Travels to Aphaia

For a change of pace, I’m going to jump from the 1960s to the 1980s – to when I was a graduate student and working in Athens at the Athenian Agora as an assistant and pottery profiler for Dr. Susan Rotroff.

Dr. Rotroff along with several other scholars and dig staff had offices on the second floor of the Stoa of Attalos – the reconstructed, long porched building found below the Acropolis.

Stoa of Attalos - Ancient Agora, Athens Greece - source wikipedia.org

The Stoa of Attalos is the big red roofed building in the picture. It’s a full restoration of the original 2nd century BC building. The lower floor houses the museum of the Athenian Agora; the top floor has offices and storage for the excavation; the basement is storage as well.
photo source wikipedia.org

I was there for my second season in 1983 and shared an office with the dig architect William (Bill) Dinsmoor Junior (Bill’s father William Dinsmoor Senior, had also been site architect).

Betty drawing pottery at the Stoa of Attalos, Agora Excavations

Betty drawing pottery at the Stoa of Attalos, Agora Excavations, Athens, Greece

The office space in which we worked was a replica of the ancient commercial space that was in the original 2nd century B.C. building. It was a square room just off the large roofed,  colonnaded terrace of the second floor of the Stoa. In the office were many of Bill’s (and his father’s) site drawings and elevations and drawn reconstructions of all the wonderful structures of the ancient market place. The large flat files contained other drawings for the dig, including the most beautiful watercolor paintings of pottery I have ever seen, done decades earlier by very talented artists.

Temple of Aphaia, c 500 BC

Temple of Aphaia, c 500 BC

I was restless to do some weekend traveling and not spend all my time in the city, so I decided to do a simple trip to Aegina – an island very close to the Mainland –  about an hour by ferry from Piraeus. I had been there a couple of times previously and had fallen in love with the Temple of Aphaia.

Fallen Warrior from pediment of the Temple of Aphaia

Fallen Warrior from the east pediment of the Temple of Aphaia. The original sculptures are in the Glyptothek of Munich.

Head of a Sphinx, Acroteria from Temple of Aphaia

I’ve always been partial to Archaic Greek sculpture – I love the clean planes and gentle smiles. The sculptures from this temple are particularly beautiful in my opinion.
Head of a Sphinx, Acroteria from Temple of Aphaia

It was a simple trip from Athens: I took the train to Piraeus, then the ferry to Aegina and the public bus to the temple, from where I could walk down the hill to the village of Agia Marina below and find cheap lodgings for the weekend stay.

When I told Bill my plans he insisted I go visit the German archaeological team working at the temple and he quickly wrote me a letter of introduction to take.

Betty on Aegina in 1981

On my first trip to Aegina, a friend and I rented this little house for about $8 for the night – it was situated on the slopes above the village of Agia Marina and below the Temple of Aphaia.
Betty on Aegina in 1981

I arrived sometime just after lunch and found the guard and gave him my letter from Bill and explained who I was. He went off behind the temple to a building I hadn’t even noticed on my previous visits. And when he came back he ushered me to the dig buildings where I met the team.

Some of the publications for Aphaia

Some of the publications for Aphaia

They spoke some English and  I spoke no German, but it didn’t matter. They were so generous with their time and showed me all their recent finds, the storage areas, and took me to see the beautiful casts of the sculptures from the temple (the originals are in the Glyptothek of Munich).

After tea and giving me copies of all the publications that they had, they insisted I stay with them overnight.

Betty on Aegina c1983

Here I am – the intrepid, serious student of archaeology – never without my handmade Greek sandals and my camera. I’m up on the hill where the Temple of Aphaia is located.
I can look at this picture and still hear the thrumming of the insects, feel the soft heat of the sun, and smell the strong clean pine scent in the air – its a very special place.

A young woman about my age, a graduate student like myself, from the Universität Tübingen, took me to her pretty quarters set in a profuse and wild garden, and set me up on a cot.

We had fun making dinner and talking and we became friends. She and I corresponded for years until she moved and I moved… and somehow we lost touch.

Because of that trip The Temple of Aphaia became even more treasured to me – I owed that wonderful experience to Bill’s generosity and kindness and the generosity and kindness of the scholars I met there.

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One thought on “Travels to Aphaia

  1. I remember visiting Aegina with you that summer – it was a wonderful time for me, and from your description, an amazing summer of life-experiences for you. Thank you for reminding me of that time.

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