Sunday, December 26, 2010

Kerameikos cemetery and museum

On the Sunday after Easter, I took A to the Kerameikos. I wanted to have another look at the sub-mycenaean and protogeometric pots after my visit to Nauplio archaeological museum a week before and the Easter holidays seemed to give themselves to this, what with the gentle beginnings of spring coming on. It was going to be quite an adventure. I had not yet been left alone in charge of A out of doors for quite so many hours, and we had public transport and dangerous roads to deal with (and a lot more besides).

The metro station called Kerameikos (despite what the name may suggest) is not the closest stop to the site and museum. The closest is actually the Thiseio stop, but this does not have the escalators to help with arriving and leaving with a pram. Do not make the same mistake I made and expect anyone in the vicinity of the metro station to know how to go to the homonymous archaeological site and museum from the metro. Do not even expect them to know that the stop they are standing in is named after the old cemetery which used to stand in the potter's quarter. That's the sort of mistake that idiots with over-idealized images of their own countries make.

Finally getting oriented with the GPS maps on my swanky Nokia 5800 (which them promptly proceded to die on me) we set off up Pireos towards the entrance of the Kerameikos. At some point in between death-defying maneuvers necessitated by the lack of pavement on some parts of the road, I realized that A. was missing a sock. She had been playing with them, and evidently she'd been playing with the sock formerly on her right foot a little too much. We proceeded barefoot for the rest of the journey. It was a Sunday, early afternoon. The fleasiest part of the flea market is set up just outside the entrance to the site and with it a plethora of 'used' goods, prospective buyers and the sort of people who trade in used goods of uncertain provenance. Great.

Once we found the entrance, behind a stack (literally) of used stereos and speaker systems, the museum and surprisingly the site itself are quite pram-friendly.

The museum is essentially a square building with an atrium-like light well in the centre. Gone are the old-school wooden cases from years ago (that you can still see in museums like Thera and Naxos). Everything is new and shiny, including the patches of damp causing the paint to bubble and crumble in some places.

One side of the square houses the sculpture - two kouroi, a number of sphinxes and some grave stele, together with a boundary marker with interesting epigraphy. There are also some classical family grave markers of the overly classical style which is too much for me. The exhibition passes into the Atrium where the large marble bull memorial draws all the attention and smaller low relief works sit around the edges overshadowed by the bull. From there, we start the history of Athenian pottery…

The first leg covers the sub-mycenaean, protogeometric and geometric eras.

Next we have the first representational ceramics, going through to the mature black and red figure eras.

The final leg of the square has more classical and too much hellenistic pottery. Labelling is in the most rudimentary name rank and serial number style which characterises so many Greek museums, which is a pity as there is a lot of potential to explain aspects of the ancient world in this museum.

Pieces I particularly enjoyed are:

Grave marker - bearded boxer
Grave marker - bearded boxer: The piece was found re-incorporated into the Themistoclean walls of Athens as a spolion. It is remarkable for being a quite individualistic portrayal of a presumably recognisable person at a time when portraiture was not really developed.

Boundary marker, Kerameikos cemetery
Boundary marker, showing the boundary of the road for Eleusis (a nearby town with a very important sanctuary, the road for which passes through the cemetery of the Kerameikos): ΗΟΡΟΣ ΤΕΣ ΟΔΟ[Υ] ΤΕΣ ΕΛΕΥΣΙΝΑΔΣΙ
It is interesting to see the H being used as a rough breathing on the word Horos, but not on Hodos and also interesting to see the E used where we would expect an H. Guys who dig epigraphy could probably date it on these grounds alone to the nearest five years, but this kinda thing ain't my bag, baby.

Low relief grave marker
It's archaic. I like it for the hair, for the hands and for the smile, although I did not make a note, so I cannot write too much about this.

Cinerary urn from tomb 18/I
The cinerary urn from tomb 18/I of the Kerameikos cemetery in Athens dates from the 10th century BC and aside from the wavy lines, sports one of the earliest depictions of horses in Attic vase painting.

Kerameikos museum - Warrior - Individual find
From a tomb dating between 750 and 700 BC. The depiction of the warrior is pretty standard - helmet plume, beard, twin spears and swords together with a sort of "boeotian" shield. I like this sherd because you can clearly see the individual brushstrokes used to make up the warrior and at the same time you have a nice look into a cross section of the fabric.

Individual find
This vase dates from the first quarter of the eighth century BC and depicts two men taming a horse. It is one of the earliest depictions of the human form in Attic vase painting.

Kerameikos museum - Tripod with warriors - Individual find
From a tomb dating between 740 and 730 BC. The tripod shape is one associated with ritual use, burnt offerings or funerary meals. The decoration is split into two bands - a frieze along the top showing standard geometric-era warriors and little vignetted warriors wrestling lions in the legs. The depiction of the warrior is pretty standard - helmet plume, beard, twin spears and swords together with a sort of "boeotian" shield, alternating with the standard round shield. The lion in the lower register is depicted as a ferocious beast, but clearly not one with which the artist is familiar.

More pots can be viewed on Flickr here: A visit to the Kerameikos in April 2010

We then went outside with A. for a photograph together in the Kerameikos proper.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Reopened archaeological museum in Nafplio / Nauplion / Nauplio

On one edge of Constitution Square, opposite the old mosque which now serves as a cinema, sit the Venetian-era barracks of the town's military garrison. This building now houses the offices of the local ephorate of antiquities and the town's archaeological museum. I am particularly fond of the ephorate here as they issued me my very first free-entry card to the antiquities of Greece and did so in one day! It was not until many years later that I realized how lucky I was to get the card issued so fast.
External view of the Museum of Nafplio on Constitution Square.

Following a lengthy refurbishment which seemed to last most of the present decade and which saw little seismic stickers put all over the building and the bulk of the Mycenaean finds go to the new museum at Mycenae, the Nafplio Archaeological Museum has been re-opened with a new layout and a refreshingly decent set of texts accompanying the finds. A lot of stuff has come out of storage, not least the Francthi child burial (more about that later) so the visit I made in April this year felt in part like a visit to old friends, and in part like a new museum altogether.

The museum houses finds from many of the sites of the Argolid, including Tiryns, Asine, Berbati, Francthi, Dendra / Midea, Kazarma, Nauplion itself and probably more that I do not recall. It used to be the best collection of Mainland Bronze Age stuff in Greece after the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, although now I would think the title of second best has to go to the Mycenae museum itself.

The museum is organized on the first and second floor of the building as before, with the first floor dedicated to the prehistoric periods and the second to the Iron Age onwards. The finds are exhibited either according to findspot / period or according to type - meaning that we have all the Franchthi finds in one corner, and all of the Dendra finds in another, but at the same time, the MH vessels are placed separately from the figurines, which are separate again from a bunch of sherds with imprints on their bases showing either mats or leaves.

The truth is that visiting with A in the pram was not 100% practical (despite the AMEA / wheelchair lift which we preferred not to use) so we did not spend too much time on the top floor which in any case has marginal interest.

The Bronze Age floor or more accurately Neolithic and Helladic floor was really quite fun. First in on the left, there are the finds from the Kazarma tholos including some nice palatial style jars, together with a good photograph of the state of the tholos at present (only the back wall is standing). Moving round the room clockwise, we have the cemetery of Dendra along the wall, joined by Asine later on and the Dendra panoply in the middle of this part of the room. The panoply is displayed nicely along with other bronze finds from the tomb allowing the visitor to build a good sense of what goes with what and what finds are from which tombs. The Dendra finds are displayed next to a scale model showing the placement of each tomb in the hillside. This provides another valuable link to the findspot which enhances the visitor's understanding of the finds as part of a functional whole rather than as individual pieces of art each independent of those around it.
Kazarma: display of palatial style vases together with other grave goods.

Dendra: Model of the cemetery showing the relative locations of the Tholos Tomb, the Cuirass tomb and the other Chamber tombs.

Dendra: Nice schematic LH murex shell on grave goods .

Dendra: the finds from the Cuirass tomb, all together in one case.

Further down we pass the Asine finds, with some good diagrams of the tombs as excavated and this is followed by some cases containing only figurines, whether wheelmade or hand made from a number of different locations and of different sizes, all presented together. These include the famous Lord of Asine.
Asine: sketches showing the findspots and context of the finds together with decent texts.

Asine: the "poor" man's Vapheio cup! ceramic Vapheio cup showing a goat rather than the bull one would expect...

Various sources: various figurines whether wheel-made or coiled, all together in one case. The so called Lord of Asine is the solitary head to the right of the image.

Moving on, there are finds from the MH (including some stirrup jars with simple painted motifs) and part of the plaster floor of the megaron at Tiryns showing two dolphins, heraldically opposed.
Various: MH era ceramics, including a coarse-ware bowl with carbonised figs.

Tiryns: painted decoration from the floor of the throne room of the megaron.

Moving on clockwise, we enter the MH period properly and this is represented by burial goods from Berbati and elsewhere. The finds reproduced in the burial of the MH with articulated skeleton are in stark contrast to the finds on show from the LH graves of Dendra.
MH burial reproduction: A is surprised at the austere nature of the grave goods.

The EH is represented by impressed hearths and pottery from Tiryns and Berbati, and the room finally closes with the NL just before the door leading us to feel that perhaps we should have gone anti-clockwise rather than clockwise round the room! Apart from the Urfirnis pot which used to be the highlight of the Franchthi section in the old museum, there are now a great number of small finds on display along with one of the famous child burials of NL Franchthi - again articulated with the grave goods in place in the display. The Franchthi section also has photographs and drawings of the cave itself with much information.
EH Pot bases: Impressions with plaster "positives", with some EH sauceboats in the background (sauceboats are the archetypal EHII type shape).

EH hearth: one of a number of such ceramic hearths decorated with relief patterns. This one is from Tiryns.

EH hearth: one of a number of such ceramic hearths decorated with relief patterns. This one is from Berbati (I think)...

Franchthi cave: Decent text introducing the visitor to the complexities of the NL.

Franchthi cave: Urfirnis ware - the best of the best of NL ceramics.

Franchthi cave: infant burial on display.

Franchthi cave: repaired ceramic bowl - shows the value of ceramics at the very beginning of their use.

The texts are well thought-out and the layout of the finds (especially the articulated skeletons) adds much to the visitors' understanding.

As I said - this is one of my fave museums anyway, but I think I have to give it a thumbs-up for the way it has been refurbished, re-planned and re-opened. Well done Δ ΕΠΚΑ!

Second floor: ceramic masks - an opportunity for some interaction with A.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Monastery at Daphne / Dafni

So we took A to the monastery at Daphni. I had not been since 1991, almost twenty years ago. I remember walls and fortifications and a blurry photograph I have of the pantokrator (which I may be confusing with a pantokrator in Mystra). I did not remember the Ionic columns from the temple of Apollo and I would not then have been able to spot any trace of Gothicness on the narthex, let alone remember it. Given how much we did learn and retain while making this study tour with the school, there is no fault to be ascribed to Jimmy and the gang if we missed some of the Mediterranean Gothic...

Walking into the site today, the visitor is confronted by the massive block of the Daphni church, orange and pink in limestone and brick with its impressive drum and dome on top, all covered in scaffolding and dotted with stickers labeled ΕΜΠ and NTUA. The south door which was in front of us was locked. We headed to the west colonnaded section of the monastic complex's southern courtyard. The buildings there housed classical sculptures from the Daphnephoros sanctuary and late antique, Byzantine and medieval architectural fragments. Across the court, on the top floor, there is an exhibition on the restoration and the work being done. After wandering about a bit more, we found the phylax and much of what follows we were either told or I figured it out for myself as the phylax took us up the scaffolding.

Photos and videos are not allowed inside (rofl). No, really, they are not, so I was all fidgety and annoyed both because of the brevity of the preparation time available to take some photos while no one was looking but also by the need to keep my (now handheld) helmet-cam hidden.

On the way up, we first see two Gregories, amazingly large when at eye-level, amazingly pink-skinned and white haired in their restored splendour. Each mosaic we saw was an invitation to spend a whole afternoon there, wondering in awe at the work of the mosaicist. Opposite these was Zacharias in an arch, with his funny cuboid hat and then onwards and upwards - the guide rushing us upwards, but telling us to take our time... At conch level, we were face to face with (from NE-NW clockwise): Annunciation (amazingly tranquil and inspiring), Birth, Baptism (no willy), and Metamorphosis (badly damaged). And like the Narnian Mouse - "Further up and further in!", cried the phylax and we found ourselves face to face with sixteen prophets around the drum, again splendidly pink and white, like the Gregories or Zacharias, all of course with their golden backgrounds and with calligraphic names but also with conspicuous tubes and plastic pipes sticking out of them for the strengthening of the mosaics and eventually for the cement enemas which will serve to strengthen the walls and finally allow the walls to again take the weight of the building for themselves.

Then, finally, on the top floor of the scaffolding, we stood face to face with the pantokrator in awe, and were able to distinguish the tesserae and notice that each one is quite a large stone. Amazing indeed, but I had to let K see it too. I came down with appetite for close-up mosaic unsated and told her to go up while we played with A in the garden to the West. The narthex contains one of the four original Ionic columns from the Daphnephoros sanctuary. I am not sure where the other three are, various sources give various stories about what indeed Elgin took from here. The asymmetric gothic exonarthex is rather fun as well, with its arches not quite lining up on each side.

The need for restoration came with the famous quake of 1999, where, apparently the mosaic decoration all came to the ground. On commencement of restoration, they only replaced whatever pieces had a definite provenance, meaning that there are great chunks which will never be replaced. The opportunity to get this close to such exquisite mosaic work was amazing and I totally recommend a visit. The feeling it inspires reminds me of the feeling I had when facing some fresco work in Ochrid or facing the frescoes of the Protaton in Karyes, both pretty much contemporary with these mosaics. I want to go again...

View towards the exonarthex from the North West

View towards the exonarthex from the North West in clunky HDR

Base of the Ionic column from the exo narthex colonnade, complete with seismic sensors

Capital of the Ionic column from the exo narthex colonnade

Ionic column from the exo narthex colonnade