One of the things that attracted us to this area of Greece was that it lacked significant tourist development. That’s not to say there was nothing, but it wasn’t unusual to drive through one coastal village that had shops selling essential beach kit and kitsch souvenirs then another, with equally good beach access, that had no such provisions or diversions. It was as if the second village had decided not to jump on the bandwagon, and to us it was really appealing that there didn’t seem to be this ‘me too’ attitude everywhere.
Ancient sites were usually under-promoted and often hard to find. A few explanatory notes if you were lucky, but at the smaller or more remote sites not even that. Maybe it’s a result of having so much ancient archaeology you’re falling over it, but again the feeling we got was that they weren’t making a big thing of it: come and look if you want, but don’t expect too much as we’ve seen it all before.
When we holidayed here it was always late season – usually mid-September – and we benefited from having good access to even the most popular tourist attractions. Ancient Olympia without crowds, for example, when it was possible to get pictures of the athletes’ tunnel without a tour guide’s umbrella emerging from it.
But the times they are a’ changin’
This last couple of weeks we’ve had family to visit and despite the August heat we wanted to show them some of the sights. Ancient Messini was a must. This fairly local site is a ‘work in progress’ and every time we visit there is more to see, but we’d never before encountered actual work taking place. Since this was mid-August we can only guess it was academics working during their holidays. Or is it just that strange Greek quirkiness which means they work during the holiday season but not outside it I wonder?
There’s also evidence of EU money. On the positive side this means the site will continue to be excavated and developed. Eventually they’re likely to charge for entrance, although currently it’s still free. They may even put a toilet block at the entrance rather than back up on the main road by the museum. But on the negative side there is less access and more control than previously. Areas we’d been used to wandering over had been roped off and we were watched as we walked round.
Together with 3 children, aged 10, 9 and 4, I walked round the outside of a building in a wide channel that could have been a moat or water course. The little one was thirsty so I stopped and gave her a drink of water from my bag. I’d just packed the bottle away again when I heard a shrill whistle followed by a shout. Looking up I saw a woman beckoning us back onto the main path, where we were already headed.
As I got closer she shouted to me ‘You must not pick up anything from the ground’. I hadn’t, as I explained to her, but she just repeated her statement, seemingly not believing me. I wouldn’t mind, but the only thing ON the ground was dead grass. No artefacts, no ancient building blocks, nothing. And I wasn’t being furtive – I had taken the bottle out of my back and put it back in full view.
Having been ‘spotted’ as potential site robbers a discreet eye was kept on us for the rest of our visit. Not the most comfortable of situations.