Greece ~ the far flung beauty of Cape Melagkavi
Greece - Cape Melagkavi and the Heraion
Cape Melagkavi and the Heraion
When my son and I visited Greece in June 2017, we sped down the new, fast highways of the Peloponnese and reached the Corinth Canal sooner than expected. Finding ourselves with an afternoon spare, we made a spur-of-the moment detour as we were looking for accommodation for the night, and ventured out onto the Perachora peninsula, across from Corinth.
Just below the tip of the Melagkavi Cape, on the shores of the Gulf of Corinth and within site of the once-powerful city-state of Corinth, there lies the ruins of a fascinating sanctuary: the Heraion of Perachora.
Heraion means dedicated to Hera. The Heraion of Perachora was a sanctuary in honour of the Goddess, Hera, the wife of Zeus and, according to ancient Greek religion, the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth. Which is interesting - and macabre - given one of the associations with this dramatic place, which I’ll come to later.
The Sanctuary is believed to have been active from as far back as the 9th Century BCE up until 146 BCE, when it was ruined as part of the Romans’ sacking of Corinth.
Wait now… Back up a little there! As far back as the 9th Century BCE?! Don’t you find that amazing? And quite, quite fantastic? That all that time ago, in this place, on this site, this sophisticated level of organised worship was going on? It totally blows my mind! But - then again - I am originally from a land-locked country that started its own history the day after I was born (no connection!), so this historic, seaside spot is all kinds of incredible to me.
The Heraion site is still a place of worship, as evidenced by the small chapel tucked into the cleft of the rocks. The doorway has simple, minimal, signage but there are service times and it’s very well cared for. Also tucked into the rocks, though well-camouflaged, are goats! These are wild goats, clambering about with expert ease on what seemed impossibly steep and very jagged rock faces (above).
The photo above shows my son studying a site map with the harbour and the lower excavation site laid out below. The Greek flag stiffened by the breeze fans out to the right and the mountains of Corinth can be seen in the far distance. This is a beautiful and very quiet place; a place with an aura about it and a stillness to it. A place for reflection and wonder.
Mind you, I read after out visit that rented cars left in the car park are sometimes targeted by local thieves, which is depressing, especially when you have all of your week’s luggage and passports in there. But, thankfully, that was not our story on this day. This day was just a really special detour, an unexpected exploration of a pretty - and ancient - site.
The ruins of the sanctuary of Heraion of Perachora may be compact and tucked away in a less-visited corner of mainland Greece, but these are considered some of the most significant and important ruins in Greece, archaeologically speaking. The Heraion is one of the oldest temples in Greece. Excavation work has identified an L-shaped stoa and a temple for sacrifices as well as dining rooms and there is thought to have been a sacred pool, although this is no longer traceable.
There is speculation about the purpose and role of the Heraion but it seems clear that this was a place that attracted wealthy Corinthians as well as - perhaps - sailors seeking safe passage before they left Corinth’s waters. Sacrifice, offerings and religious feasting are all thought to have taken place here.
From the first excavations of the site, archaeologists (who included, in the 1930s, the renowned Humfry Payne of The British School of Athens) have found evidence of wealthy votives such as gold and jewellery as well as imported gifts, including goods featuring Egyptian scarabs.
From the harbour wall looking back up towards the modern chapel (below), the ancient relics of the Heraion can be seen in the foreground. There were two separate areas with temple buildings, this lower section, closest to the harbour, and one higher up - behind the modern temple. Apparently there are also ancient houses, not yet excavated, further round the peninsula.
From the viewing platform above the site, the pretty harbour’s crescent shape is clear. In better weather, I read that this is a popular swimming spot. Which seems at odds with the history of the place, but it may be irresistible on a hot summer’s day!
From the Heraion’s ancient harbour site, we walked the short distance uphill to the lighthouse situated on the rocky Cape of Melagavi. Built in the late 19th Century, the light was extensively repaired after WWII. It is either remote or closed altogether. Certainly it is closed to visitors and firmly gated to deter access. But what a site - and a sight!
The late afternoon sun was in completely the wrong place for any useful photos of the lighthouse but our timing did mean we were lucky enough to see a bride and groom arrive for some sunset shots. Probably newly-weds come for the utterly bewitching views across towards Corinth but also, perhaps, in reference to this place’s ancient associations with Hera, goddess of marriage?
Another association, far more gruesome, links to Hera’s religious role as the goddess of family and childbirth. Ist Century CE historian Strabo suggests the Heraion site was also the site of an Oracle, so - based on other writings - this may well be the site where Medea’s murdered children were buried. Given that it was Medea, Jason’s scorned wife, that murdered her own children*, burying them at a site dedicated to Hera the goddess of children and family was quite an attempt at redemption… Or an astute move by Jason, if the burials were his action.
(*If you believe Euripides’ version of Medea’s story. There are many versions of the myths, as is the way with Greek plays!)
To take your mind off all that horror, enjoy instead this stunning scenery of the clear waters of the Gulf of Corinth and the beautiful coast of the Perachora peninsula. (Video found on YouTube, made by CAT productions.)
The Heraion of Perachora and the far-flung beauty of Cape Melagkavi are well worth a detour. If you plan to go, let me know, as I can help with routes/timings and other relevant info.
The Tripographer’s notes
Unslumping level? 10/10 as are all things historic and tactile!
Would I go again? Yes!
Best time to go? Spring or early summer
Best for? Reflection, amazement at Greece’s ancient history and the views.
Top tip? Don’t leave valuables in your car!