Home > Korinthian Matters > Four Views of the Corinthian Landscape

Four Views of the Corinthian Landscape

Yesterday the Regular Members participated in a popular “optional, but mandatory trip” to the Eastern and Southern Corinthia.  Jack Davis (the Director of the American School), Tim Gregory (a professor at Ohio State and a NEH Fellow here in Athens), and I introduced the students to they way in which regional archaeological projects, most of whom practice intensive pedestrian survey, read the landscape.  In particular, the students saw four different views of the Greek landscape.  The different readings of the same “text” reinforced the idea that the landscape was a constructed entity.  This is to say that the landscape is not a discrete space with a single significance but a complex mosaic of overlapping meanings which each group assembles for their own benefit in order to create a useful and meaningful knowledge of their environment.

The Village of Old Nemea.  Sanctuary of Zeus is the far right.

1) Jack Davis provided us with a brilliant historical overview of the landscape of the Nemea Valley from his experiences with the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project. He pointed out the wide range and diversity of sites extending from the somewhat isolated vicinity of Ancient Nemea with its temple to Zeus to the head of the pass into the Argolid.  Atop the Evangelistria hill we were able to look south through the Dervenakia pass into the plain of the Argolid, past Mycenae, Argos, and on to Nauplion.  The area is now mostly given to vines — producing the famous Nemean wines — but was dotted with sites and settlements throughout antiquity.

South from the Evangelistria Hill through the Argolid with the Saronic Guld in the distance

2) On the way through the countryside of Nemea, Jack told a story about the discovery of the Early Christian basilica on the Evangelistria Hill above the village of Old Nemea.  According the story the church was discovered after an old woman in the village had a dream which told her to go up on top of the hill and dig there.  She did what the dream asked and discovered an ancient icon amidst the ruins of an old church.  The villagers hearing about this then rushed up the hill and excavated the Early Christian basilica with their farming tools revealing its full plan.  The story itself is an inventio tale and tremendously common in the oral tradition of modern Greece.  As mentioned earlier in the blog, the story has precedents in Christian literature dating back to at least the 5th century Inventio Crucis (discovery of the true cross).  The stories emphasize the discovery of a lost sacred object typically through divine intervention.  They conceive of the landscape as having places of latent sacredness that persist through time even if temporarily obscured from view.

Early Christian Basilica on the Evangelistria Hill with the modern church in the background.

3) After a lunch at Ancient Corinth, Tim Gregory and I walked the students through the landscape in a way that would complement Jack Davis’s big picture view of the Nemea Valley.  We focused on a few fields and encouraged the student to look down and take notice of the artifacts on the ground.  By observing field conditions, like visibility, small scale changes in slope and soil type, and the variations in artifact densities students, we gave the students a fieldwalker’s eye view of survey archaeology and method.  It also urged them to consider how survey archaeology defines site in the landscape based on artifact density, topography, and the various influences on artifact recovery. 

Tim Gregory talking to the students in the Corinthian countryside

4) Midway though our fieldwalker’s eye view of survey, we were sidetracked by a local farmer who offered to show us the antiquities on his land.  We were standing atop a known archaeological site which had been partially documented in the early 20th century.  Since then, however, it has been part of seemingly prosperous farm which had imported soil, changed the landscape through bulldozing, and plowed through antiquities to improve the drainage for vines and citrus trees.  The farmer, nevertheless, was pleased to walk the Regular Members across the landscape pointing to antiquities throughout his land.  He watched with an amused look as the students crashed, slid, and jumped down the tall bulldozed terraces, and pointed out various antiquities with the quiet confidence of a man who knew the land better than almost any archaeologist could ever hope.

Categories: Korinthian Matters
  1. Phyllis
    February 12, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Thank you for those photos of memory-charged countryside. Intrigued by stories of Sister Vasilike and her landmark chapel atop Evangelistria, I trudged up there alone one hot July Sunday in 1981 to make her acquaintance and inspect the Early Christian Basilica. After offering me the customary spoon-sweet and a glass of water in her modest living space, she cheerfully escorted me around the hilltop to see her chapel, the goat and chickens, the ancient basilica, and a sweeping view then undefiled by telephone towers or the ‘new road’ to Tripolis. I have a vivid recollection of bright eyes peering out from beneath the black scarf. Her face was weathered, but she probably wasn’t much older than 40. I think she died only a few years later. The story I had heard in the village involved a vision dreamt by Vasilike herself, prompting her family to build the hilltop chapel and shelter in fulfillment of a vow. With a group of Nemea excavation folks, I climbed an uninhabited Evangelistria again one summer evening in the mid-90s and espied in the weeds a grooved block from one or another of the ancient stadia (it’s probably been removed to the museum by now). Before the Tripolis highway–and all those other superfluous roadcuts — sliced through the countryside and disturbed old monopatia, excavation staff often walked over a saddle south of Evangelistria to return home from evening dinner at the Hani Enesti taverna. Those were the days.

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