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Ancient Forts of Attica

Overlooked by the vast majority of foreign travellers, who head for/are herded to, the more famous monuments (Acropolis, Theseion, Sounion), the ancient (2,300+ year old) fortresses and towers of Attica, hidden in near pristine natural surroundings, are unique monuments that can be easily discovered and enjoyed by discerning, independent travellers. Most sites are free to access at all times. Among the better preserved ones, and the only one with a ticket, is Ramnus, a fortified citadel in north eastern Attica near Marathon, our domestic version of Machu Picchu by the sea (rather smaller but a lot older). Named after the Buckthorn (Ramnus) plant, it was built to control ship traffic in the sea of Euboea, a long fjord and to protect Athenians from sea raids. At the other, western end of Attica, in equally strategic positions, are Eleftherae (probably meaning "free town"), the acropolis of a formerly independent "polis" (city-state) and legendary birthplace of the god Dionysus. Eleftherae decided to join Athens in the 6th c. BCE and brought the cult of Dionysus to Athens. Eleftherae still guards the mountain pass to Thebes, a powerful city and a rival of Athens. It was used as a fortress until at least the 8th century CE and the Byzantine period, which may explain the near pristine condition of the north side of the walls. 

Some 10km west of Eleftherae are the ruins of the fortified port city of Aigosthena on the Corinthian sea, another long fjord. The extensive archaeological site today borders the seaside village of Porto Germeno, popular with domestic day trippers from Attica and it can be reached by a public bus service from Athens. You start from the sea and following the remnants of the long city walls you walk through olive groves all the way to the well-preserved fortified citadel. The site continued to be occupied in Byzantine times so you will also pass from an 11th century chapel built on the ruins of a 5th century CE Christian Basilica. 

A recent relaxation of the lockdown measures during weekends allowed a visit to these three monuments in April, when they are looking even more splendid with Attica's famous wildflowers in bloom and without risking a sunstroke. The main reason all three are relatively well-preserved is that they were far from any settlements during the Ottoman era, making it impractical for anyone to dismantle and carry the huge stones to reuse as building materials for houses. Earthquakes however have left their mark: the top part of the huge south-east tower in Aigosthena, and bits from the long city walls collapsed in 1981 during a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in the Gulf of Corinth. Restorations started thirty years later and the Tower, after a EUR 2m renovation, now seems ready to withstand any siege. At 18 metres it must be the one of the highest standing towers of that time in the world. In total there are over 60 ancient forts and towers in Attica, in various states of dilapidation, stoically waiting for their turn to be restored. As ruins are sometimes more romantic than a fully restored site, a tour de... "forts" is a must for castle buffs and those interested in the history of the cultural and military superpower that was Classical Athens. 

Ancient Forts of Attica
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