Thursday, November 4, 2010
The following morning we left the comfort of Hotel Aristotelis on the coast near Ancient Epidauros and headed west hoping, before the end of the day, to reach the remains of the sanctuary of Asclepios and the theatre at the well known tourist site of Epidauros, twenty or so kilometres away.
The start of our stroll, between exhaust belching traffic and the litter that decorates all greek roads - wantonly discarded plastic bottles and cups, cigarette packets, drinks cans, food wrappers and anything else that can be thrown from the window of a moving vehicle, was far from Arcadian. That the rubbish infested verge was generously shaded by walnut trees fairly dripping with nuts ready for eating was something of a saving grace; a harbinger, perhaps, of better things to come. Eventually we turned off the busy road onto a traffic free track that led us up to the impressive nunnery of Kimissis Theotokos Kalami, around four-hundred metres above sea level. Here I recovered from what had for me been a long and taxing climb while resident nuns welcomed us with jugs of chilled spring water and plates of Turkish Delight. (Insert pic) Originally founded in the seventeenth century by monks from Kalamata, the Monastery was disbanded in 1834 and reopened as convent in 1974. Preserved within the large and impressive convent are some of the original seventeenth century buildings.
Nuns at the convent are skilled stone masons and decorators. I watched fascinated as a nun worked, patiently and painstakingly painting images in traditional Byzantine style onto a plastered wall. The convent church walls and ceiling are presently only about a third fully painted, the remainder being either 'work-in-progress' or bare cement; devotional employment for years to come. The floor of the church has been decorated with fine mosaic images of saintly deeds and Christian symbols.After a long and necessary rest we moved on from the convent, continuing along the track to climb gently but steadily higher. As light rain began to fall, we came across an odd looking structure on a summit just a little off our track; a fire watcher's lookout complete with fire-watcher. (Insert pic) Even on this overcast afternoon the views from the lookout of the countryside around was long and spectacular; east to the sea, five-hundred metres below us, west over Argos to the mountains of Arcadia, south to the sea beyond Naúplio. With his permission, and to his great amusement, in the shelter of the fireman's lookout we boiled water on a gas burner we carted with us, and made tea.
Shortly after tea the rain eased. We bade farewell to the fireman to begin the decent down a rocky track that led, after an hour or more of steep downhill walking quite as taxing as had been the assent, to a tarmacked road, traffic and litter. We followed the road into the well developed tourist site at Epidauros. We had almost arrived at our objective for the day; the ruins of the healing centre of Asclepios and the adjacent theatre where we arrived, early in the evening, tired and hungry to a site that was closing down. Few tourist coaches or cars remained in the huge car park. The only refreshments to be had were the very limited and rather unappetizing remains on offer at a snack bar in the car park. Rather than a delicious multi-course taverna meal and accompanying flask of wine, daydreams of which had sustained me through the last aching kilometres of the afternoon, I was obliged to dine on a ghastly 'hot-dog' washed down with a can of beer which, after my mountain stroll were, nonetheless, manna and nectar to me.
That we caught the snack bar open, was fortuitous. Its manager was also manager of a café/restaurant with a large covered terrace near to the theatre where, he told us, we would be welcome to make ourselves comfortable for the night.
Millennia after being established as a centre for healing, Asclepios' ancient sanctuary is still flourishing as such; providing food (of sorts), shelter and clean, well appointed public toilets that close late and open early!