Pan’s Cave – the secret of the stones

Monumental IconsThere are some heritage sites which are described as iconic.  Many of these sites are designated as World Heritage Sites, and are often a focus of contested histories.  Today, such sites become symbolic nodes in wider landscapes, entangled in conservation yearnings for authenticity, situated in desires for appropriate settings and presented with official heritage narritives for the global tourist.

Large sites with large political dimensions.

Such sites also have traces of individual expression,

Traces (685x1024)centuries worth of names and dates scratched into polished marble, each perhaps a small act craving Athena like immortality.

In contrast to the large public monuments at the top of the Acropolis there are also lesser known sites on its northern west side with deeper, perhaps darker, resonances, which are readily passed by with a touristic rush to the top.  This time the scratchings on stone, reveal the name of Pan.

Pans Cave 1A small labyrinth of arches and passages…

Pans Cave 2Rock Water (1024x685)at the heart of which a primordial water still seeps down the wall.

Pans Cave 3 (685x1024)Pans Cave 6 (685x1024)Parts of the labyrinth clearly still to be revealed…

Pans Cave 4 (1024x685) Pans Cave 5 (1024x685)To the west of Pans cave are the caves of Apollo and Zeus.  Niches carved into the rock, would have held marble tablets inscribed with dedications, now lie empty.

Cave of Zeus (685x1024)Other caves and shrines are found on the north-west side of the Acropolis.

An open air Sanctuary of Aphrodite and Eros has similar recesses for marble inscribed dedications, but here they are no longer empty.

ShrineNearly all have little offerings set within.

Niche 1Niche 2 Niche 3 Niche 4 Niche 5 Niche 6Quartz PotElsewhere pottery and stone has been arranged as small cairns, resting upon rock surfaces.

Micro-cairnTowersMicro-cairn 2What are these offerings, these tokens to Aphrodite and Eros ?


Such small acts are readily overlooked in a landscape dominated by the monumental.
But it is such small acts which so readily give meaning in the activities which may have taken place in the past at such monumental sites.  Fleeting moments, these traces readily fall and disperse, returning to the earth as
simple stones
which carry their secrets.

Creating Natural Wetlands

Landscapes can appear natural but when you understand their history it is clear appearances can be deceptive.

Lake Kirkini PelicanOne such landscape can be found at the center of Lake Kerkini National Park, Greece.  Here there is a striking example of the complex unintended consequences of a major infra-structure project.  In 1932 a dam was built on the River Strymonas to create a massive reservoir for irrigation and flood protection, which also resulted in the creation of a dynamic landscape from the marshlands along the riverside.

Lake Kirkini PelicanThe seasonal water level of the reservoir dropped three meters in depth between spring and autumn-winter, which resulted in a 5000 hectare lake being reduced to almost nothing by winter.  These seasonal changes in water level created riparian forests, with trees being flooded, depending on altitude for between 50 and 190 days of the year.  This dynamic habitat meant Lake Kirkini became an increasing focus of a remarkable range and number of bird life (including pelicans and flamingos) and as such was recognized in 1975 as an internationally important RAMSAR site for migratory birds.

A new dam was built in 1982, which increased the seasonal fluctuation to about a 5 m change in water level, and resulted in the surface of the lake varying from between 5000 to 7,300 hectares.  The larger level and size of the lake meant that the shallow parts of the lake were more limited, many of the seasonal breeding locations for the birds were permanently flooded and the riparian forest underwater for longer and dying out.

Lake Kirkini Pelican PlatformLake Kirkini has also been an important focus for economic activity (including fisheries and tourism) in the region.  It was also the host of the largest population of water buffalo in Greece, and other mammals, which were causing problems with over grazing (reducing habitat for nesting) and trampling of nests.

In 2006 Lake Kerkini was established as a National Park.  The management authority of the National Park has been taking measures to gradually reduce the water levels and to re-balance the dynamics required for riparian forest and the associated breeding birds.  This long term vision to re-balance the wetland, is being supported by shorter term interim measures such as creating artificial platforms for the pelicans to breed on while water levels are changed more gradually.

A landscape which is such an important hub of biodiversity, but also important in economic terms to local communities, is clearly dependent on its sensitive integrated management for a balanced future.