Friday, June 13, 2014

WARP: Up and Running; A “New” Site in Athens

WARP study area
On Tuesday, Jonathan and I, accompanied by Gerry Schaus and Metaxia Tsipopoulou, ventured into the heart of the Argolid to visit the Institute’s newest fieldwork project, the Western Argolid Regional Project (or WARP). This joint effort of Dimitri Nakassis (University of Toronto), Scott Gallimore (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Sarah James (University of Colorado at Boulder) has just started its first of three field seasons. After a slow start last week they are systematically walking the fields in the third of the research zone that they will cover this season. The research zone is in the upper portion of the Inachos river valley to the northwest of Argos.

View of the main apartment complex
Numbering almost 30 individuals, with students from each of the three universities as well as other researchers, they are staying on the Gulf of Argos in Myloi, to the south of Argos. The senior researchers have ample experience surveying in the eastern Peloponnesos and in Cyprus. Thus, they are using the latest technologies for pedestrian survey such as satellite imagery, digital cameras and GPS to record their findings in the field and then to import these data sets in the afternoon into a GIS platform for storage, organization, analysis and display. In the “old days” to get results of the high quality that we saw would have taken many days, if not weeks, of focused effort by many individuals to achieve a preliminary version of this.

Students working on the databases in the afternoon
Although we were not able to see what they had collected so far, their descriptions indicate that the artifact scatters, while not continuous, are nevertheless frequent and interesting. With four weeks to go they expect to achieve both their coverage goals for this initial field season and to identify important new archaeological remains. We’ll find out more in August when they send us their “guest blog”. Kala evremata paidia!!!

View of the Lykeion area towards Mt Hymettos
A “new” site is now open in Athens
When it comes to archaeological sites in Athens, we often assume that all of them have been discovered by now and that we can go and visit them (within normal opening hours, of course) when we want. Those who specialize in Athenian topography and monuments know, however, that this is not true. The location of many important places in the history of settlement in Athens are either not known for certain and/or have been destroyed at some point in the past. Much ink has been spilled on where such buildings and places were, such as the “Old Agora”.

View of the Lykeion towards Rigillis Street
One elusive major monument of later Athens was the Lykeion. This was the Sanctuary of Apollo Lykeios outside the defensive walls of the city along the Ilissos river where, in 335 BC, Aristotle set up his peripatetic school of philosophy. It was called the Lykeion after the sanctuary there, just as the Academy of Plato was referred to from its shrine to the hero Akademos. Although long thought to be in the District now called the Anaktora (after the “New Palace,” now the Presidential Megaron), the remains of a portion of it did not come to light until work was started on a location proposed for the Goulandris Museum of Contemporary Art in the triangle formed by the Army Officer’s Club/Sarogleio, the Conservatory/Odeion of Athens on Rigillis Street, and the Byzantine and Christian Museum. What was uncovered by 1996 was a large portion of a palestra of a gymnasion with rooms associated with athletic training and probably on the north side the Ephebeion with a library. Two small baths were added later in the 1st century AD. In the years since the excavation was completed a study was undertaken to cover and to protect the remains as well as to create a small landscaped park around them.

Last Thursday, one of the individuals responsible for this work, the architect Dimitris Koutsoyiannis, showed me and my wife around the site, which had just opened without fanfare the previous day. Not far from Vas. Sophias Avenue, the broad entrance is on Rigillis Street at the rear corner of the Army Officers’ Club. At present there is no sign to indicate that the site is open to the public without charge. The archaeological remains are set in a flat area surrounded by the lower bedrock slopes of Mt Lykavettos. When the adjacent Conservatory of Athens was built in the early 1970s archaeological remains were found but were thought unimportant at the time. The Ilissos river bed here is where Vas. Constantinou Avenue is now.

View of a plaque
Each section of the site has bilingual plaques (Greek-English) with plans, drawings and reconstructions to aid in understanding what is in a particular area. The remains date to the later 4th century BC, and they are part of what must have been an expansive complex along the road that ran out of the Diochares Gate that led to the Mesogeia of Attika. It was used until the mid-3rd century AD. Somewhere under the modern buildings and streets was the sanctuary itself, the Mouseion, stoas, the open and covered running tracks associated with gymnasia, and the garden and grove where the philosophers and their students walked. This is where Aristotle and his successors created the first library as we know it. Scattered walls at a higher level are from a 19th-century military barracks and exercise ground that stood until the 1960s.

View of plantings
The site has been planted with a large variety of Mediterranean plants as well as grassy areas around the architectural remains. There are places to sit as well. One can go from here through either of two gates to the new gardens behind the Byzantine and Christian Museum. The outdoor café of the Museum is a perfect place to think about what the Lykeion once was in the ancient world, what it means to us today and the nature of knowledge. You may need two frappes to realize all of this!

We hope that Dimitris Koutsoyiannis will give a lecture this fall at the Institute on the process and issues for creating a suitable protective cover for archaeological remains.

David Rupp

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