An Account of Travel to the Corinthia: Major Sir Greenville Temple (1836)

While conducting research on the diolkos of Corinth last year, I discovered the enormous corpus of scanned texts in Google Books relating travel accounts to Greece and the Aegean from the late 18th to 20th centuries.  These searchable texts offer the researcher an easy way of measuring historical interest in ancient landscapes.  I was interested at what point in time that the diolkos, defined by Strabo as a toponym for the ‘narrowest part of the Corinthian Isthmus,’ was redefined as a “portage road.”  Using Google Books allowed me to discern that the change had occurred by the mid-19th century.

I recently heard from Fotini Kondyli, who is organizing an exhibition for the First Amsterdam Meeting of Byzantine and Ottoman Archaeology, Digging up Answers to the Medieval Mediterranean.  In going through British travelers’ writings, she found and sent me this account by Sir Greenville Temple of a trip to Corinth in the 1830s (see pp. 58-64).  The account, which I copy out here, is also interesting in that it relates to a drawing from Harrison’s A Pictorial Tour in the Mediterraneanthat will be shown at the exhibition.  See the Google Books version for several notes that accompany this text.

I have posted this as a permanent page on the website.

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“At night we again lay-to, by the pilot’s advice, between Salamis and Lavousa island, (Aspis.)

On the 9th, after passing by the islands of Pente Nesia (Dendros,) Havreo, and Plato, we anchored in the beautiful little bay of Kehkrieh (Cenchres) at the head of the bay of Aegina (Saronicus sinus.) Our visit to Corinth we deferred till the following day, as it would have been late before we could have procured horses to convey us there; and employed the remainder of the day in wandering about the neighbourhood.—Passing by some extensive and ancient quarries, from which we had a fine view of the bay of Kalamaki, we went to Cososi (Schoenus.) The country through which we walked abounds with hares and partridges, and our sailors collected a great number of tortoises, some of considerable size. They formed very good soups. One mile in the opposite direction, and near the cape which divides the little bay of Kehkrieh from that of Galataki, we saw what Pausanias calls the baths of Helen, which are nine feet deep, slightly mineral, and though not warm, yet rather tepid.

The site of the ancient Cenchres is at present occupied by a single farm-house, near which is a well of excellent water. Cenchres was the naval station of the Corinthians on the east, as Leches was on the west. It contained temples dedicated to Venus, Isis, and Esculapius, and placed on a rock in the sea stood a statue of Neptune. Close to the sea, and in parts even covered by its waters, are the foundations of a variety of buildings, whose plans can distinctly be traced, as the walls still remain to the height of from two feet to three feet and a-half.

Next morning, having procured horses and mules, we rode to Corinth, nine miles distant. On our left rose a chain of bold rocky hills, on the side of which is the village of Xylo Kerata. Passing by some ancient quarries, we reached the village of Hexomili, or Korio Americano, built on Mr. Owen’s plan by the American missionaries, and consisting of three long rows of houses, parallel, but at a considerable distance from each other. It was almost entirely destroyed by the Greeks during the late commotions. Nearer the mountains are the ruins of a large house built for himself by the principal missionary. Beyond Hexomili are traces of an aqueduct, some tombs, and fragments of brick buildings.* Having crossed the stream of Eupheeli, we soon reached a small collection of houses scattered through a large extent of others in ruins; and this, to my surprise, I found to be Corinth!

The town is known indifferently by the names of Korinto, Korto, and Ghiurdos—and in different parts are seen the ruins of mosques, and minars, and those of an extensive serai, formerly the residence of the Turkish pashas. Adjoining the serai, or rather at the base of the rock on which it stands, is the fountain of Peirene, now called Aphroditi: it consists of a small stream gushing out of a fissure in the rock, whilst water drops from its overhanging ledge. This deliciously cool spot was formerly enclosed within the boundaries of the harem garden, and here doubtless many idle moments were spent by the powerful pasha—seated on the carpets of Persia, and surrounded by groups of lovely women, whilst he smoked his chibook, and perhaps indulged in the forbidden draught of wine. How changed is the scene !—no vestiges of the garden and its tulip-beds, the kioshks no longer exist, and a few dirty and squalid Greek women washing their rags, or carrying away jugs of water, have taken the place of the lovely inmates of the harem.

The town was entirely destroyed during the last revolutionary war, but a few houses are rising out of the ashes; the bazaar is tolerably supplied, and there is a good inn kept by a Cephaleniote. Opposite the governor’s house are the remains of a Doric temple, of which seven fluted monolithic columns remain, which at present measure fifteen feet seven inches in circumference, but before the edges of the fluting were chipped off, their circumference was sixteen feet; they were covered with a coating of stucco or cement, and perhaps painted. Antiquarians suppose the temple to have been dedicated to Minerva Chalinitis. Close to it, is an isolated mass of rock cut in a square form, and having a chamber excavated in it. This may be the tomb of Lais, but the lioness holding a ram between her fore-feet, which Pausanias states to have been sculptured on it, exists no longer.

Observing no other remains of antiquity in the town, we rode up to

…. “Yon tower-capt Acropolis,

Which seems the very clouds to kiss.”

The road was good and partly paved. The citadel is a large and straggling Venetian fortification with crenelated walls, which in parts rest upon portions of the old ones, composed of large, square, regular stones. It mounts about twentyfive pieces of cannon, many of which are Turkish brass pieces of forty-eight pounds, bearing the tooghra of Selim III. The garrison amounts to one hundred men.

On the highest point of Aero Korinto, elevated five hundred and seventy-five metres above the sea, are seen traces, round a small ruined Moslem chapel, of an ancient edifice constructed of large square stones, which may probably be part of the temple of Venus, which Strabo states occupied the summit. From this the view is really magnificent, embracing the gulfs of Ainabahkt (or Lepanto) and Aegina, divided from each other by the isthmus.* Half way across the Isthmus rise the Paleo Vouni mountains (Gerania) on the east, and Makriplai (Oneion) on the west; beyond whose western extremity, which forms Cape Malangara, (Olmice vel Acrceum prom.) is seen the Bay of Livadostro (Alcyonium mare.)  On the opposite shore are the heights of Galata; Ximeno (Cirphis,) and Lyokoora, (Parnassus,) in Phocis; —Zagora ( Helicon,) Koromilia,(Tipha) and Elatea (Cithceron,) in Boeotia;— the high land in Megaris; and Kerala, partly in that and partly in Attica ; —Salamis and other islands in the Saronic sea —the flat sea-board of Achaia, with Balaga (Lechaeum) the now filled up port of Corinth. In the rear are the two roads, which, winding through beautiful valleys and mountain passes, lead to Argos, Nauplia, &c; and the whole is bounded by the ranges of the Cellenus, Artemisium, and Taygetus.

In the different parts of the citadel are scattered a considerable number of columns, among which are some of very fine verd’ antico. There is also a very large reservoir of water, and, according to the on dit of the soldiers, no less than three hundred and sixty-five wells— one of these with a spring, which is situated in the parade-ground in front of the barracks, is said to be the source of Peirene, which again comes to light, as before-mentioned, under the ruins of the pasha’s serai.—During the Turkish rule, Aero Korinto contained a considerable village, only the ruins of which at present remain.

On an adjoining peak of the mountain is another, but smaller, fort, called Pendeh Scoofia, occupied by the Greeks for the purpose of bombarding the citadel from it. It mounts at present six guns and a bomb, and is garrisoned by twenty men. It was from this spot that Muhammed II., in 864, H., thundered against the Acropolis, which soon fell.

Returning to the yacht, we arrived in fifteen minutes west of Corinth, at the remains of an amphitheatre excavated out of the surface of the rocky soil. A small portion only of the seats remain, and as the lower seats have fallen in, the dimensions of the arena could not be accurately taken; it, however, seems to have been about two hundred and eighty-four feet in length, running nearly north-east and southwest, by one hundred and seventy-seven feet in breadth. At the north-east extremity, the entrance is cut through the rock, the roof being flat. At present it forms a large cave in which many Greek families took refuge from the Turkish forces during the late commotions.”

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Categories: Digital Corinthia, Early Modern, Isthmus, Sites, Kenchreai, Sites, Lechaion, Sites, Temple of Apollo, Sites, Urban Center, Territory, Texts, Travelers

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