Friday, 3 October 2014

Built during the Peloponnesian War ...

... and still standing? 

Saronic Gulf via Google Earth. The Methana Peninsula
is just left of centre, near the bottom of the map

I have read about an intriguing ancient wall*. It was built in 425 BC across the isthmus of Methana, and I want to refer to it in my next book, the sequel to The Boy with Two Heads. However, since the wall was built, there have been many earthquakes, a volcanic eruption in 230 BC, and parts of nearby towns have slid into the sea. There are still hot springs not far away, some of which are rumoured to have started after ‘fire shot out of the ground’. So what could possibly be left after 2,439 years and all that volcanic activity? I felt I needed to see, and to get a feel of the surrounding area. 

The Blue Guide: Greece The Mainland mentions “… fortifications, traces of which are visible …”, which was a sign there might be something, but Google Earth seemed to show only trees. Pausanias doesn’t mention a wall at all near Methana, but one or two others do, probably quoting Thucydides, the historian. He was also a general on the Athenian side against the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War, and it was the Athenians who built the wall, so he should have known.

Methana peninsular (NASA)
Methana today is a dormant volcanic peninsula in the shape of a wonky pear, jutting into the Saronic Gulf in Greece. The isthmus looks like the stalk of the pear.

So, on my latest trip to Greece, I set off with my husband to find the ‘traces’, believing that there would be a registered archaeological site, or at least a Ministry of Culture sign. But when we got to the narrowest part of the isthmus, all we could see was steep hillsides covered in small trees and scrub. The isthmus is only about 300 metres wide, but the hill in the middle forms a spine that hides one side from the other. We spent quite a while driving up and down tarmac and dirt roads, looking for something official. 

Eventually we found this:
The path indicated was hardly well trodden and led us into thick scrub on both sides of the spine. We followed it past a tiny chapel at the highest point and, a few metres further on, tripped over a heap of stones. They seemed randomly arranged on one side, but had a straight edge on the other. Could this have been a round tower in a straight wall, stretching up and over the spine? There were large shrubs and bushes obscuring the ground all around us.
The Methana wall from the side the Athenians would see.
We pushed our way through the undergrowth and climbed up and down among dilapidated olive terraces. Gradually we found more pieces of a sturdy wall, in what looked like a straight line, about a metre and a half wide and up to two metres high in places. It seemed we had found Thucydides' wall! It isn't made of well dressed stones, but there are holes for beams to support a platform, and steps up to the top on the Athenian side, so it is certainly not a farm wall.

The Methana Wall, looking north
from the highest point

The Methana wall from the side the Spartans would see.
We took far too many photographs and retreated, scratched, sweaty, and feeling ridiculously pleased with ourselves.

Thanks are due to the kind local person who painted the sign we followed (and many other signs we saw in the neighbourhood)! Assuming I am right about its origins, I find it a wonder that the wall has survived all those years including the eruption, and that we could just walk up to it, and on it, and round it. 

And, now that I know what to look for, it is just traceable on Google Earth, and I can see it in the photos I took from a distance before we found it. Can you see it in this one?

 Wouldn't its original builder be proud to know it's still standing?

* In The Landmark Thucydides, translated by Richard Crawley, edited by Robert B Strassler, 2008. The quote is from Book 4.45: “… [the Athenians] came to Methana between Epidaurus and Troezen, and drew a wall across and fortified the isthmus of the peninsula, and left a post there from which incursions were henceforth made …”. (For 'post' read 'fort'.)
See also: - mainly in Greek

Photographs not credited are all copyright Julia M Newsome.

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