Kalamaki Hill

I had always wanted to climb the ridge above Kalamaki Bay on the mainland (eastern) side of the Corinth Canal. Ridges often reward archaeologically-minded hikers with unexpected rewards,and this one was already associated with ancient remains.

The Kalamaki Ridge is that prominent height that one passes beneath when entering the Peloponnese via the old national road, new highway, or the high-speed train. In the olden days, say the 16th-early 19th century, travelers misidentified the peak as “Mount Oneion,” following a confusing note of the geographer Strabo about the location of that mountain. The good work of topographers and surveyors in the 19th and 20th century set the record straight: Oneion was the spine on the southern side of the Isthmus, not the little hill at Kalamaki Bay.

The Kalamaki ridge is the top peak in the image below.

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Unlike the Monastery of St. Patopios, the ridge above Kalamaki is much less accessible. Although it’s not a rugged path to get there, there is no signage to direct the visitor along the path to the peak. Kaylee, Tim, and I were forced to resort to trial and error (with some in-built GPS in our smart phones) to navigate our way along the correct roads linking the road to Loutraki with the series of spurs trending north-south above the narrow coastal plain.

Our first go was a miss. The ridge we hiked up to was not the right one. But we did stumble upon an impressive rural Classical-era site — a farmstead perhaps? — with amphora fragments, stone vessel rims, and painted Laconian rooftiles that had been turned up by some (presumably clandestine) excavation. Without access to my notes, I’m not sure whether this site was one of the two sites identified as “Kalamaki A and B” by James Wiseman in his important book on Corinthian territory.

Our second hit was more successful. We found the road that followed the spur to the very tip. As we walked down a long gravel road leading us deeper into a remote location and heard voices in the distances, we each imagined that we were going to stumble upon some illicit activity. We were not disappointed to find only a woman and two men gathering firewood for next winter.

The reward for our efforts was a commanding view of the two capes that defined the Isthmus: Akra Sophia (center) and Akra Sousaki (visible in the second picture below).

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Also splendid shots of the narrow strip of coastal plain.

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The Ayios Dimitrios Ridge (left-center foreground), the real Mt. Oneion range (left-center background), and Acrocorinth (right) in the distance. That’s Kaylee Schofield and Tim Hampton in the abandoned remains. I warned them not to stand along the edge which is sheer cliff. The woman told us that the ruined building on the peak marked the remains of a German guard tower from World War II. Given the numerous German remains on the Isthmus, that is certainly possible.

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What is indisputable is the geodetic marker on top. Another photo to prove I was there.

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Another day, another good hike that has helped to visualize how ancient writers defined the landscape known as the Isthmus.

 

 

From the Monastery of St. Patapios

The sisters of the monastery of St. Patapios may have the best perspective on the entire Corinthia. Perched high on the steep slopes of Mt. Geraneia, they peer down at the Isthmus, ancient Corinth, the Corinthian Gulf, and the broader world they’ve left behind.

I had driven beneath that monastery so many times on trips to and from Perachora that I had long convinced myself that I had visited it. I had to remedy my oversight, and convinced two students to drive up yesterday morning to have a look.

I’ll admit that my motives for visiting were flat and mundane. I wanted some good photographs of the northern side of the Isthmus. I’ve been cooking up some new ideas about how ancient writers defined and perceived this landscape and needed some high-resolution photos of the coastline for support. In that respect, I was not disappointed. With the morning light behind us and the winds clearing the air, the views were just breathtaking.  This photo, taken just inside the entrance to the monastery, shows New Corinth on the left with Acrocorinth behind. I love how this perspective seems to cancel out the significant spatial distance between  the two as though Acro sits immediately above New Corinth.

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The photo below shows the Saronic Gulf on the eastern side of the Isthmus with the Oneion backbone on the right side. Like the vantage point from Acrocorinth, Mt. Oneion, or the mountains of the southern Corinthia, the monastery offers glimpses of Corinth the twin-sea’d.

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This one — to prove that I was there — shows the main road in Loutraki (to the left of my right shoulder) and the entrance to the canal (to the right of my left shoulder) and a great image of the Isthmus.

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Despite these uninspiring reasons for a visit, I was impressed by St. Patapios and the religious community formed in his honor here. The church itself had panel scenes of the life of Christ and a sort of icon hall of fame of famous Corinthian saints (or those connected in some way with Corinth), with New Testament notables like Paul, Apollos, Priscila, Aquila, Phoebe, Lydia, Crispus, and Gaius (and the list goes on), and more recent ascetics like Nektarios. The cavernous shrine to the left of the church — with its web of lanterns dangling from the cave ceiling –housed the relics of Patapios.photo 3

It was a pleasure to talk to the nuns who were clearly proud of their place and graciously welcomed us to visit the church, treated us to coffee, and discussed the iconography. One told us about her conversion at a young age to the ascetic life, her decision to leave Corinth for the monastery, and her younger brother’s decision to go to Mt. Athos. Having lived in the convent for 58 years, she had a unique perspective of the region.

We ended our visit there with a stop in the bookstore, where I purchased an icon and a life of St. Patapios, the late antique ascetic from Egypt who moved to Constantinople, and whose relics were translated to the  mount some 700 meters above Loutraki around the year 1453. I was delighted to open the life and see that his memory is honored on December 8, the feast of the immaculate conception in the Catholic church — and my birthday.

 

 

On the road

It’s been a few years since I last visited Ancient Corinth and I’m glad to see things in the village are still recognizable from when I was here last. The trees in the plateia have grown taller and fuller in the last several years — it’s hard to believe that not so long ago this redesigned plateia was the main route that the big buses would take on their way into and out of the villages.

Wireless interent is now everywhere, or at least can find it at many of the tavernas and coffee shops. I was hopeful that I could do a series of posts but the connection is just spotty enough — at least at my hotel — to make it challenging to upload images of the village. My trip here, in any case, is a quick strategic strike to answer a handful of remaining research questions related to my study of the Isthmus, and I’ll write with more detail and images when I return home next week. For now, a few lovely images I managed to upload while writing this post and answering some emails.

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