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Transcending the Goddess of Borders


ON THE EAST coast of Attica , an hour's drive from Athens , is a mysterious and unorthodox ancient Greek site, the sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Artemis at Vravron, also known as the "Parthenon of the bear maidens." It was almost exclusively a female place of worship, the only one of its kind located near Athens .

Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon, allegedly sacrificed to Artemis before the Trojan wars, is said to have been the priestess of the temple, having in reality sacrificed her life to the service of the goddess.

The site is situated at the foot of a prehistoric hill-fort where a sacred spring still flows, on the banks of the river Erasimos.

The location was, in a typical way for Artemis, who was the goddess of borders and boundaries, not particularly safe. While it was a sacred site, the initiates were exposed to dangers - possibly part of their initiation. They were threatened by marauding invaders from the east; Persians, pirates and Ionian islanders.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the biggest threat came from the topography, the site finally being abandoned after severe flooding.

Artemis was a deity of eastern origin adopted by the Greeks. She represented life-death, tamed-untamed, marriage-virginity and peace-war.

It is well known that archaeological history, along with most other disciplines, was traditionally studied and written by men. In fact most of history is male-dominated, or at least appears to be this way.

We are therefore required to read between the lines. We live in "Athena," and here we deal with Artemis, one of the most powerful deities after Zeus. Were women of Athens and Greece as powerless as we are led to believe?

In the roles between genders, more than anything there is a need for symbiosis and respect. Artemis was, after all, the twin sister of Apollo, and her existence thus expresses the need for symbiosis between the genders; she epitomises polarities. Perhaps women were given their sacred place outside the more constricting family and society, on the boundary of culture.

Unfortunately, most of the important artifacts of Vavrona disappeared during the excavations, so we can still only guess at the true significance of the sanctuary. However, solutions will come when we question what we have; our intuition, generally a women's attribute, is what leads us to both ask and answer these questions.

So go to Vavrona, forget what history says, and let your feelings and emotions take over for a couple of hours.

getting there by bus : KTEL Attica from Agia Paraskevi.

by car : Mesogion Ave to Palini, right turn to Spata (where the new airport is) then left following signs for Vravrona or Artemis (Loutsa).

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