"Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs”
As my Shakespearean title suggests I thought I’d tell you about a couple of cemeteries that the boys and I have visited during our stay. Throughout the Greek islands there are historical sites showing the varied history of the visitors to these shores and Kefalonia is no different.
The first trip was a short drive from us, in Mazarakata, where there are some Mycenaean tombs. This is a large site that was first discovered at the beginning of the 1800’s and was continually excavated and explored until the mid 1900’s. The Mycenaean civilisation is basically the Greek Bronze age, and a quick internet search tells me that they lasted from from about 1700–1100 BCE.
I had looked online trying to find visiting hours etc and was very glad that I did because I found a review on TripAdvisor detailing how when you arrive it’s very easy to assume the plot is closed to visitors but that that isn’t the case.
With these notes in mind we set off. As you drive along the road you notice a large fence with double gates off to the side. There is no specific car park and it’s easy to miss, we actually did drive straight past the first time and had to double back. We parked opposite, on the side of the road and made our way up to the gates.
A quick pull does lead you to believe they are locked but there is a simple catch just on the inside that needs lifting and then the ironwork swings open.
We made our way through, closing the gate behind us and began to try and make sense of what we could see.
With the entrance behind you, to your right is a slope down into a huge crater in the rock and as you pick your way over the stones into the crater you start to see grave shaped holes in the floor and the remains of tunnels to your left. All the tombs and graves are carved out from the natural rock and are all different shapes and sizes.
As with so many of the places to explore here on the island there are no real barriers or warnings about not exploring and you can get right down into the tunnels to see the extent of the tomb network.
We made our way back out of this first crater and onto the main path again where, just a few steps away is a really interesting information board and map telling you what you are looking at, when things were found and by whom.
With those facts in our head we continued following the path round, trying to count all of the tombs as we went and noticing the differences between them. The boys had great fun scrambling down into the tunnels, daring each other to be the first to go into the extra dark ones and I was sure to keep close behind them just in case they lost their footing or stumbled upon unexpected holes in the ground.
Although next to a road it’s a really quiet, peaceful place with beautiful flowers and trees all around, there was a sense of history and reverence about the place that felt right.
As we drove home I noticed the boys were quite quiet and asked how they were feeling. Jake (14) said he always feels a little sad after visiting tombs/graves as it makes him think about people he knows who have died. Dexter (6) said he felt interested in who was buried there. I’ve read that there are some great museums connected to the findings from the excavations there so we’ll definitely do some more investigating and try to build a bigger picture of what life was like during this era.
For me, there is always a strange feeling from seeing a site like this. I think about how for us now it’s “just” some holes in a field at the side of the road, but once, many many years ago, it would have been the real centre point of a community there. A sacred place where loved ones were lovingly laid to rest and a space where they could be remembered. I think that’s important isn’t it, to spend some time remembering those who have come before us.
We also visited a second site the following week, this time the tombs are tucked away in a little village called Lakirtha. Again you park on an unassuming road, we stopped outside of a plumbing shop, and this time we made our way on foot along small paths between beautiful, brightly coloured Greek houses. The entrance is through a small grassy alleyway. In front of you is the bright blue Ionian sea and then, down a few steps, is a gate which for the second time is seemingly locked but easily opened.
The tomb at Lakirtha is much smaller but I think the views make it a more dramatic place to visit. It was amazing to realise that people’s gardens backed right on to this historical place, I wondered how they felt about us snooping about.
An information board again contained useful information, and told us that, although a much smaller plot, these tombs had been much richer in jewellery, glass beads and pottery than it’s bigger cousin, a nod that again we will need to visit some of the museums housing these treasures.
When planning these excursions with the family I am always hoping that the visits engage the boy’s curiosity as well as providing back up the other history they are learning, providing a good backbone to their education. Our time spent at the tombs has definitely done that.