Home > Notes From Athens, Survey Archaeology > More Views of the Ancient Landscape

More Views of the Ancient Landscape

I lead a trip to the border forts of Northwest Attica tomorrow (report and photos on Monday!).  Preparing for the trip was a good excuse to re-read some of the classic descriptions of Attic topography.  This region of Attica has attracted continuous attention from the days of the Early Travelers and the work of Hammond, Edmonson, and Ober did much to establish the archaeological landscape of the region.  (This post is in some ways an extension of my post some weeks back Four Views of the Corinthian Landscape)

Much of the work of Hammond and Edmonson was done with rather poor maps, and this clearly influenced their reading of the topography.  In particular Hammond’s peripatetic method brought together the ancient and modern landscape of the area.  His descriptions of the fortifications, roads, and mountain passes depended upon modern features like roads and crops as well as the visible remnants of the pre-modern landscape.  A good example: N.G. L. Hammond, “The Main Road from Boeotia to the Peloponnese,” BSA 49 (1954), 108.

“A second path leaves the road from Megara to Pagae at a point before one reaches the watershed.  Starting from this point on climbs up through a pass between the two peaks for Mt. Korona, follows the ridge between the two Vathikoria basins and drops down to Tower C.  This path is very well marked, and I noticed rut-marks in the rock-bed during the ascent.  This also took me one and a half hours of walking.  Although steeper than the road past Mikro Vathikhori to Tower C, it is fresher in the summer.  Both these paths were evidently practicable for carts in the past, so that there were three carriageable roads leading into the Vathichoria area from the Central Megarid.”

From Tower C a very steep path, fit only for a man or pack-animal, leads into Attica.  I climbed for one hour to a high saddle on Mt. Pateras between points 976 and 1108.  From there one descends by an easy route down a long valley to reach Ayios Yeoryios in one hour, and the Paliokhori of Koundoura in a futher one and a half hours, making three and half hours in all from Tower C. From Tower F Buchon took a path ‘par un chemin assez facile’ to the ridge west of Mr. Karidhi; from there he descended to Aegosthena, a path which he described as follows… A further path begins from Tower F, taking the same line as Buchon‘s path, and then turns around the end of a spur to join the main route over the saddle of Mt. Karidhi.  These three paths are, and always were, impracticable for carts; they ascend the very steep slopes in short zig-zags, such as mules make.”

In this simple description he is able to bring together both the topography of the area as well as some of the historiography of the places and routes.  Because he spent so much time walking through the landscape, he is able to describe it on a particularly human scale.  Simple things like the number of hours that it took to walk between sites in some ways provides a much more meaningful measure of proximity than even the most precise cartographic treatment of the space.  Compare Hammond’s description, for example, to my marking out of the sites in this Google Earth .kzm file where Tower C, Tower F, and Ay. Yeoryios (Ag. Georgios) are marked and visible on the Google Earth photos.  (You’ll need to download Google Earth for this to work).

As a final note, the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project introduced their volume with an an imaginary encounter between their survey team and a farmer from the past.  This rather overt effort to link the landscape being created by the modern survey archaeologist to the lived landscape of the past employs in an imagined way many of the same techniques Hammond applied some 50 years before without the fanciful or the theoretical baggage.

  1. Kostis Kourelis
    February 29, 2008 at 11:37 am

    I hope you got a chance to also visit Hosios Meletios, the late 11th/12t c. monastery that initiated a large monastic revival on Mount Kythairon. Good stuff. If I remember correctly, it’s not too far from Phyle.

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