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The rediscovery of Eretria

Cyriaco of Ancona

The Italian humanist Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli, known as Cyriaco of Ancona (1391-1453), was probably the first traveler to whom we owe the rediscovery of Eretria. On April 5, 1436, he described and sketched a plan of the ancient city walls, indicating the theater and the fortifications of the acropolis and mentioning the existence of inscriptions. The life of Cyriaco, who came from a family of merchants, is one long odyssey, in the course of which he traveled all over the Mediterranean basin, noting down his archaeological discoveries in his Commentaria. Because of the detailed observations he made on site, Cyriaco can be considered one of the precursors of modern archaeology.

During the four centuries that followed Cyriaco's ephemeral discovery, Eretria seems not to have attracted famous travelers. However, from the 15th to the 18th centuries, the ancient town did not fall into oblivion: following ancient authors, cosmographers mentioned it and sometimes indicated it on the maps that accompanied their chronicles, as did Guillaume Xylander (Straboni nobilissimi rerum geographicum, 1571), Johannes Lauremberg (Graecia antiqua, 1660), and Olfert Dapper (Description exacte des Isles de l'Archipel et de quelques autres Adjacentes, 1703).
 


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Cyriaco of Ancona's commentary and drawings in Eretria

Apud euboiam eretria ciuitas magna secus mare distans ab euripo ad XV mil & in ea primum sunt [antiqua] m[o]enia circum magnis edita lapidibus: amphitheatrum in summa ciuitatis arce reperitur: apudque tale consculptum reperitur epigramma.

"In Euboea is located Eretria, a great city on the coast, about fifteen miles from the Euripos; first of all ancient walls are found there all around, built with great stones; at the summit of the citadel there is an (amphi)theater, near which is engraved the following inscription."


 

19th-century travelers

In the 19th century, the ruins of Eretria once again attracted the attention of travelers. Until the beginning of archaeological excavations in 1885, scholars took an interest in the topography of the site, described and sketched the ancient structures, copied the inscriptions, and inquired into the city's past or contributed, through their activities, to the creation of a modern city. Worth mentionning are:

  • William Martin Leake, 1805; Thomas A. B. Spratt, 1845 (military officers)
  • Charles Robert Cockerell, 1814; Eduard Schaubert, 1834 (architects)
  • Ludwig Ross, 1833, 1844; Heinrich Nicolaus Ulrichs, 1837; Jules Girard, 1850; Alexandre RangabĂ©, 1852; Conrad Bursian, 1856 (archaeologists and philologists)
  • Karl Gustav Fiedler, 1834 (geologists)
  • Edward Lear, 1848 (painter)

Assigned by the famous Baedeker publishing house to write a guidebook, the German philologist Habbo Gerhard Lolling (1848-1894) made a journey to central Greece in 1876-1877, which took him to Eretria as well. This undertaking marks the end of the traditional travel narratives that arose from the "Grand Tour" of the 17th and 18th centuries. But this guide, which was published in 1883 and is exemplary in its precision, also inaugurates a new age of travel that involved a broader segment of the public.

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