From our Visit to Valtos/Parga---
To Hell and Back!

Once upon a time there was a place called the Nekromanteion (oracle of the dead). It was built in the 4th century BC. It was on an island in a swampy lake, part of the estuary of the river Styx.

Here, pilgrims could visit the dead, after suitable preparation by the priests.

Of course, to reach the island, one had to pay the ferryman--

.The place declined in importance from the second century AD, but a Christian church was built there in the 18th Century. Then, in the 1950s, probably as part of the campaign against malaria, the lake was drained. By now the river was called the Acheron. And the locals turned the land to agriculture. The Nekromanteion is on the mound in the centre of the picture above, already being encroached upon by modern housing. But then, the secrets of this ancient holy place weren't fully revealed until as late as 1977.


The beautifully fashioned walls are very thick, and contain secret passages.

The pilgrims had to be prepared to meet the dead. They were fed on juniper berries and ouzo for three days, then led through a labyrinth into a darkened inner sanctum, then descended into the dimly lit sacred room, the palace of Hades and Persephone, where the ghosts of the dead came to communicate with the pilgrims.

-and here it is, with Kathryn awaiting the souls of the dead!

Of course, after that diet, the pilgrims were drugged and confused, and ready to believe anything. The archeologists found a mechanism by which the priests lowered images of the dead into the chamber to fool the pilgrims. The pilgrims were then sent home a different route, so they couldn't reveal their experiences to the next pilgrims to come.

After all these centuries, the whole myth becomes reality - and a fraud!


But some still believe you have to pay the ferryman!

The Greek Hades, and the Jewish Sheol (Hell) go back at least to a thousand years BCE.

However, our present traditions about Hades, including paying Charon the ferryman, come from the writings of Virgil, in the first century BCE. This was three hundred years after the Nekromanteion was set up, and so we can understand some of the tradition at least.


The Acheron river was named in mythology as one of the five rivers of Hades, and is today still difficult to explore. It comes through a narrow limestone gorge, fast flowing, cold, and because of shoals, hard to navigate. The ancients would have been reluctant to search for its source. Now identified as the original Styx, it is actually a place of great beauty. Lime in the water gives it a unique colouring. Virgil called it the Cyanne, a very apt name.

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