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Visiting archeological sites in Thrace

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 05 June 2016

Sunday 05 June, visiting archeological sites in Thrace

It is sunny and warm when we set off this morning, but in the distance we see black storm clouds hanging over the mountains near the Bulgarian border. Through a very quiet Alexandroupoli we drive to Makri where a lot of ancient site can be visited, so it seems from the many brown signs on which sights are always shown. But in Makri itself we only see the sign to Archaia Zoni (antique Zoni) that is 11 kilometers away.
Sanctuary of Demeter, Zoni Potter's kiln, ZoniSo we follow that first and we arrive at the remnants of the city of Zoni, once one of the trading cities in the north of Greece, a bit like the hanseatic towns in north-western Europe but then in the 6th century BC. It was a colony of the nearby island of Samothrace and is one of the best-researched ancient sites in Thrace. You can see a number of special things such as the clay kiln where amphorae and large clay wine barrels were made. By playing with the temperature and the humidity the paintings were baked in the clay so you get the beautiful black drawings on the red vases as you often see in museums.
Foundations of a house, Zoni Amphoras in the ground, ZoniThere are also remains of temples for Demeter and Apollo and of course houses. Quite special is the large amount of amphorae (188 pieces) that probably stood under the floor of a house, with the opening to the ground. It is thought that this was done to keep moisture away from the floor. It is very special that all those vases are still intact after so many centuries. There are clear information signs but we can not tell if the info is completely trustworthy. For example, it is mentioned that this settlement is of particular importance due to the large number of potshards found with Greek characters but in the local Thracian language where little is known about. It seems to be the largest collection in this language, but we can not find much about it on the internet.
Archaeological site Makri Archaeological site MakriThe brown information boards show that outside this settlement there is a lot more to be seen: an old cemetery, a mine, old roads and a castle ruin. We see an overgrown area covered with corrugated iron and where even the sign disappears a bit between the weeds and there is nothing to see. And further on we encounter many unpaved roads where we quickly can not continue because the road is impassable for our rental car.
Elisabeth in the Cyclop cave at MakriThen back to Makri for the other archaeological sites, but the only thing we can now find is the cave of the cyclops. Here the cyclops Polyphemus would have lived. The hero Odysseus and his men were held in the cave for some time by the one-eyed giant, but Odysseus fed him drunk, allowing the men to escape by hanging under the belly of the sheep. The wines from this area were known as rather strong. But for a giant it is a very small cave. In later times the cave was used by farmers for the storage of wine and other products.
Today is a day full of culture and a visit to the archaeological museum in Komotini is part of that. At least if we could have found it. Apparently both the navigation and the map are not correct or they have moved the museum. After a short walk through the center, we head for Maroneia. We (obviously) do not take the direct road.
Landscape at Maroneia Amphitheater in MaroneiaMaroneia is already announced 30 km in advance but probably a whole collection of locations is intended. At the final exit we arrive on an almost impassable path. Well, we just try to drive on. And yes, there is a way to an antique theater. After 2 kilometers of a dirt road which is difficult to climb, we see a small but beautifully preserved amphitheater. The fences around it are closed but we have a nice view. Then we drive further in the hope to get on an accessible road on the other side of the mountains, but that is not going to happen.
The area at antique Ismara Acropolis of ancient IsmaraIn an inhospitable landscape we suddenly see signs that refer to all sorts of other old things: an old city wall and city gates of ancient Ismara and a wine press from prehistoric times and old stones. The landscape is dotted with boulders and it is sometimes difficult to decide what is natural and what is made by people. The land is now mainly used for the production of olive oil and also a shepherd walks around with his goats.
Information board at Maroneia Mosaic at MaroneiaSix kilometers later the roads become too bad for our little car and we can not go any further, but we have to go back. Along a different path we encounter many more antiquities that also belong to Maroneia as a clear information board indicates. Signs enough but otherwise we can not get anywhere close, only from the road we can view the remains such as a Roman bathhouse, a house with mosaic floor but also an old Christian bathhouse and an early basilica.
Roman agora at Maroneia Roman propylon at MaroneiaThe remains are on both sides of the road and we wonder what else is underneath the ground. Greece has such a rich history and we understand that there is no money to dig up (and maintain) everything, especially because new habitation or roads have also been built in many places on top of the old ones. But we are very curious anyhow.
Goats around the car It starts rainingThen we end up in a very large herd of goats and we have to wait a while until we can drive on again, they are in no hurry. Greeks often honk and drive slowly on but we find the spectacle much too nice. Then the dark clouds, which have hung above the mountains all day, are breaking loose above our heads and we end up in stormy weather. For an hour we drive through the pouring rain and occasionally we are afraid that the car gets stuck. The shepherd and his sheep are hidden under a viaduct.
But once we are out of the rain I want to go to the beach: the sun is shining again and it is still warm. Elisabeth warns that the wind is coming from the wrong direction and new clouds are coming towards us. And indeed, less than a minute after we get out of the car at the sea, it starts to rain gently. No beach today.
As we have today not seen what we were looking for: every time we kick in again, we think that something is indicated properly and in the beginning it is true but at the end you have no idea. We will try this Greek tourism principle once again: 20 meters from our hotel are hot springs, the thermal baths of Traianoupoli. We have a folder with a description and everything about it on the internet. The day before yesterday we have already walked around the site but except for a modern drainpipe with hot water, nothing found. Now we follow the Greek instructions and we die at the hotel / restaurant where the sources should be. The people sitting there do not speak English but nod at the word Traianoupoli and point around the tent of the cafe: we have to go there. We repeat the gestures a few times, walk in that direction and they nod after us. And then nothing at all. Later we find out that the old buildings belonged to the old bbathhouse and that there is a modern spa in the Spahotel. We were looking for thermal wells and didn't see them, unless it was the drainpipe we saw.
Then walk 20 meters to our hotel for a well deserved meal and a cold beer! How often are we going to step in here? Signs that lead nowhere .... but it does explain a bit the Greek crisis and especially the EU signs that say: follow the money track and when the money runs out, the signs also stop.
But still we have seen a lot of places from the past, today, I am quite happy.


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