The mountains of the Mediterranean are everlasting reminders of the previous. The traditional Greeks climbed to their summits to supply sacrifices to the gods for hundreds of years, even millennia, and handed down tales from technology to technology of the battles and myths which performed out on their slopes – Zeus’s defeat of the Titans on Mt Olympus in northern Greece, as an illustration; or the legendary cave on Crete’s Mt Ida the place the goddess Rhea hid the toddler Zeus from his father Cronus to stop him from being eaten.
There are nonetheless traces of those historical locations of worship right now. We all know of about ten mountaintop sanctuaries with surviving materials in mainland Greece and the Aegean, and lots of extra in different components of the jap Mediterranean, together with dozens on Crete. You may suppose that these reminders of European life from 1000’s of years in the past could be among the many most cherished and guarded websites on the planet. As a substitute they’re principally uncared for, unloved and ignored.
Not way back I climbed Mt Zagaras on the jap finish of the Helikon vary, a few hours north-west of Athens. In historical occasions this was a spot of tourism and pilgrimage in honour of the Muses, the goddesses of creative inspiration. The climb begins from the Valley of the Muses, close to to the positioning of the village of Askra, the place the Greek poet Hesiod lived. On the head of the valley are a number of columns scattered across the floor, with goats wandering out and in. For hundreds of years this was the positioning of the nice pageant of the Muses, whose competitions attracted poets and musicians from throughout historical Greece.
Der Wunderbare Mandarin, CC BY-SA
Climbing a large observe to the east, you see beehives all over the place, and you may hear bees buzzing within the timber. After a few miles you flip uphill very steeply – a few 500m climb. Just under the summit ridge on the fringe of a steeply sloping pasture is the sacred Hippocrene spring, which is famously stated to have been fashioned by the hooves of Pegasus. It runs three or 4 metres beneath a niche within the rocks, with clouds of flies buzzing above. Fastened to the rock is a rusty chain and a plastic bucket: I had a small sip for inspiration.
From right here it’s an hour west to the summit, scrambling alongside the massive outcrops of rock which line the ridge. You possibly can see for miles from the highest. There are additionally the stays of a small constructing, which can initially have been an altar of Zeus, although some suppose it’s extra more likely to have been a watch publish.
I didn’t see one other walker anyplace on Mt Helikon, or on any of the opposite mountains I climbed in Greece on that journey. However of all the traditional websites I’ve visited, I discover it laborious to think about any extra memorable.
The shortage of curiosity in these treasures is nicely illustrated by Mt Arachnaion within the Peloponnese area in southern Greece. Its highest level is residence to the ruins of altars to Zeus and in addition Hera, queen of the Greek gods. It was a spot for ritual and sacrifice courting again to the time of the Mycenaeans, Greece’s first historical civilisation (1600 BC to 1100 BC). Now it’s the website of a wind farm. For those who stand by the ruins, with simply the ravens and swifts for firm, enormous generators stretch each methods alongside the ridge. Whereas they’ve been evaded the summit itself, it feels precarious to have permitted them so near the positioning.
Dan Diffendale, CC BY-SA
This lack of curiosity can sometimes pose a a lot better risk. Mountain archaeological websites are often too inconspicuous to be targets for the deliberate destruction we’ve seen at Palmyra in Syria, however unintended injury is one other matter. The summit of the nice mountain of Jebel Aqra on the Turkish border with Syria is the positioning of the largest surviving ash altar from the traditional world, 55 metres extensive and eight metres deep, containing the stays of numerous sacrifices. It now stands inside a Turkish militarised zone, inaccessible to archaeologists. And final November, Turkish forces have been accused of firing mortars from the mountain over the border into Syria.
Whereas I don’t wish to counsel that the Mediterranean’s mountain archaeology is urgently underneath risk, the broader neglect is disheartening. In some instances the websites are inaccessible, partly as a result of many Greek mountains are topped by navy installations. This makes these ritual locations harder to detect and excavate, which can be one cause why many others referred to within the historical sources have by no means been discovered.
For the websites that we do find out about, this appears like an infinite missed tourism alternative. One mannequin for tips on how to do higher is Mt Lykaion and the encompassing territory in Arkadia within the centre of Greece’s Peloponnese area. That is the birthplace of Zeus and the legendary residence of Pelasgus, the primary of the Pelasgians, the legendary inhabitants of Greece.
With the assistance of each native communities and archaeologists, it has lately been become the Parrhasian heritage park. The plan is to draw vacationers and unfold consciousness via strolling trails and a web site. The primary info boards and route markers have been arrange final 12 months, with extra to observe within the coming months. You possibly can nonetheless see fragments of burned animal bones scattered everywhere in the floor on the summit, the remnants of sacrifices many centuries in the past.
Particularly at a time of financial hardship in Greece, this type of method may level the way in which ahead. These treasured websites are among the many world’s oldest treasures. Trying down from their summits, it’s laborious to not be overwhelmed by the sensation that individuals loved the identical view 1000’s of years earlier. It’s obscure why they’re so ignored.
Jason König doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.