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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave

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Monday, 28 May 2018

Athens War Museum


We had a few hours in Athens on Saturday before our flight back to Edinburgh. A trip to the Parthenon and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to start with, then onto the War Museum.


The exhibits range from ancient times to the modern era, with a mix of reconstruction, artwork and original items laid out in chronological order. Not all the exhibits are translated into English, which is fine for the specialist, but the general visitor would struggle. The lighting is also inexplicably dark, with most floors just gloomy. Overall, while it's a good museum and very much worth a visit, it could do with some modernisation.

I have picked out some of my favourite exhibits below:

Ancient Persian

Frankish
Hanging the Patriarch in Istanbul when independence was declared. The characterisation in this painting is brilliant.
 
Turkish standards
                  

Mountain gun

Model of the Metaxas Line being attacked by German forces in WW2

A huge collection of weaponry from around the world

And finally the external displays. Including a few pieces that I certainly could not have named. I'll leave these without captions, so you can do the same.




Friday, 25 May 2018

Mycenae

HI visited ancient Mycenae today. Situated in the foothills of Mount Zara near Argos, it was the capital of the mighty Mycenaean civilisation - one of the superpowers of the ancient world, along with the Minoans, Hittites and Egyptians.


For wargamers, Greek history tends to start with the Hellenic age and the Persian and Pelopponese wars. However, the heroic age is worth another look. This was the age of Homer, the siege of Troy and the Odyssey. 

The Achaeans, as Homer called the Greeks, arrived in Greece between 2100 and 1900 BC, during the Bronze Age. The fortifications at Mycenae date from around 1350 BC and uses stones so massive that the ancient Greeks believed Cyclops helped the founder, Perseus, to build it. This was the palace of Agamemnon, who led the Greeks at the siege of Troy. He was the mega grumpy one! Mind you, having to sacrifice your daughter for some decent weather, would challenge most folk!

The civilisation was destroyed around 1200 BC. It was thought by the Dorian invasions, but as with the Hittite and Egyptian civilisations, which collapsed at the same time, it is now thought that some other disaster was the cause.

Mycenae is a remarkable site and well worth a visit. The entrance, with its Lion Gate is still largely intact as are the base walls. 


When you climb to the top, and view the Argos plain below, the choice of site becomes clear.



There is a very good museum on the site that explains the history and displays items excavated from the site, including some weaponry.




Also worth a visit, from the same period, is ancient Tiryns. The walls that impressed Homer remain pretty impressive to this day. The site is just outside Nafplio, on the Argos road.


You come across bits and pieces of Mycenean architecture as you drive around the area. This is a bridge near Kazarma Castle that I visited yesterday.


Now, who makes Mycenean figures?












Thursday, 24 May 2018

Epidavros

Today I took the short journey to Epidavros, a sanctuary of Asclepius, the God of medicine.

The star attraction is the theatre, which can seat 14,000 people and has the most amazing acoustics. You can hear conversations on the top rows. Visibility, even the cheap seats would embarrass a few football stadiums I have been to.



The sanctuary itself has extensive ruins of some unusual buildings for the period and covers a vast area.



There is also a small museum exhibiting some of the finds and drawings that reconstruct its original form.


After a morning of culture, I stopped off at the ruins of Kazarma Castle on the way back. The original fort was built in the 5th century BC and was probably the citadel of the ancient town of Lessa. However, it has medieval additions, probably Byzantine given the square towers.



A couple of people have asked me about sources on Greek castles. I use 'Fortresses and Castles of Greece' by Alexander Paradissis. There are three volumes, published in Athens in 1994. Very useful, although some maps would have helped.


Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The fortresses of Nafplio

The port of Nafplio in the Peloponnese is an absolute must see for the military history buff. It has three castles and a very pretty town to keep the rest of the family entertained.

In ancient times the town was under the control of Argos as its main port, until the the Byzantines used it as a base for their anti-piracy operation. Then the Franks held it for around 180 years before giving way to the Venetians. In 1540 it fell to the Turks after a three year siege, although the Venetians briefly grabbed it back between 1686 and 1715. It was the first capital of independent Greece in 1827.

The main castle is the Palimidi which towers above the town. When you enter the main gate the Venetian lion immediately tells you who built it. It has five substantial bastions and is a huge site, so allocate a bit of time. If you are feeling fit there is a 999 step staircase from the town, but mere mortals like me drove up to the main gate on a surprisingly good road. 


 



The Akronafplia castle defends the eastern approaches to the town. This was the Byzantine and then Frankish castle although improved by the Venetians. You can drive right through the site, or use a lift from the east end of the town.



Finally, we have the small island fort of Bourtzi, which defends the harbour. It was built by the Venetians at the end of the 15th century. A boat trip will take you out to the castle, but it is currently being renovated - very slowly!





Sparta and Mystras

One of my bucket list trips ticked off yesterday, with a visit to Sparta.

Modern Sparta isn't much of a destination, although they have put up a very fine statue of King Leonidas. I wore my '300' t-shirt especially for the occasion!



There are a few remains on the Acropolis, but most are later Roman or Byzantine additions. Including a theatre and a church.



A few miles outside Sparta is the Byzantine hill town and Frankish castle at Mystras. The ever busy William of Villehardouin built the castle in 1249. It's a bit of a climb, even from the higher fortress gate, but worth the effort. The castle is quite small, but you get a great view over the plain of Sparta.



The Byzantine town dates from 1262 and is filled with monasteries, churches, mansions and palaces. Many are in good condition and others are being repaired. In the 14th century, members of the imperial family ruled from here and it became an important cultural centre.




Monday, 21 May 2018

Ancient Corinth

The ancient city of Corinth is just few miles south of the modern Corinth Canal and the narrow Isthmus that separates the Peloponnese from the rest of mainland Greece. After landing at Athens this was our first stop on this year's Balkan tour.

The 6th century ancient city was one of the most powerful states in Greece, largely due to its strategic position and trading links. It had two ports on either side of the Isthmus and walls connected the city to these ports. The ruins of the city have been excavated and offer a clear picture of the layout. The columns of the Temple of Apollo, built in the 5th century is the most prominent ruin. There is a medium sized museum on site that tells the history of Corinth and has statues and other items recovered from the excavations. 



The city held an astonishingly large population of over 300,000, plus at least as many slaves. They did enjoy themselves, paying homage to the goddess of love, Aphrodite. This meant rollicking with the Temple's prostitutes, male and female. St Paul famously tried to divert them to Christianity - a pretty tough pitch in the circumstances!



You can drive up to the star attraction, which is the citadel Acrocorinth. This is situated 575 metres above the city, with walls over 2,000 metres in length. The view is stunning and possibly one of the strongest fortresses I have visited. The ruins are well preserved and were built on by the Romans, Byzantines, Franks, Venetians and Turks.


There is another fortress on hill south-west of Acrocorinth. I am not sure, but this may be the Frankish castle of Pendeskouphi, built in 1205 by Boniface of Monferrat, or possibly by Geoffrey of Villehardouin. The Greeks renovated the castle in 1825 and there are apparently signs of Venetian and Turkish improvements.