments are quite large, and theke (repositories for the bones of soldiers who died in wars) were sizable buildings. Athenians were buried at Kerameikos for more than a thousand years, so space was limited.

Street of monuments in Kerameikos

Citizen, statesman, hero and villain – all were buried along the roads leading to the city’s main gates. Here are the graves of such public figures as Solon and Kleisthenes, founders of Athenian democracy, the statesmen Ephialtes and Perikles, philosophers Zenon and Chrysippos, and generals Phormion, Thrasyboulos and Chabrias.

Remnants of the Themistoclean walls of ancient Athens

As we follow the ancient road to Athens, we come upon several sections of the old city wall. From these ruins it is difficult to picture the true dimensions of this impressive structure. It was 8 meters (26.2 feet) tall and 3 meters (9.8 feet) thick, with strong defensive towers at the gates – from which defenders could rain arrows down upon any invader.

Wall of Athens with Dipylon (L) and Sacred Gate (R) [Dimitrios Tsalkanis]

The city had two gates at Kerameikos, the Dipylon and the Sacred Gate. These were the main gates of the city because they were the starting points of the most important processional roads of Athens. From the Dipylon, people followed the Panathenaic Way to the acropolis, where they honored Athena (the city’s patron goddess) in the most splendid festival of the Greek world. In the fall, pilgrims passed through the Sacred Gate and hiked 18 kilometers to Eleusis, in the heart of the wheat and barley growing region, where a religious festival was held in honor of Demeter, the ancient goddess of grain and fertility. (Note: Greek farmers plant grains in November.)

Eridanos, where it exits the ancient city at the Sacred Gate

The river Eridanos flows out of the city through an arched channel at the Sacred Gate. The arch is still here among the ruins, and the river channel is clogged with bog plants. In ancient times it was a gushing winter torrent, coming down from the south slope of Lykavittos hill and eventually flowing into Ilissos river. Nowadays, it is only a stream that mainly runs underground, except where it flows through Kerameikos.

Sacred Gate with Eridanos flowing out of Athens [Dimitrios Tsalkanis]

One of the most impressive buildings connected with these city gates is the Pompeion, which was used to prepare for the Panathenaic procession. When it was first built (4th century BCE), it was a rectangular building with a propylon at the northeastern corner, a columned porch around a  courtyard, and several adjoining rooms (perhaps for storage of religious items).

Pompeion foundation and remains of its interior porch columns

To anyone arriving in ancient Athens for the first time, it must have seemed a fabulous building tucked between the two great city gates.

Pompeion is between the Sacred Gate (L) and Dipylon (R).  To the right is the little “Fountain House” where travelers could stop to wash and refresh themselves. [Dimitrios Tsalkanis]

 

Pompeion entrance with Ionic columns. [by Dimitrios Tsalkanis]

The Pompeion seems to have been destroyed in 86 BCE, after which potters established workshops and kilns among the ruins.  They were evicted by the Romans and another large building was constructed. It too was destroyed by invaders, and the ruins were again taken over by potters and their kilns. Why? Because of the ready supply of clay in the Eridanos river bed. Kerameikos remained the domain of potters.

Special thanks to Dimitrios Tsalkanis, who gave us permission to use his wonderful digital images. More can be found at Ancient Athens 3D.

 

 

Unconquerable Lato

 

While visiting the highland village of Kritsa, we decide to explore the fortress city of Lato, just a few kilometers away. In the late 19th century, a famous archaeologist examined its “cyclopean” walls (built with huge stones that only a giant Cyclops could have lifted) and declared Lato a Mycenaean city. That misguided assertion was more than a thousand years off the mark. The city was founded by Dorians in the 7th century BCE, during what is known as the Archaic Period.

lato_kritsa_1.jpg

Kritsa is perched on a rocky ledge below a cliff wall

Immigrants from the mountainous region of northern Greece, Dorians were a warlike people who preferred to build their towns in hard-to-assail locations. They found an ideal place on two naturally fortified hills overlooking a seaport the Dorians had established at Kamara.

lato_hilltop_2.jpg

Dorians found their refuge on a fortified hilltop

The city was named Lato, which is the Dorian pronunciation of Leto – the mythical mother of Apollo and Artemis. It prospered and grew into one of most powerful cities of Classical-Hellenistic Crete, controlling a large territory [see map].

Lato Gate

Main gate to the fortress city of Lato

We hike up the ancient road to the main entrance gate, which is a rather small opening in the mighty fortification wall surrounding the city [see site map]. In ancient times, the gateway was actually a rectangular building closed by three strong doors. It forced attackers to break through repeated barriers in a narrow passage controlled by fierce warriors . . . an almost impossible task.

If invaders survived this trap, they would still have to climb a long stairway that passes through a number of terraces before reaching the city center. Each terrace adds another strong wall with a portal that could be blocked off, creating a series of defensible positions all the way to the top of the hill. No rational commander would order his army to certain destruction in such a gauntlet.

Staired mainstreet leading to agora of Lato

Long stairway through walled terraces to the Lato agora

On the left side (north) of the road are stone-walled homes and a couple of defense towers, and on the right are the shops and workshops of craftsmen. One of these is believed to have been the workshop of a textile dyer, because of the mortar and stone vessels found there.

Textile Dyer's Workshop

Workshop of a textile dyer, with stone vessels intact

At the top of the stairway we enter Lato’s central market square, or agora, which lies in a shallow valley between two peaks. Directly before us are the remains of a large stoa (a covered walkway or portico), which was probably used for market, cultural and political activities. Around the stoa are other public structures, including a shrine, an unroofed building (exedra) with public seating, and a deep cistern that provided water for the community.

Lato Cistern

A deep cistern was the city’s main water supply

Just north of the agora is an impressive staircase – flanked by the remnants of towers – leading up to the prytaneion (government house), where the ruling council (kosmoi) met to deal with political, military and judicial matters.

Stairs to the Government Building

Carved stone staircase leading to prytaneion building

Lato had a ruling council of ten individuals who led the city. In addition to running the judicial system and military, they repaired buildings, built temples, and met with officials from other cities.  The council members were elected annually from among four tribes or clans that made up the city population. Three Dorian clans and – surprisingly – one Minoan clan were represented. A committee of elders advised the council, and a citizens’ assembly voted on council proposals. It was a very democratic system.

Prytaneion - the Government Building

Council members sat around this central stone table to discuss laws

Behind the prytaneion is a complex of houses where members of the ruling council lived during their term in office. There are other houses in the neighborhood around these government buildings, but these are only partially excavated.

View from prytaneion house across the agora (click to enlarge)

South of the agora, on a terraced hillside, are the remains of a large temple dating from the late 4th to early 3rd century BCE, and a house (perhaps where the temple priestesses lived). We walk through the temple vestibule into the inner sanctum (cella), where we find the base for a cult statue – probably of Eileithya, the city’s patron deity. Interestingly, Eileithya was a Minoan goddess long before she was added to the Greek pantheon of deities.

Temple of Eileithya

Temple of Eitheithya from entrance to base of statue

East of the temple, on a lower level, is a small theater space formed by a narrow terrace used as a stage and stone steps that seated 350 spectators. Next to the “bleacher” seats is an open building with stone benches around its three walls. These were obviously the good seats used by the city leaders when attending religious festivals or civic assemblies.

Lato Theater

Theater building for kosmoi, general seating to the right

Walking back to the agora and down the stairs towards the city gate, we pause at Terrace IV to explore several houses. All of these homes are built with heavy boulders and have narrow entrances to prevent a large group of invaders from breaking down the front door. But this never happened.

Lato had problems with neighbors – Olous (now Elounda) to the North, Lyttos to the West and powerful Ierapytna (now Ierapetra) to the South – usually when Lato threatened their interests or attempted to expand its borders [see map]. These conflicts did not escalate into general warfare. Lato became a part of a league of Cretan states during the 3rd century BCE, and during the 1st century became a vassal of the Roman Empire.

There never was an attack on the great fortress of Lato. The Latoans eventually grew tired of living in an invincible mountain stronghold that was never threatened by anyone, so they decided to move closer to the sea. They abandoned the old city and moved to their seaport at Kamara, which is where of their business (and some say piracy) interests lay.

What became of Kamara? There were many hardships, wars and different rulers over the centuries. Now it is called Ayios Nikolaos, a port city, tourist haven, and capital of the Lasithi prefecture.

Kamara - Ć?ļæ½yios NikĆ?Ā³laos

Ancient Kamara eventually became modern Ayios Nikolaos

 

 

 

Aqueduct

Returning from a visit to Knossos and some of the valley towns to the south, we see the remains of an aqueduct not far from the road. This one was built during the brief Egyptian rule of the island (1832-40) to provide water to Irakion. It is in the ancient Roman style, and along the same route as an earlier Roman aqueduct. This starts us thinking about why and how the Romans had constructed the water supply system in the first place. Later, after some preliminary research, we learn the old Roman aqueduct terminated somewhere around the ancient city of Lyttos, not far from Kastelli.

Roman aqueduct along the road to KastelliAqueduct along the road from Archanes to Kastelli

Lyttos was one of most powerful cities of the Greek (Doric) era, but it became too ambitious. In a war for control of the entire island (221 – 219 BCE) its armies launched campaigns against several other cities. While they were away, Knossos attacked and destroyed the unguarded city, and sold all the townspeople into slavery. That was the end of Lyttos, until Rome took control of Crete in 68 BCE and decided to rebuild it as a Roman city.

During that time Romans were great administrators and builders. Whenever they made a new conquest, the first priority was to “civilize” former enemies and bring them into the Roman Empire. According to Rome, a big part of civilization was infrastructure – the roads, bridges, water supply and sewer systems that made life comfortable for the populace. When people are content, they are less likely to revolt against their rulers.

Water was an essential part of the civilization plan. People in ancient times (and even today in many countries) settled near a fresh water source whenever possible. If the water dried up for some reason, the town was abandoned and the populace went looking for another water supply. Drinking water is more important than any town, because without it there is no life. For this reason, Rome built water supply systems in many conquered lands.

Aqueduct in Segovia, SpainAqueduct built by the Romans in Segovia, Spain

Looking at Crete’s parched coastline, one might assume the island has little water to support its population, let alone the millions of visitors who come here every year. On the contrary, the mountainous spine that runs the length of the island from east to west collects considerable snow during the winter months, and several rivers flow down from the high country. Only a few kilometers inland terraced fields, vineyards and orchards spread across the hillsides and reach up towards the mountains. There is plenty of water here. Getting that mountain water down to lowland farmers and coastal cities was a challenge familiar to Roman engineers.

From a map we find the origin of the Lyttos aqueduct near Oropedio Nissimou mountain, a few kilometers south of Krasi, a highland farming town famous for its pure spring water (although its name – krasi – means “wine”).  Following the aquaduct seems like a good adventure, so we decide to drive into the mountains.

Krasi SpringsThe public water house at Krasi spring

In Krasi we find several old public fountains and stone water collectors filled by springs, which also fed the Roman waterworks in ancient times. The Roman water channel here was nearly half a meter wide.

Water basins at Krasi SpringsWater collection basins for public use at Krasi spring

The aqueduct continues westward beneath mountain plateaus rich with water. Near the town of Kastamonitsa the channel turns north towards Lyttos. In this area are some of the most visible remains, including part of the aqueduct wall, 10 meters high at some places.

Aquaduct wallAqueduct wall along a country road

At ground level the wall is over 2 meter wide. Unfortunately, after this section no visible remains have yet been identified until Lyttos.

After driving to Kastelli, and stopping for a coffee frappe, we turn onto a winding country road towards Lyttos. It is a slow climb through olive groves and vineyards to the village of Xidos (pronounced Ksidhos), and then 2 kilometers to the turnoff for ancient Lyttos. We continue along a dirt path on a high plateau that presents a beautiful view to the Diktean Mountains. Aside from two old churches (Ti­mios Stavros and Ayios Georgios) built from the remains of Lyttos, there is not much of the ancient city to see (it has not yet been excavated by archaeologists). However, there are a scattered ruins and visible remnants of the aqueduct walls.

Ruins of Lyttos aqueductRuins of the aqueduct wall above a vineyard

The aqueduct transported water over 22 kilometers from its mountain source to the users. Not a small accomplishment when considering 2000-year-old technology. There are many other Roman aqueducts in different countries, but this was one of the longest – and probably most expensive – ever built.

On our return to Hersonisos, we detour along the Aposelemis gorge to the villages of Potamies and Avdou (see map). Here the Aposelemis River flows from melting snow in the Lasithi mountains. Along the northern part of the gorge, we pass a modern waterworks project. The government is building a large dam and reservoir system to capture the spring runoff and distribute water to the lowland regions through a huge tunnel and pipe network.

Aposelemis River Dam
New dam on the Aposelemis River near Potamies village.

Our need for water does not change over the centuries, but the engineering solutions are constantly evolving.

Special Thanks to Wilke Schram and Cees Passchier for sharing photos from their website Roman Aqueducts.

To learn more about Roman Aqueducts and how they are constructed, we recommend the NOVA web site on this subject. It actually allows you to build your own aqueduct.

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