Today I ventured further afield to discover more about the history of Marathon. First stop was the Early Helladic Cemetery at Tsepi. It’s right next to the road from Nea Makri through Tsepi to Vranas, in one of the new eco-buildings that they’re putting up over some digs to protect the workings and I guess, the workers. Connal and I saw a really big one at Akrotiri on Santorini (or Fira) last year.
It’s interesting that the cemetery is right next to a road. It makes me think that the modern road follows much the same route that people have used in this area for the last five thousand years. Early Helladic is about 3200BC to about 2100BC in this area.
I saw a handy olive tree opposite the Cemetery and pulled in, pleased to have found a bit of shade on this very hot day. I was inching in to make sure my back end was off the road when I suddenly felt the car slip and fall forwards, and heard a crunch as the bottom of the car hit something. It turned out to be the lip of a shallow ditch, which my front wheels were now firmly in and the back wheels on the level of the road. “Damn, I didn’t see that,” I thought. (Captain Obvious!) I tried packing some flat rocks under the back of the front wheels to give some traction, but that didn’t work, so I decided to look in the Cemetery while I decided what to do.
There was no charge to get in because some archaeologists were working the site. They allowed me to come in and walk around part of the walkway above the dig.
I stayed a while, looking around and taking photos. It was a very organised cemetery, with the graves arranged in rows, and lined with dry-stone walls or sometimes slabs, and covered with slabs and earth.
Having calmed down, I came back to the car and hunted through the glovebox for the phone number of the driver assistance. The person who answered couldn’t work out where I was so she found someone else, who likewise couldn’t work it out from my description. I had told them it was the road from Nea Makri to Vranas, and spelt the name of the town for them, but they still couldn’t recognise it. Nor did they know where the Early Helladic Cemetery is, which surprised me – but then, that’s me 😉 . Later I realised that instead of saying “v” for Vranas, I possibly should have been saying “beta”, as that’s how it’s spelt in Greek, and what looks like our b is usually transliterated and pronounced as v. They said they’d call me back to let me know when they could send a car – and presumably have another go at locating me.
I began to wonder if I should do the girl thing and flag down someone for help. A middle aged gentleman, right on cue, pulled out of the opposite driveway in a type of ute. I waved at him and looked pathetic. He put his hands together and made a diving motion with them while lifting his eyebrows in unspoken question. I nodded assent. He rolled his eyes at the silly tourist, or woman driver, and got a tow-strap out of the back of his truck and attached it. Then he checked my hand-brake and gear-stick, leaving the brake on and the gears in Park. I thought that was a bit odd, but assumed he knew what he was doing. When his tyres started to smoke, I waved my key, mutely offering to get in my car and help. He nodded, and I let the brake off, put it into reverse and I was out in two seconds. I was so relieved that when he’d detached the strap, I grabbed his shoulders and gave him two big kisses on the cheek. He laughed and waved as he drove off. Driver Assistance now rang back, and seemed as relieved as I was.
Ok, now to visit the Archaeological Museum of Marathon.
It’s a beautiful little museum, featuring finds from both the Early and the Middle Helladic Cemeteries, and beautiful grave goods from the tumulus of the Athenians and the tumulus thought to be that of the Plataeans.
I’m always surprised to see things that are that old, that look so similar to things we would use, every day utensils like cups, pots, even frying pans. It’s strange to think of people so long ago living lives not so very different in essence to ours.
The museum also houses the pieces found of the original trophy, a marble column, erected at the site of the battle, in honour of and thanks for the victory.
Yesterday when I had walked south along the beach at Golden Beach resort I had discovered that the beachfront bit of the resort is right next to the Sanctuary of the Egyptian Gods. I was disappointed to find it closed, not just for the afternoon, but for the last four years, with no planned opening date, at least not one that the hotel staff knew, because of more work that needs to be done on the site. I guess that’s a real issue for Greece. There are so many sites that need more work in order to attract more tourism, but only so many archaeologists to work them, so they stay closed till they get high enough on the list. A vicious circle. I was delighted to find that some lovely statues from the Sanctuary are in the museum.
I asked the attendant where the Middle Helladic Cemetery was and she told me it was in the building next door, another eco-shelter, which was currently closed but she’d take me in. Wasn’t that lovely?
The Middle Helladic Cemetery dates from 2100 BC to 1600BC. This cemetery was used through to the Late Helladic, about 1200 BC and is organised differently, with the graves having been covered by seven tumuli about 1.5m high. The foundations of the circumferences are startlingly precisely circular.
After that I walked along a little to the tumulus thought to be that of the Plataeans. It contained grave goods from the right period, so it seems plausible. It isn’t as high or well kept as the Athenians’ but just as important in my mind. A good historical novel about the Plataean involvement is Christian Cameron’s Marathon.
I then went to see the modern monument to the battle. I think it was erected around 2008, but I couldn’t find anything to check that. It’s a smooth marble column, 10 metres high, with an Ionic capital, close to the site of the victory. The original was also topped with a marble statue of Nike, Victory. The guy at the resort said not to bother to see it, but I wanted to, even though it wasn’t original, because it marks the spot I guess. And that’s important.