The Cult of Artemis at Vravrona – Dragging My Mother on the Most Unlikely Quest
Almost ten summers ago I arrived in Athens for the first time beginning an epic 6 week Mediterranean journey with my mother. It was self funded and completely driven by my need to stand in as many of the locations I discussed, analyzed, and pondered over for years as I wrote my dissertation. At the top of my list was the sanctuary at Vravrona (ancient Brauron Βραυρών).
The sanctuary of Vravron was excavated by John Papadimitriou in 1948. Unfortunately, he died suddenly in 1963 and the excavation project took another 40 years to become public. While much of the archaeological findings have been cataloged, it appears that only a small sample has been published of the “hundreds and hundreds of krateriskoi found all over the sanctuary” at Vravron. Artemis of Vravron, also known as the Taurian Artemis is mystical, and her worship was orgiastic and connected, at least in early times, with human sacrifices. According to Greek legend, there was in Tauris a goddess, whom the Greeks identified with their own Artemis, and to whom all strangers that were thrown off the coast of Tauris, were sacrificed. (Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris 36.).
After asking the hotel rep, who patiently watched me bouncing out of my skin with excitement as he informed me no tours went to the site, then checking my travel book for details, which was basically two lines about the ancient location, I realized this was another Artemis adventure that I was meant to travel on my own.
My mother, who continues to practice a strict Eastern European hoverparent technique, refused to let me travel from Athens to Vravrona ‘all alone’. So we took a bus, and a subway, and another bus, and finally, after much hand signalling, pointing at the guide book and my very broken Greek, we were unceremoniously dropped off in one of the best beach towns in Greece.
It took a minute to stop looking at the wonder that was the beach bar culture of the town and remind myself the temple was built in what used to be a port, so a modern party city made perfect sense. Of course I saw no temple, nor any “temple of Artemis” signs or directions. So we used the time old trusted method of ‘ask somebody’. Although the locals we approached in the numerous bars strewn across the beach front had very little idea or interest in our quest, the bartenders and fruit venders were more than happy to point us towards the main highway and say “keep walking that way, its about 2kms or so”. Two kms later, the heat and sun bearing down on our backs, my mother stops to ask another vendor selling seashell bracelets for directions. She smiles at my mother and repeats the local mantra, “keep going, about 2kms or so”. Approximately 8kms later, dehydrated and almost completely discouraged we arrive at the first sign we’ve seen so far.
Although excited at the prospect of arriving, it seemed as though the task of “2kms or so” was still upon us. Concerned for my poor dehydrated mother I suggested we turn around. “It’s too far, we can come back another day, there’s no where to get water around here, how are we gonna make it back” were all my reasons for giving up. My mother looked at me with that didiactuallygivebirthtothisperson look and told me that under no circumstances whatsoever had i talked her ear off for 5 years about this temple and was now going to give up when it seemed we were only “2kms away”.
Fine. We continued beating the hot pavement until finally we the entrance booth to the temple ruins! We must’ve been a sight because as soon as the woman sitting in the booth laid eye son us she rushed outside with two bottles of water and a plastic chair for my mother. I gratefully accepted her kindness and looked around the open site. The remains of the temple walls were as scarce as many of the other locations we had traveled to. But at least a small structure of what used to be the courtyard remains standing.
After walking around the site enjoying the fresh water and the open, calm feel of the ruins, I walked back to the booth where my mother and the attendant had become fast friends. I knew there had to be a site museum somewhere near the ruins as Papadimitriou claimed he found hundreds of artifacts when they first started digging in the early 1940s.
I hoped I could take pictures of his findings and maybe one day use them for my own work. I also suspected that the site predated the Greek Artemis and may have been connected to an early mother goddess or water goddess cult.
Walking back to the entrance booth, I imagined all the ways the water used to be right outside the temple property. Although I knew more than first hand how far away the sea was now, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath hoping to smell the salt of an ancient port and the the sounds of an archaic worship.
“It’s beautiful here isn’t it?” the attendant smiled at me like she too shared my daydreams.
“Yes,” I smiled at her like we were kindred spirits. “Can you tell me where the site museum is from here? I haven’t seen a sign, and it’s not on the site map.”
“Ah yes,” she pulled off the wall of her booth and pointed to what we could see of the paved highway which brought my mother and I here, “You gotta keep going on that road, it’s not far of a walk from here, about 2kms or so.”
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