Saturday, January 31, 2009

Follow the White Marble Road to Halandri

While I don't typically report on new archaeological discoveries, I cannot help mentioning the excavation of a road that, in antiquity, connected downtown Athens with its marble source on Mount Penteli. The process of marble extraction, transportation and general provisioning for the Acropolis has been beautifully elaborated by Manoles Korres in Από τη Πεντέλη στον Παρθενώνα (Melissa, 1994), or the English edition of The Stones of the Parthenon (Getty, 2000). My good friend Anna Androulaki has just informed me that a section of this marble road has been unearthed in the neighborhood of Halandri . "Follow the Marble Road" was the title of her email. The witty reference to the Wizard of Oz has a deeper personal meaning that I'll explain later in the blog.

"The Ancient Road of Marble," was announced in yesterday's Eleutherotypia newspaper. The excavation was supervised by Giouli Papageorgiou of the 2nd Ephoria of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. The ancient road is 3.30 m wide and it contains the expected wheel ruts. What is wonderful for post-classical archaeologists (like myself) is the presence of a Frankish coin indicating the road's continued use into the 13th and 14th c. According to the secondary literature on this issue, all marble quarries stopped functioning after antiquity. Penteli's quarry was opened up again in the 19th century for the rebuilding of neoclassical Athens. Research on medieval quarries is in its infancy. Frederick Cooper and Sarah Franck (University of Minnesota) have been studying the issue with G.I.S., and Demetris Athanasoulis (Ephor of Byzantine Antiquities in Corinth) has been tracking limestone quarries connected to the foundation of Glarentza and Kastro Chlemoutsi. A coherent picture is emerging for the Frangokratia in the Peloponnese with new limestone quarries servicing the need for ashlar detailing (quoins, rib vaults, sculpturalal relief, gargoyles, etc.)

What is personally exciting about the new stretch of the marble road is its location in the ravine of Halandri near my friend Anna Androulaki's house. I've spent endless summer hours on Anna's balcony between field projects. All of Athens seemed to have vacated and we splurged on DVD marathons of the Sopranos, Haagen Dazs, peinirli, and Penne alla Vodka. Anna's son, Patroklos, is my godson. When he was eight years old, I decided to take him on his first "archaeologcial expedition." Since I would go to Greece and then disappear up in the mountains, Patroklos had created an inflated idea of how "cool" my job was. So, I decided to give him a true taste. I got him a compass and a notebook and we headed up the mountain to the quarries of Penteli. Actually, Anna drove us up there, but we walked back on our own
(for hours). It was one of my fondest days in Athens: me and my godson crawling through quarry caves and Byzantine churches, looking down upon Athens, all alone with no other soul in sight. The walk back was interesting, too, since Patroklos insisted on wearing his unlaced Run DMC sneakers for the occasion. Once we reached civilization, we took a bus to downtown Athens. It became clear to me at that point that Patroklos had never taken an Athens city bus. The adventure was topped by a special bookstore visit to buy the latest volume of my favorite children's literature, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, just translated into Greek.

Now, we don't have to take that journey anymore. We can simply walk to 133 Penteli Street and watch the marble road. But things have changed. My friend Anna and the kids have immigrated to Germany; Anna, an IB teacher, got a fantastic job at the Salem International College in Uberlingen. So, my godson became an immigrant at the age of fourteen, almost as old as I was when my family immigrated to the U.S. I feel an additional bond with Patroklos; such a transition is a mixed bag full of growth and excitement, on the one hand, but sadness and estrangement, on the other hand. I regret not being there for some sympathetic support. For Anna, Patroklos, and his sister Dynameni, the return to Halandri is the return from the Xenitia on the sporadic holiday. For me, Anna's house in Halandri fulfilled the need of an immigrant's return home. Paradoxically, the same house is now serving this very role for Anna and the kids. Circuitously, it emerges at the end of a different yellow-brick road. And my wife tells me that there is another circuitous path: Daniel Handler (aka. Lemony Snicket) is Wesleyan alumni.

Finally, I should mention that Patroklos is blooming into a successful recording artist, a proud representative of a small but booming hip-hop scene in Greece. So this last Christmas holiday, when her returned to Halandri from Germany, he spent his time at "home" in the recording studio, mixing the tracks of The Fat Free Yogurts (Άπαχα Γιαούρτια). Now I'm really glad he didn't compromise his unlaced shoes for the mountain of Penteli.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States