Modern Travel in an Ancient Setting
IN THE PELOPONNESUS. Near Aegion Station, on the Piraeus-
AFTER centuries of Turkish domination, culminating in the War of Independence, Greece became a sovereign state in 1832. The kingdom was thus born in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. Seven years previously, in 1825, the Stockton and Darlington Railway had begun to operate. But it was not until March 10, 1869, that the first Hellenic railway was opened. This was a line, a little over six miles long, from Athens to the Piraeus, its port.
It is not possible to understand the ramifications of the Greek railway system without learning something of the topography of the country. Further, since every corner of Greece is bound up with legend and history, ancient and modern, in a manner that no other country can emulate, we should be doing the railways scant justice if this aspect were wholly ignored in the present chapter. Occasional references will therefore be found to dates before Christ, and tradition will be blended with statistics.
Athens lies in the centre of the Attic Plain, about four and a half miles from the sea at Phaleron Bay. This bay, which is little more than an open roadstead, was never adequate to the needs of the Athenians. Comparatively early in Greek history, the Piraeus, with its three harbours, was chosen as the port of Athens, although it was two or three miles farther away than Phaleron Bay.
The Piraeus was joined to the capital by the Long Walls, and the two cities formed together a redoubtable fortress. But it was not strong enough to be held at a time of grave national crisis. When the Persians, under Xerxes, invaded Greece in 480 BC, the Athenians, in obedience to an oracle, forsook their city and entrusted themselves to their “wooden walls”, that is, to their ships. Having made this momentous decision they were able, with the help of their allies, to rout the Persian fleet off the island of Salamis, which lies immediately west of the Piraeus.
After the discomfiture of the Persians, the Athenians returned to their city, the acknowledged leaders of the Greeks. Since the leadership of Athens was based on sea power, the shipyards of the Piraeus were of paramount importance. The inter-
Since 1832 the size of Greece has greatly increased. When the Bavarian prince Otho took possession of his brand-
In 1864 Great Britain relinquished her protectorate over the Ionian Islands (Corfu, Kephalonia, Levkas, Ithaka, Zante, Paxos, and Kythera) and they became Greek after fifty years of British administration. The accretion of these islands, however, made no difference to the railway mileage. Indeed, to this day, despite the large numbers of islands belonging to Greece, there is not a mile of railway track on any of them.
In 1881 Thessaly and the district of Arta became Greek. The Balkan wars of 1912-
This variation of frontiers has naturally been accompanied by a variation in the extent of the relevant means of comm-
Until May, 1916, the railway system of Greece was cut off from the rest of Europe. Even now certain sections are isolated.
A frequent service is maintained on the Athens-
Two other railway lines connect Athens with its port. The southern terminus of the standard gauge Greek State Railways and the eastern terminus of the narrow-
An extension of the metre-
Another line from Athens follows the same route as far as Herakleion, but on metre-
Lavrion, a mining town of 6,400 inhabitants, occupies the site of the ancient silver mines that in days gone by were a main source of the wealth of Athens and the financial basis of her maritime empire. After centuries of disuse mining operations were resumed in 1860, when the heaps of scoriae left by the ancient Athenian miners began to be re-
Six miles south of Lavrion is Cape Colonna, formerly dreaded by mariners. On this promontory, the Cape Sunium of antiquity, are the remains of a famous Doric Temple of Poseidon, built in the fifth century BC. It was at Cape Sunium that the poet Byron exclaimed, “There swan-
SALONIKA STATION, 315½ miles from Athens, is an important terminus. It serves as an interchange point between the main line from the Pirasus to the Yugoslav frontier and the lines west to Monastir and east through Thrace to Turkey-
The most important of the Greek lines are those of the Greek State Railways. The main line, which is on the standard gauge of 4 ft 8½-
The general direction is from south to north, but the country is so mountainous that a perfectly straight route is out of the question. The few plains, mostly in the river valleys, are separated by high mountain barriers. The railway engineers were often faced with the task of finding a way through apparently impenetrable walls of rock. Barriers that could not be climbed had to be circumvented. That is why the railway route between certain places is much longer than the road.
From Athens to Thebes, for example, the distance by the high road, which runs west and north-
The main line of the Greek State Railways at first runs north-
The railway now makes a wide sweep round the foothills of Parnes and runs west-
The next station beyond Oenoe is Tanagra, forty miles from the capital. Tanagra is famous for its terra-
Thebes, now a town of 7,113 inhabitants, is fifty-
The god Dionysus, the hero Hercules, and the poet Pindar were all bom or lived in the “seven-
THE RAILWAY SYSTEM of Greece was isolated from that of the rest of Europe until 1916. To-
The next station after Thebes, Sphinx, sixty-
The line now runs along the dried-
A steep climb has now to be faced. The station of Gravia, 113½ miles, at the summit of the gradient, was originally known as Brallo, and later as Delphi. The last was rather a confusing name, since the station is thirty-
Lianokladi, or Thermopylae-
The line now rises at the same inclination of 1 in 50, which is almost unbroken for nearly twenty-
From Larissa, 210 miles, a branch of the Thessalian Railways, with its own station, runs south-
(3 ft 3⅜-
Larissa, with 23,889 inhabitants, is one of the most important towns in Thessaly. It lies on the right bank of the Peneus, or Salamvria, the chief river of Greece. The Peneus flows to the sea through the beautiful Vale of Tempe, between Olympus (9,794 ft), on the north, and Ossa (6,496 ft), on the south. To the south of Ossa is Pelion (5,300ft). Olympus, with its peak covered in perpetual snow, was the home of the gods. According to the legend, the giants placed Pelion on Ossa when they tried to storm Olympus.
The railway follows the river through the Vale of Tempe. A station in the valley, called Tempe, is 228½ miles from Athens. Papapouli (238 miles), beyond the Vale of Tempe, was formerly on the Turkish frontier and the northern limit of the Greek railway system. Running north to Platy, 293 miles, the main line joins there the line from Salonika to Monastir, to which reference will shortly be made. The direction now is to the east.
THE GREEK ELECTRIC RAILWAY runs for six miles from the Pirseus, the port of Athens, via New Phaleron to Concord Square in Athens. The line was electrified in 1904. An extension, eight and a half miles long, runs from Concord Square to the summer resort of Kephisia.
Salonika, 315½ miles from Athens, is now the largest town in Greece after the capital and its port. It has a population of 236,524. The harbour is of the first importance. The town, partly rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1917, presents a modern appearance, although its history as Thessalonika goes back to the fourth century BC. The city was visited by St. Paul, who wrote two Epistles to the Thessalonians from Athens. Thessalonika had a troubled history under the Byzantine emperors. In the war of 1914-
The most important train on this route is the “Simplon-
The 364½ miles from Athens to Ghevgheli are covered by the “Simplon-
The track of the main line from Athens to Ghevgheli is laid with rails weighing 89 lb per yard. Forty large 2-
Ordinary Greek trains are of three classes. Even the “Simplon-
Apart from its historic interest, Salonika is a railway junction of importance. As already explained, the standard gauge line running west to Monastir (Bitolj), in Yugoslavia, coincides for the first twenty-
The important standard gauge line, running from Salonika through Macedonia and Western Thrace to Istanbul (Constantinople) belongs to the State Railways as far as Alexandroupolis, 274½ miles from Salonika. It passes through Serres, Drama, and other places well known on the Salonika front during the war. Alexandroupolis, when it belonged to Bulgaria, was known as Dedeagatch. It is a seaport town of 12,119 inhabitants. An express, calling, however, at numerous stations, runs along this route.
Beyond Alexandroupolis the line, which follows the Graeco-
An isolated 60 cm (2 ft) gauge line belonging to the Greek State Railways crosses the base of the Chalcidice Peninsula from Sarakli, a few miles east of Salonika, to Stavros, forty-
Another isolated system is that of the North Western Railway, which operates on the metre gauge in the south of the province of Acarnania and Aetolia. This starts from the port of Kryoneri, which is united with the important Peloponnesian seaport of Patras by a ferry service across the Gulf of Patras. From Kryoneri the line runs west-
The main line comes to an end at Agrinion, thirty-
The remaining Greek railway of importance -
The Peloponnesus is a jagged peninsula joined to the mainland of Greece by the slender Isthmus of Corinth. Since 1892, when the four-
The Peloponnesus was anciently the home of the Mycenaean Civilization which, flourishing in the second millennium BC about the same time as the cognate Minoan Civilization of Crete, far antedated the age of classical Greece. From Mycenae, its capital in the Argolic Plain, King Agamemnon led a great force across the Aegean Sea to the siege of Troy, which fell -
At the present time the Peloponnesus is divided politically into four maritime provinces surrounding an inland province. The maritime provinces are Achaia and Elis, extending along the north coast; Corinthia and Argolis, reaching from the Gulf of Corinth to the Gulf of Nauplia; Laconia, in the south; and Messenia, likewise in the south, and adjoining Laconia on the west. Laconia contains the ruins of Sparta and of the Byzantine city of Mistra, close by. It was the country of the Spartans or Lacedaemonians, the traditional enemies of Athens and the conquerors of Messenia. The inland province is Arcadia.
Arcadia is a tableland about 4,000 ft above the sea, almost entirely surrounded by mountains. Its climate is strangely bleak and inhospitable. The Arcadians of antiquity were rough shepherds whose mode of life was very different from that imagined by sentimental dreamers bewitched by the poetry of Sidney or by the paintings of Watteau. Shut off by their ring of mountains from contact with the outer world, they lived a life of primitive simplicity, redeemed however by an unexpected passion for music. Strangers were not welcome. Even to-
MOUNTAINOUS THESSALY was a formidable barrier to the railway engineers. From Levadia the main line of the Greek State Railways climbs for over twenty miles to the summit-
Twelve miles farther is Megara, a town of 10,441 inhabitants, occupying the site of the small city-
Beyond the station of Kalamaki, fifty-
A short run from the bridge brings us to the station of Corinth, sixty-
From Corinth to Patras
From the railway point of view Corinth is the most important junction in the Peloponnesus. The westward continuation of the PAP keeps close to the northern coast-
Leaving the station the railway skirts the coast of the Gulf of Corinth, passing the citadel of Acrocorinth, the ancient city’s precipitous acropolis, which rises to a height of 1,886 ft. To the south towers the peak of Kyllene (7,780 ft). Kiaton, eighty and a half miles from the Piraeus, is the station for the ruins of Sicyon, once an important city-
The next station of importance is Xylokastron, seventy-
From Diakophto a rack railway, with the gauge of 75 cm (2 ft 6-
Beyond Diakophto numerous turbulent streams are crossed. Aegion, 118 miles, is a considerable port of 11,011 inhab-
A STATION NAMED AFTER A TEMPLE. Theseion, a suburban station on the Greek Electric Railway from the Piraeus to Athens, was named after a famous Greek temple of the fifth century BC. Between Theseion and Concord Square, in the heart of Athens, the line is partly underground. A frequent service of trains is maintained all day.
Nearing Patras the line crosses a small stream called the Selemnos. Those who bathed in the stream were anciently said to forget their love. “If there is any truth in this story,” observes the geographer Pausanias, “great riches are less precious to mankind than the waters of the Selemnos.” Patras, 143 miles from the Piraeus, is the largest town in the Peloponnesus and the third port of Greece, after the Piraeus and Salonika. It has a population of 61,278, and exports currants and wine. It is a busy port of call for steamers from the Adriatic to the Piraeus via the Corinth Canal, and is used in addition by many other passenger and cargo vessels.. Although the PAP Railway continues unbrokenly beyond the town, Patras is considered to be the end of the section from the Piraeus and Athens.
An express train, provided with a restaurant car, and calling at nearly all stations to Corinth and at the principal stations thereafter, runs from Athens to Patras in seven hours. Another train, stopping everywhere, takes eight and a half hours.
The journey time will, it is expected, shortly be reduced to five and a half hours by Diesel rail-
Beyond Patras the PAP keeps to the coast until it reaches the Plain of Elis, when it turns inland for a time. From Kavasila, forty and a half miles from Patras, a branch runs west for three and a half miles to Vartholomio, where it forks, one line going northwest to Kyllene, six miles farther on, and the other continuing west to Loutra, six and a half miles from the junction.
Olympia, lying in a pleasant valley watered by the River Alpheios, is the spot where the Olympic Games were held. These games were celebrated without interruption every fourth year from 776 BC to AD 393 -
A sacred truce was proclaimed throughout Greece during their celebration. The truce had the effect of temporarily stopping the warfare that was in antiquity the normal condition of civilized life. To such an extent was this so that the city-
The modern Olympic Games were inaugurated at Athens in 1896, and they have been held every four years since, except in 1916, when the war stopped them. The word Olympiad now means the festival itself, and not the interval between two of them.
There is no road-
Beyond Pyrgos the PAP runs slightly inland, roughly parallel to the coast. The next station of note is Kalonero, ninety-
From Kalonero the line strikes inland to Zevgolatio, 114 miles, where it meets the direct cross-
It was the fertility of Messenia that caused the ancient Lacedaemonians, who inhabited the neighbouring country of Laconia, to set about its conquest. The conquest was so complete that the Messenians left in their country were turned into slaves, or helots, as they were called.
Asprochoma, 131 miles, is the most southerly junction in Greece. The main line comes to an end at the port of Kalamata, officially Kalamae, 134 miles from Patras. A branch three miles long runs west from Asprochoma to Messene. Seven trains operate daily in either direction between Kalamata and Messene by way of the junction.
Kalamata, with a population of 28,955, is the chief town in the province of Messenia. It exports oil, wine, currants, figs, oranges, melons, and other produce of this exuberant region. Messene was one of the cities built by the victorious Theban general Epaminondas after the battle of Leuctra, which caused the downfall of Sparta in 371 BC. The walls of the ancient city are among the finest surviving examples of ancient military fortification. There are no expresses on the section from Patras to Kalamata and Messene. The morning train from Patras, stopping at nearly all stations, takes nine and a half hours to cover the 134 miles to Kalamata.
PATRAS, the largest town and chief seaport in the Peloponnesus, exports currants and wine. The station is 81½ miles from Corinth and 138 miles from Athens. The main line of the Piraeus-
Equally sedate are the trains on the cross-
Descending from the pass, the train enters the Argolic Plain, home of the Mycenaean Civilization. Mycenae itself has a railway station, twenty-
Six miles farther is Argos, celebrated for its sanctuary of the goddess Hera, wife of Zeus. Argos, now a local headquarters, with a population of 10,504, is overlooked by its formidable acropolis, the Larisa, which is 985 ft high. A branch line runs south-
Railway Across Arcadia
From Argos the line continues to run south, past Myloi Navpliou (“Mills of Nauplia”), the site of Lerna, where Hercules performed another of his Twelve Labours in destroying the Hydra. This creature had nine heads. As soon as a head was cut off, two others took its place. The middle head was immortal. With the help of his faithful servant, lolaus, Hercules over-
Beyond Achladokampos, fifty-
From Bilali, 101½ miles, a branch line three miles long runs north to Megalopolis, the ancient Arcadian capital founded by Epaminondas about the same time as Messene.
At Zevgolatio, 127 miles from Corinth, the line joins the railway from Patras, described earlier in this chapter. The route via Tripolis to Zevgolatid and stations beyond is sixty-
The rest of the Peloponnesus south of this cross-
[From part 40, published 1 November 1935]