As we departed Elefsina headed west, I could not help but think of my new classmates and what they were going to miss today. It was to be our first HERMA outing, and as usual, my poor planning showed, as only myself and my new friend Hadi rose early to catch the train at Magoula Station. We sat back in our comfortable seats in a cabin all to ourselves and watched as our new home passed beside us outside the train windows. The morning sun bounced rays of light off the serene surface of the Saronic Gulf. It seemed so perfect and peaceful! No wonder this part of the world has been inhabited by man as far back as we can document. As I closed my eyes and drifted off to the whirring sounds of the slow moving train, I could not help but think back to exactly one year before, when I left my home in Dallas, Texas on a trip here that would change my life forever.
I had planned my trip to Greece for many years and despite this, very few close friends thought me serious when I announced, in the summer of 2014, that I was leaving Dallas after 30 years for an unknown future in a land shrouded in myth and ancient history. They should, and indeed most, knew better that to doubt me. My living room and bedroom were lined with nearly every ancient history book printed about Greece and the ancient Mediterranean. I left my teaching job behind and my former business, now a shell of itself, did not require my daily attention anymore.
It was here last year that I came to realize what path lay before me, and all I had to do was seize the opportunity.
I was nudged awake by Hadi and realized the train was slowing and we had arrived at the train station in Corinth. As we bounded over the gap, grabbed our backpacks, and hit the gravel parking lot, I could see our destination on the western sky. One of the three fetters of Greece, it was said that whomever controlled these geologic fortresses controlled all of Greece. Our trip today was going to take us to one of these amazing fortresses known as Acrocorinth. From the train station it was to be a short cab ride up the back side of the mountain to the end of the pavement.
I had been to Corinth last year after a harrowing drive across the high Peloponnese mountains from Olympia. I remember driving east, past the high limestone cliffs, heading into Corinth that day. I had planned on making my way up the acropolis then, but on that rainy day I had endured enough wet mountain roads to shake even my steely nerves, so instead I spent my time in ancient Corinth, and imagined what it must be like to see the world from the mountaintop.
Today was my day to finally make my imagination a reality. Acrocorinth was once an island in an ancient geologic sea, and to see it today you can certainly understand why. It still remains an island unto itself, occupying the northwest edge of the Gulf of Corinth, and overlooking the Peloponnese to the southwest. When Hadi and I reached the summit, it was as if time stood still. No matter which direction I chose to look, the enormity of the world from here made me feel small. Small in stature for sure, but we also both knew we were standing in a place of history occupied by men who fought and died over the very place where now we stood.
Akrokorinthos, the most impressive acropolis of all of Greece was all around us. It had been occupied and fought over repeatedly since archaic times. Due to its geomorphology, the acropolis has always had a secure water supply and, indeed, even today, there is water in the springs at the top of the acropolis. Hadi and I were fortunate to be able to explore the springs, and we entered the ancient stairs that led us into a walled underground cistern with plenty of spring water. The acropolis was once home to many people as there are ruins of homes scattered about, but it is the fortified citadel that is prominent all around. It was heavily fortified during the Byzantine occupation, it later became a Frankish outpost, then the Venetians came and the Ottoman Turks.
Of course, my thoughts that day were of the heroes of ancient times. The Mycenaeans were here, of course. Agamemnon must have ventured here as his Mycenaean citadel lay only a bird’s flight away. Alexander from Macedon must have been here as well. The Romans laid claim here during those days of occupation while their armies carried much of Greece back home across the Ionian Sea. We sat on the high citadel walls, ate bread from a bakery back in Elefsina, and stared into the abyss that lay below us. As the hours passed and the warm Greek sun took its early departure behind the western mountains, we knew it was time to leave. Time is marked here by nature itself. The sun’s slow departure can be announced by a crisp mountain breeze that speaks loudly if you stay too long. As we exited the fortress and asked a stranger to take our picture, I felt a connection that I still feel to this day. As Hadi and I walked the entire road down the mountain to ancient Corinth and we talked about our experience here today, I was thankful.
Thankful to a place that treasures it heritage like no other place in the world. Thankful for the opportunity to experience my world from a perspective that gives me hope and a desire to make a difference. Most of all, thanks to a program like HERMA and the new friends that I carry with me on my new journey.
Photos by Hadi Ahmadi
Rae Rippy was Student Academic Officer for the HERMA class of 2015-16. With a background in business, journalism, and geology, he was interested in the preservation of heritage around the world, and the role of education as it pertains to that goal. Rae has been in the HMO family since 2015 and has contributed enormously to our cause. We regret of Rae’s premature passing and we commit to continue his work for the benefit of heritage internationally.