I live in a small village in the Mesogaia (η Μεσόγαια) region of Attica, south of Athens. Our place is between Mount Merenda and the low rise of Mount Xelona and beyond, Mount Navi and the higher point of Mount Panion Orios. Monasteries and churches dot the landscape. Within view of my window is a large Orthodox monastery perched on a hill in all its splendour, surrounded by olive orchards below and the outlying parts of Kalyvia.
The Mesogeia Plain stretches south of Athens, separated from the great city by Mount Hymettus, and stretching to the south towards the tip of Attica, where lies the magnificant ruin of the Temple of Poseiden at Soulion. It is regarded as the central portion of East Attica. To the east Mesogeia reaches the Aegean Sea at the Petalioi Gulf, but is separated from the actual coastline by a line of low hills.
To me, this is Greece. It is the Greece I live in each day on our little farm with the donkeys, the cow, our goats, chickens, ducks, cats and dogs. Oh yes, there are couple of tortoises crawling around the property as well.
Every day, I look out over our vista towards Kalyvia and imagine those ancient and prehistoric times. The history here actually goes back to the prehistoric, with archeological discoveries dating back to the Neolithic. To the north of us, in Koropi, there is evidence of the largest Neolithic settlement in Attica, larger even of that in Athens.
The Mycenaeans were here; the Classical Greeks were here, the Romans were here, the Byzantines were here, and so were the Ottomans. I often wonder what I would find if dug straight down in our yard. Perhaps remnants of a Neolithic site? A vineyards from the Classical era? Maybe even a buried Kouros statue from the Archaic period (650-480 BC)? Kalyvia is known as the “Land of Kouros statues” due to the fine specimens that were were unearthed here. Three of these are on display at the National Archeological Museum in Athens.
Nearest to me, there is a Neolithic site along Samarthi, along the exact boundary between Kalyvia and Markopoulo. Overlying the site is Classical/Hellenistic vineyard, attesting to the later use of this land. Under them are the remnants of five pit houses (figure), a circular pit with Neolithic pottery, two wells, and two small storage pits of reverse conical shape. Also discovered were a bead necklace made of seashells, stone beads, a fragment of a marble vessel with handle, an obsidian arrow head and a clay seal.
Archeologists who excavated the site suggest that the settlement extended across the innermost part of the plain, controlling the pass to the Saronic Gulf. It was a permanent settlement with no precise dating other than it existed during the early Neolithic (6500-5800 BC). The economy was based on farming and stock-rearing and settlements still consisted of independent one-room huts with each community inhabited by 50 to 100 people (the basic social unit was the clan or extended family).
Again, I try to imagine those early peoples living and farming just beyond the village I see outside my window. I try to listen to their ghosts speaking to me from 8,000 years ago. They had learned how to make pottery but their tools were still made of stone. The Bronze Age had not yet arrived in Greece. They had learned how to grow crops, bringing them out of the paleolithic hunter-gatherer era. But we don’t know much about how they lived, what they believed in, how they governed themselves. They hadn’t yet invented writing and we can only speculate how they conducted their day to day life. I will be exploring this more in later posts.
Elissavet Tzavella. Urban and Rural Landscape in Early and Middle Byzantine Attica (4th – 12th C. Ad). A thesis submitted to The University of Birmingham for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, 2012.
Municipality of Saronikos website: https://www.saronikos.gr/en/
Stella Raftopoulou and Iraklis Tsonos. A Neolithic Site at Kalyvia Thorikou (Mesogeia): Preliminary Report on the Architural Remains. In:
Athens and Attica in Prehistory: Proceedings of the International Conference, Athens, 27–31 May 2015. Nikolas Papadimitriou, James C. Wright, Sylvian Fachard, Naya Polychronakou-Sgouritsa, Eleni Andrikou. (eds), Archaeopress Publishing Ltd, Jul 30, 2020.