The mixing of fact and fiction in Greek history can start messing with your head if you let it. In fact this piece has been a challenge for this old journalist who wants 'just the facts', yet when it comes to writing about the Palace of Nestor it has to involve a bit of legend as well. . .
A pantry stocked with 2,853 wine cups and a storage room lined with large jars that held the olive oil. Now that was impressive! And tangible; something I could relate to, as we stepped back in time at the site of the Palace of Nestor.
In reality, everything about what remains at this place believed to be The Palace of Nestor, an archeological site a couple hours drive from our home in the Greek Peloponnese, is impressive. Especially when one considers that it was built back in the Bronze Age by those folks known as Mycenaeans.
But I am the first to admit that some things in history -- especially history so ancient that it dates back to the writings of Homer -- are easier to grasp than others.
|Broken goblets in the pantry floor waiting to be dug up|
For me, it was the wine goblets, or kylikes, and the olive oil storage jars, pithoi, as they linked both the ancient history of this area to the present day in a tangible way. While I have a hard time grasping the concept of Nestor sending 90 ships from Pylos to fight in the Trojan War, I get the importance of wine and olive oil production in this area of the Greek Peloponnese.
The goblets and storage jars are in the palace believed to be that of the legendary Nestor, King of Pylos, who was written about by Homer. Now here's where the mental balancing act comes into play: Nestor was a legendary character, like those in folktales, the kind that include supernatural beings and elements of mythology. Legends are associated with a particular place or person and over the years are told so often they become a matter of history.
So the remains of the Palace of Nestor, whether real or imagined, was a place to behold. . .
|Palace of Nestor - Greek Peloponnese|
|How it might have looked|
Let's begin with the imagined: the rendition above is how one archaeologist thinks it may have looked based on what is left of it, (shown below). Prior to our visit I might have thought it was a stretch of her imagination, but having seen it, I too, can envision what a magnificent place this might have been.
We first happened upon Nestor's Palace back in 2014, several years before we became expats living just a couple hours drive from it. Back then, the site was still hidden behind construction fencing and not open to the public. A multi-million dollar project was underway which resulted in the construction of the roof over the palace's excavated footprint and a walkway high above it so tourists like us can get a bird's eye view of the place.
We'd filed the memory of it away until a couple of years ago a friend in the United States sent us a Smithsonian Magazine that had a feature article about the place. The article certainly made it sound interesting, but still we didn't go visit. It had been there for centuries; so no need to rush, we'd get there one day.
|Nestor had himself view property for sure!|
Well that pandemic lockdown last spring changed our somewhat lackadaisical approach to life in general and especially to visiting those bucket-list places. This summer, during our stay at Costa Navarino - that Westin resort to our west - we finally visited Nestor's Palace. It was 15 minutes from the resort! How could we have not visited this jewel sooner?
A Trip to the Palace
|Signage explained what we were seeing in the palace as it is and might have been|
Our visit on a weekday morning was a self-guided tour. We had the place to ourselves as tourism was just getting going again after the lockdown. We strolled on the elevated walkway reading signage in Greek and English.
|Olive oil was stored in these containers Add caption|
Olive oil production and commerce was big back in Nestor's day, just as it remains today in Greece. It was used in cooking as well as funerary and religious rituals, baths and the processing of cloth. The storage room was large and so much of it left to excavate. . .but we lucked out and caught an archaeologist at work!
|Olive oil storage room being excavated|
And the bathtub! According to Homer, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, King of Ithaca (more legendary characters), was a guest of Nestor and in a welcoming ceremony organized by Nestor, the young man was bathed in this tub by Polykaste, Nestor's daughter.
Now they all were legendary characters, but there was the tub right before our eyes. . .it starts to blur that real and imagined, doesn't it?
Palace Goods on Display
The palace was destroyed by fire around 1200 BC. It wasn't until the 1930's that excavations began at the site which are continuing today. Dozens of items discovered during the excavation are on display in a small museum in the nearby village of Chora.
One of our favorite items at the museum -- was again something tangible that we could relate to - the tax collection vessel. Back then taxes were paid in olive oil. When you paid your taxes, the oil was poured into this jar, that stands about six feet tall! Now that would have been lot of olive oil!
|Linear B Script - oldest on European soil|
However one of the most important tangible finds from a historical point of view were 800 clay tablets that were accidentally preserved by baking in the fire that destroyed the palace. The tablets contain writing that is called Linear B Script, it is in an early form of Greek language and is considered to be the oldest script found on European soil that can be read and understood.
For me though, it was the wine goblets again. . .a display of something tangible; that hit home. It was reality of which I could wrap my head around.
Thanks for joining us on a bit of time travel today into the real and imagined world of Greek history. Should you find yourself in the Greek Peloponnese, we recommend you pay a visit to the Palace of Nestor and the nearby museum.
We hope this finds you and yours staying safe and well ~ join us next week for more tales from Greece!
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