Sunday, May 27, 2012

Decay and Recovery: Nafplio, Greece (the Upper Town)

Nafplio (Modern Greek: Ναύπλιο, Nafplio) is an ancient city that has been occupied, decayed, and revitalized many times. It is located in the Peloponnese region of Greece at the head of the Argolic Gulf. As described in the Blue Guide Greece, "Its delightful situation near the head of the Argolic Gulf and its splendid examples of late-medieval military architecture make it one of the most attractive in Greece. Originally walled, the quiet city huddles along the north slopes of a small rocky peninsula, crowned by the citadel of Its-Kale (279 ft), towards which narrow streets, lined with old houses attractively balconied and shuttered, rise from the quay." Nafplio is about 4 hours drive from Athens and is a quiet alternative if you want to avoid the frantic city.

For a first-time visitor, I suggest you forego the cafes and whiskey bars along the trendy waterfront and tour the upper city, built on the slopes below the Venetian Palamidi fortress. The ancient houses cling to the hillside, overgrown with luxurious grape vines and orange trees.

This is one of the earliest maps of Nafplio, showing the city before 1540, when still in Venetian possession (map dated ca. 1571-75, Venice; from the Wikimedia Commons).

Following the Venetian era, the Peloponnese was part of the Ottoman empire. An occasional old Turkish fountain provides evidence of the centuries of Turkish rule.

The view into the city is a melange of clay roofs, gables, church towers, private terraces, ancient trees, antennas, and solar panels.

This large dome was once part of a mosque, but was converted to a church after Greek Independence in 1821. You can see where one of the minarets emerged from the corner.

Continuing the walk of the upper town, look at this amazing wall. The massive cut stones are Cycladic in origin (early-mid Bronze age, or older than 2000 years BCE). The crude smaller stones are much newer, clearly evidence of how old construction has been included in the modern. Notice how the Cycladic stones do not have any mortar and were fit with amazing precision. Imagine if here in USA we could casually include 4000-year-old walls into the edge of a lane.

In the next blog entry, we will explore the lower city.

Photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera with Olympus 14-54 mm f/2.8-3.5 lens (superb optic).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Demolition of Shelter 3 at the Waterways Experiment Station, May 2012 Update

Some readers may remember a 2011 post showing  the interior of Waves Shelter 3 (Building 3100) at the Waterways Experiment Station, in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

After electrical work, removal of some trailers, and rerouting optical cables, the demolition is finally underway. I am surprised what a small work crew can accomplish the project. One or two workers use cutting torches to cut bolts, and the diesel machines literally pull down big sections of roof and girders.

Dealing with the debris is harder work. The metal is cut with big pincers, and the material is placed in large open dump trucks, whence it is taken off station. This makes me realize what an immense amount of junk and waste we generate in our modern society. An old wooden house eventually collapses and rots, but this steel must be actively recycled (melted and reused) or else it will linger in landfills for centuries.

Photographs taken with a Fujifilm F31fd digital camera.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Farmers' Market in Vrachati, Greece

This topic does not cover decay but the opposite: the agricultural wealth of spring. Spring in the Peloponnese is just gorgeous. The mountains still have snow, the streams are still running, and the fields are bursting with new growth. Vrachati is an agricultural town on the coastal plain facing the Gulf of Corinth, about 20 km west of the city of Corinth. Every Friday, a regional farmers market is held in the central street and plaza. Quite a mixture of vendors show up: farmers, artists with the standard nick knacks, gypsies with plastic furniture, and importers of cheap socks and underwear.

You see a variety of shoppers, including locals and city dwellers buying supplies before heading home to the city (this usually means Athens).

Of course, the produce looks really good. Once could easily become a vegetarian in Greece and live happily.

Winter is also scenic. The vineyards in the photographs above are near Halki, about an hour drive south (inland) from Vrachati.

Food everywhere is Greece is great. The ultimate farmers' market is the famous Central Market in Athens, featured in my 2011 article. Want some cheese? Plenty to select.

Nuts and figs? You can find the best here, including the figs from Kimi, a town on eastern Euboea (Greek: Εύβοια, Évia). The Kimi figs are reputed to be the best on earth - why would I disagree?

Even a regular commercial supermarket in Athens (this one in the suburb of Halandri) has great produce - hmmm, maybe better than one of our Krogers or Safeways?

And for readers with a sweet tooth, any sweet shop in Athens will fill you with nuts, honey, chocolate, espresso, and kilocalories. Back in USA, you will wonder how we can eat the offal that pass for cakes and pastries.

I took the Vrahati frames with an Olympus E-330 digital camera with 14-54mm lens. The background map is from ESRI® ArcMap™ software using ESRI maps and data.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

First Cemetery, Athens, Greece

The First Cemetery of Athens (Greek: Πρώτο Νεκροταφείο Αθηνών) is an oasis of peace and calm in the noisy, frenetic city. It covers an area of about 500x500 m, a green space of pines, cypresses, and narrow walkways. Many heroes of the 1820s War of Independence are interred here, as are other notables of Greek society, prime ministers, poets, archaeologists, and prominent foreigners.  The tomb of Heinrich Schliemann, the discoverer of Troy, is here. Most of the interred were Greek Orthodox, but there is a Catholic church on the grounds, and separate areas are reserved for Protestants and Jews.

Located southeast of downtown in what is now a mixed residential and small-shop district, the cemetery is at the end of Anapafseos Street (Eternal Rest Street - what an appropriate name!). Your initial approach is a bit discouraging. Parking is always a chore, and the entrance area is a bit grubby and looks well-used. The severe marble colonnaded entrance is not very classical-looking.

Once inside it is more peaceful, and the wide marble plaza is lined with cypress trees. The temple you see on the left is Schliemann's tomb.

No one bothers you, and you can spend hours walking the shaded lanes between tombs and statues.

The statuary is beautiful and much is of white Pendelian marble (the same micro-crystalline marble used on the Parthenon). Notice the owl, an ancient symbol of the dead.

This is the famous "sleeping Girl," the Tomb of Sofia Afentaki, a work by the sculptor Yannoulis Chalepas from Tinos.  Tinos, an island in the Cyclades, has a famous carving school, and many of its graduates have worked around the world.

The lion has an almost Egyptian look.

Some prominent British diplomats who supported Greek independence are also here.

Space is at a premium, and many family tombs or monuments contain bones of multiple generations. Any day, but especially on holidays and Sundays, you will see family members cleaning the walks near their family tombs, disposing of dead flowers, and paying respects. First Cemetery is not on the normal tourist route, but well worthwhile.

All photographs taken with an Olympus E-330 digital camera with Olympus 14-54 mm lens, black and white processed in-camera.  Map drawn with ESRI ArcMap software.