02 October 2009

Ai Yanni at Lefkakia

Ai Yanni is a much-loved chapel across the road and up a hill from the village of Lefkakia. It nestles into its stones like Gulliver into a Brobdinagian bosom, stones whitewashed so many times that they look like a mound of Christmas cookies. The tumble-down house I remember has been built up, but forty years ago when Evangelitsa was trying to decide if she should defy her family and marry Yanni, she ran away from home and spent two days and nights in it (in sight of her own house). Their families had not spoken for generations. They married.

There is also an arch over the gate where it is said the Turks hanged the priest who once lived in the little house from the bell in 1821 when the Greeks revolted. The small yard is planted with pines and lilies

Ai Yanni has no architecture to speak of, and its very few dark frescos would be eminently forgettable were they properly visible, but it has a wonderful porch and the smell of pine and the murmuring of bees make you feel you have come home.

The eve of the August feastday in 1978, we walked up the hill in the dark, stumbling over loose rock and thorn, eyes fixed on the brilliant light provided by lights for illegal fishing. A priest in white stood before long tables covered with embroidered white cloths, crowded with baskets with great mounds of sweet bread heaped with powdered sugar. The chapel and stones had just been whitewashed and there seemed little difference between the stones and the bread.

During the service, people went into the chapel and the children and the older women climbed the ladder and went out through the window, for a healing or a blessing. Evangelitsa said that even the fattest could get through, though the children always stood around and hoped someone would stick.

After the service, we went back to the village and sat at long tables covered with brown paper on which cooks kept setting out bread and roast chicken and lamb and endless carafes of wine. People danced -- alone, in groups, a young girl with her grandfather, young men together, girls together, everyone mixed -- once two circles moving in opposite directions like on the shield of Achilles -- the women always keeping themselves quite vertical. It went quite late and happily, and Evangelitsa's children set their heads onto the brown paper like melting candles and slept.

* * * * *

Across the bay from Nauplion, at the far edge of the plain, there is a pyramid known as Hellenikon -- Maybe not a proper pyramid but the walls slant inward and there is a capstone. An article from the Journal of Archaeology reports on tests in which optical thermoluminescence was employed to date samples taken from the pyramid. It was determined that the samples which had been tested had been quarried at about 2720 BC ± 580 years. This more or less works out to anywhere from 1300 to 160 BC and is not helpful. But there are many who like that 1300 because it makes the pyramid pre-Trojan War. The ancient Argolid and its myths claimed an Egyptian connection, and there is much evidence of a trade relationship between Mycenae and Egypt. [Re-reading this some time later, I see the arithmetic is way off.  I have no idea what I was thinking. It should be from 3360 - 1140 BC, but quarrying is not construction, & it still allows the pre-Trojan War claim.]

I don't have a horse in that race. But I would like to call attention to the style of stonecutting in the pyramid, and the style of stonecutting at Ai. Yannis.
And then I would like to call attention to the style of stonecutting at Nauplion. There are walls on Acro-Nauplion in this style, but there is also a good 20 meters of wall of the same style in the old city, starting behind the Hotel Leto and continuing along the vacant lot next door.

Aerial photographs make it fairly certain that this is the survival of a wall that enclosed a large area of a lower city that probably included much of the area that was gutted of important survivals by a Greek government agency to make a parking lot for the unspeakable overpriced government hotel above.

The walls at Nauplion are considered Hellenistic, which means, loosely, in the vicinity of 250 BC.
This was an insecure time: walls and watchtowers were needed. Hellenikon, as an outpost for Argos, could monitor the traffic on the three major passes into the Peloponnesos. Ai Yanni could communicate between Nauplion and the citadel of Asine.

Ai Yanni was a considerable construction in its day, a squarish structure with a surrounding ring wall, and another ring wall not far down the hill. In 1978 these rings were distinct. The construction of a house and roads, and use of more of the hill for agriculture has resulting in the destruction and moving of many of these great stones with
nicely-cut joins. At Ai Yanni massive stones from the original construction are used -- possibly in their original position -- to support the porch roof, and inside the chapel large stones are visible where the chapel was extended past the stones. This is clearly seen on that exterior photograph above.

In the aerial photograph, Lefkakia is unseen to the right, and a long range of very high and hostile hills begins at the left. There is, or was, a very ancient well below the hill on the left. This was a deliberately chosen, easily manageable site.

Aerial photographs of Hellenikon -- the Google World images were not clear enough to put here without too much explanation -- show that it, too, was a small rounded hill set out in front of very high and hostile hills. Too much damage has been done to the immediate area for that to be visible on the site -- a parking lot has been bulldozed out, roads cut through, lowland filled in. But from the base of Hellenikon on the south, the hill would have been seen to rise up to the pyramid which continued the angle of slope.

I look with the eye of an amateur, that is, with the eye of a lover. I would like someone who is smarter than the thermoluminescence people to take these sites as a unit and give me better dates. I can think of several explanations, but this is not my field. I have twice tried to take American archaeologists to look at Ai Yanni, in 1978 and 2008, only to be told that they were too busy.  

* * * * * *
This is an addition, nearly two years later.  When I wrote the foregoing, I had not particularly thought about the pictures of Ag. Adrianos-Katsingri, but on further consideration prompted by Cyriaco of Ancona's visit there, I want to include that little fortress which looks out over the broad Midea valley with these other three.


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